Page 18


GAIL WOODS Bush-Speak BY PAUL BOELLER “You can tell these Yale menarticulate devils, you know!” President Bush, chatting with members of the Young Astronaut Society, Jan. 24, 1992 GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH is famous for his gaffes. But he isn’t the only President of the United States to achieve such fame. Jerry Ford once referred to California’s S.I. Hayakawa as “Hiawatha,” in a convention speech. Jimmy Carter called Hubert Horatio Humphrey “Hubert Horatio Hornblower” and Ronald Reagan called his Vice President “George Bosh” on at least one occasion. But President Bush is far better than his predecessors. “Outside the protective tutelage of his media adviser,” noted Newsweek in May 1988, “Bush seems to be a veritable gaffe-omatic.” During the 1988 presidential campaign that he saw “an America in the midst of the He also talked about the AFL-CIA. But these are minor slips. At his best, Bush occasionally comes up with verbal gaffes that leave audiences rubbing their eyes in bewilderment. Speaking of bigotry during the 1988 campaign, he assured people that “I hope that I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, antiracism. That is what drives me. It’s one of the things I feel very, very strongly about.” There was a clarifying statement afterwards, of course, but a little later, speaking about unemployment, Bush promised that if elected President he would “make sure that everyone who has a job wants a job.” He fairly outdid himself, though, when bragging to voters about his close relation to President Reagan. “For seven and half years,” Bush declared, “I have worked alongside of him, and I am proud to be his partner. We have had triumphs. We have made mistakes. We have had sex…” There was a stunned silence in the audience and he quickly corrected himself: “We have had setbacks. Tongue slips, however, form only a small part as the President’s spoken word has come to be called, contains preppyisms \(like “deep doolapsi linguae. Bush attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., before going on to Yale and becoming a member of Yale graduate Paul F. Boller Jr. is the lefthanded author of Presidential Anecdotes, Presidential Campaigns, Presidential Wives, and Memoirs of an Obscure Professor. Phi Beta Kappa, and traces of his prep-school background appear in his choice of words as well as in his occasional boyish gestures. This is something new in presidential style and it is not without a certain goofy charm. Charged with running a negative campaign in 1988, Bush insisted he wasn’t going to let the Democrats get away with it when they started pulling “that naughty stuff” on him. He also expressed great glee over the way campaign aide Lee Atwater was “getting into their knickers,” that is, angering the Democrats. And along more positive lines, he promised to “hit a lick for peace” if he won the election. Along with tongue slips and preppyisms Bush-Speak includes a kind of goofy jocularity that goes with the president’s efforts to make small talk on informal occasions. Offering a chair to a woman at a reception, he volunteered: “Chivalry is only reasonably dead.” When Sen. Alan Simpson, entering a restaurant in Beeville, Texas, with the president, ordered chablis, Bush said amiably: “Al, ya gonna have a draft?” Visiting a school in Harlem, he asked a third grader whether she was “numero uno” in spelling, and when she hesitated, Bush said jovially: “Comme ci, comme car Far more striking than tongue slips, preppyisms and goofy jocularities, however, are the amiable meanderings with which the President so frequently indulges himself when speaking off the cuff in public. With these dizzy flights of words we come to the heart of Bush-Speak. Here, for instance, is what President Bush had to say in Knoxville, Tenn., when a high school student asked whether he planned to seek ideas overseas for improving American education. “Well, I’m going to kick that right into the end zone of the Secretary of Education. But, yes, we have all he travels a good deal, goes abroad. We have a lot of people in the department that does that. We’re having an interna 12 SEPTEMBER 18, 1992