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Miller warns his readers against the crafting of W. as a “cheery cretin” \(though he clearly enjoys exercising his thesaurus, callingW in the space of two pages a “dim bulb:’ “plain half-wit:’ You either have to know W., have followed his dealings for a while, or studied his linguistic record to know that he is actually “extraordinarily shrewd.” Calling him anything else provides the administration with cover for its deeds, not to mention a winning political formula. During the presidential campaign, Miller writes, “Everybody knew that Bush could not pronounce ‘subliminal’, while few had heardor ever would hearof his neglected military service, his many shady business dealings, or his close ties to the likes of Representative Tom DeLay.” Yet the Bushite strategy for dealing with W’s speech has not always been successful. For one thing, W. too often looks like he’s misreading the talking points some starch-shirted intern has just handed him. W. can seem to be ticking off a listand failing. “We’re concerned about the short-term economic news, but long-term I’m optimistic. And so, I hope investors, you knowsecondly, I hope investors hold investments for periods of timethat I’ve always found the best investments are those that you salt away based on economics?’ For another thing, W’s over-handled language has coincided with a fondness in the print media for quoting politicians with all their spoken gaffes, garblings and perseverations intact, one result of the fact that when a campaign focuses its messages, rehearses its candidate and feeds him lines, the blurts and blunders that every human makes as a normal part of speaking take on amplified importance. Ordinary garblings, such as W’s nervous defense of his appearance at Bob Jones University, come to signify the decadence of the political system itself. “I did denounce it:’ W. said. “I deI denounced it. I denounced interracial dating. I denounced anti-Catholic bigacybig otry… No, I I I spoke out against interracial dating. I mean, supportthe policy of interracial dating.” And when access to a candidate is sharply limited, or when the candidate resists a journalist’s probing, the verbatim becomes, by necessity, material for portraiture. I’m thinking here of Nick Lemann’s profile of Bush in the January 31, 2000 New Yorker, which reproduces large chunks of the interview and pays a lot of attention to the quality of Bush’s voice, as if Lemann were buying a violin. \(“His voice isn’t a fabulous instrument, either: the range of tone and volume is too flat; it lacks richness bug under a magnifying lens, it’s only because Lemann has subjected W’s language to such scrutiny, and that’s because Lemann was given relatively little time with the candidate. Miller is right in one respect: lists of Bushisms have a limited usefulness. So in order to make W’s speech evidence of a national political dysfunction \(and to make his book seem more like analysis, handy metaphor. As he puts it, W’s linguistic record is a symptom of a “strange new national disorder.” “It’s as if the U.S. body politic were itself afflicted with a corporate version of dyslexia,” he writes. “Seeing that it’s all gone wrong yet always hearing, from on high, that everything is perfectly all right, we each feelwhether we can read or notas helpless and perplexed as any undiagnosed dyslexic faced with street signs, menus, newspapers and exams?’ But the ideas about language that underpin this metaphor turn out to be discriminatory, when they’re not wrong. As my father used to say, sooner or later all metaphors fail. Miller’s metaphor fails right out of the gate. When it comes to language, everyone’s an expert. Unfortunately, most of what people say about language is flatly incorrect. They defend their own dialect as the “best.” They pipe French and Japanese lessons to their unborn children. And they mistakenly equate how someone speaks with how they think. This fallacy leads them to conclude that speakers of any non-standard dialectteenagers, foreigners and babiesare cognitively impaired. Fortunately, Miller avoids this last fallacy, though it doesn’t keep him from slamming into some others. Take his diagnosis ofW.’s “illiteracy,” for example. No matter how much academics squabble about how much inability to read and write constitutes illiteracy, it certainly doesn’t include misspeaking, even of W’s caliber. Thus Miller’s statement that “George W. Bush is so illiterate as to turn completely incoherent when he speaks without a script” is plain wrongif anything, an illiterate person would turn incoherent with a script. So too with the charge of dyslexia, first suggested by Gail Sheehy in a Vanity Fair profile Actually, from a linguistic point of view, it’s more likely that W is aphasic, not dyslexic. \(More on why The possibility of aphasia was first raised about Bush pere in a 1992 New Republic article by Jesse Furman, “Is Bush BrainDamaged?” Aphasia is a brain disorder that causes a broad range of linguistic dysfunctions, but neurological experts warned Furman that not everyone with symptoms of aphasia”frequent grammatical errors, talking around subjects, groping unsuccessfully for the right word, and substituting one word for another of close meaning or similar sound”actually has it. It’s seemingly counterintuitive, but the longer someone has had aphasic symptoms, the less likely it is that they actually suffer from it, since it’s most often the result of a stroke, Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia. “I’ve been talking the same way for years,” Bush said before the 1988 election, “so it can’t be that serious.” When I asked a speech pathologist friend what she thought ofW’s speech, she demurred on the grounds of pro fessional ethics; apparently you can’t go around diagnosing people without their consent. \(However, she admitted continued on page 33 8/3/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17