You Had To Being There
Writing in the New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch offers a not-so novel appraisal of GWB's, um, underestimated verbal skills and the danger of dismissing his allegedly formidable political intelligence. This is a variation on a hypothesis initially suggested by Mark Crispin Miller in his book, The Bush Dyslexicon. But where Miller claims that the public perception of Bush as a genial cretin is a fatal "misunderestimation" of the man which actually serves as camoflage for a ruthless political adroitness, Gourevitch takes a more literary tack: Bush as the master of a peculiar but brilliantly effective political vernacular.
...He is grossly underestimated as an orator by those who presume that good grammar, rigorous logic, and a solid command of the facts are the essential ingredients of political persuasion, and that the absence of these skills indicates a lack of intelligence. Although Bush is no intellectual, and proud of it, he is quick and clever, and, for all his notorious malapropisms, abuses of syntax, and manglings or reinventions of vocabulary, his intelligence is—if not especially literate—acutely verbal.But here is my favorite bit:
...Bush has created a language of his own—as austere and strange as that of David Mamet or Samuel Beckett, with whom he shares a taste for speaking in spare absolutes that can sound simultaneously profound and absurd.Yes, that's just who Bush reminds me of--Samuel Beckett!
If Gourevitch offers evidence of a compelling, if coarse, intelligence in the stupefying and robotic repetition of his "message"--Will Not Waver, Tough Decisions, Smoke 'Em Out, We Will Prevail--I humbly offer in response a depressingly typical Bush moment: his prepared speech on May 24, 2004. Fast forward to about the 20 minute mark, where he addresses the then-breaking Iraqi prison scandal. When he tries and fails three times (this after practicing, ferchrissakes) to pronounce "Abu-Ghraib"--a word that would roll effortlessly off the tongue of any imbecile in the country who'd seen a television newscast in the preceeding month--he looks and sounds as if the words on the teleprompter have been mysteriously rendered into Slovak. He couldn't have appeared more moronic if he'd drooled. But what propels this moment from a bad actor flubbing his lines into genuine theater of the absurd is the ovation he gets from the War College audience once he gets past the "Abooga...Rrrraip"s and finally chugs to the end of the paragraph. Hearing that applause--applause!--cosseting Bush's look of vacuous, blinking relief was more chilling than the breathtaking idiocy of his remarks. But I digress.
All such interpretations strike me as supremely overstated or overly politic ways of saying that George Bush is an effective speaker. In the most limited sense he is, as evidenced by an approval rating that by all accounts should be in the single digits yet fails to go much below the halfway notch. Further complicating such theories of "effectiveness" is Bush's well-documented penchant for eschewing any unscripted appearances in favor of hand-picked and friendly crowds (no one since Stalin or Castro, it seems, has appeared more times in front of a military backdrop). Like his putative idol Reagan, he is a salesman, pitching Brand America, and salesmanship is the language that Americans most understand. He is a useful idiot, selected as the paid spokesman for an ad campaign to put the face of Everyman on the corrupt and imperial business plan of his masters. But what bothers me most is that, now that BushCo has been shown to have tanked the company stock by peddling a faulty and lethal product, so many shareholders still refuse to examine the annual reports.
While it's clear that Bush is skilled politically--in a backroom good-ol'-boy sort of way--we should not mistake raw cunning for intelligence. I suspect that such qualified assessments of his hidden depth are not a reflection of any such reality but rather defense mechanisms against the only other possibility: that such a complete and utter moron, such a spoiled and petulant embarrassment could become a real-life Chauncey Gardener. Really, I think people like Gourevitch are constructing elaborate denial schema in an understandable and subconscious bid to explain what needs no explanation--indeed, what is as plainly apparent as it is terrifying: The leader of the Free World is fucking idiot.