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Urban Rhythms

Burning Bush

By Wiley Hall III | Posted 6/6/2001

In January 2000, George W. Bush talked with The Los Angeles Times about his plans for education reform. "What's not fine is," the future president said, "rarely is the question asked, are, is our children learning."

That same month, in a campaign stop in Nashua, N.H., Bush was heard to wonder aloud, "Will the highways of the Internet become more few?"

And speaking in Redwood, Calif., last September, Bush declared, "I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy."

Those quotable quotations and a whole lot more are collected in The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder by Mark Crispin Miller. I got this book so that I could snicker at our illustrious president's verbal gaffes. And Miller, a professor of media ecology at New York University and director of the Project on Media Ownership, did not disappoint.

Asked to say a few words for "Perseverance Month" at Fairgrounds Elementary in Nashua, Dubya allowed, "I appreciate preservation. It's what you do when you run for president. You gotta preserve." And who can forget his inspirational observation, "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."

But Miller's central thesis is that our president--clownlike though he may be--is no laughing matter.

"Amusing as it often is, The Bush Dyslexicon has not been crafted just for laughs, although that would have been an easy job," the former Johns Hopkins prof writes. "For one thing, such manipulation would have been dishonest--and irrelevant, because the situation that we're in today is really not so funny. Even if our president were the cheery cretin that such satire makes him out to be, it wouldn't make our plight a comic one, for he has a highly seasoned, wholly ruthless, and for that matter, deeply humorless cabal of rightist pols and operatives around him--and that's no joke.

"In any case," Miller goes on, "our president is not an imbecile, but an operator just as canny as he is hard-hearted--which is to say that he's extraordinarily shrewd. To smirk at his alleged stupidity is, therefore, not just to miss the point, but to do this un-elected president a giant favor."

Obviously, this is a biting, merciless look at President Bush, reminiscent of some of the angry commentary aimed at presidents Nixon, Reagan (in my circle), and Clinton (in other circles). Miller contends that his is a nonpartisan, dispassionate examination of George W., but let's be honest--it ain't.

"[Bush's] body language bellows his un-interest, his distraction, his uneasiness, his callousness," Miller asserts. "And he tends to blurt out all or part of what he's really thinking, even as he's trying to lie about it--a linguistic struggle that intensifies his incoherence."

At another point, Miller writes, "This president would seem to be the most illiterate in U.S. history. His is not the merely technical illiteracy of most Americans, who, irrespective of their class or education, make grammatical mistakes so slight that only pedants mind them: George W. Bush is so illiterate as to turn completely incoherent when he speaks without a script or unless he thinks his every statement through so carefully beforehand that the effort empties out his face. Thus, in the matter of his education, this president, despite folksy pretense, is something of an anti-Lincoln--one, who, instead of learning eagerly in humble circumstances, learned almost nothing at the finest institutions in the land."

Miller also is critical of the national mainstream media, which he says largely protect this president, couching Bush's intellectual laziness as likability. Miller contends that the media, corporate-owned and staffed by affluent middle-class Americans with a narrow worldview, pay little or no attention to the effect of the president's policies. Writing about the press' penchant for elevating the trivial during the campaign, for example, Miller notes, "Soon everybody knew that Bush could not pronounce 'subliminal,' while few had heard--or ever would hear--of his neglected military service, his many shady business dealings, or his close ties to the likes of Rep. Tom DeLay," the arch-conservative House minority whip and Bush's fellow Texas Republican.

So view this as a political tract, if you will, a sharp-tongued attack from the left. If you disagree with the author's politics (if, for example, you think DeLay is a fine fellow), don't even bother to pick it up. It will merely annoy you.

But if you are like me and you worry that Bush wormed his way into the White House by pretending to be something he isn't--a moderate, compassionate conservative, a uniter-not-a-divider; if you find little in the daily media coverage that sufficiently reflects your outrage, your sense of violation; if those emotions remind you very much of the way you felt during the regimes of Nixon and Reagan, well, The Bush Dyslexicon may be just the thing to give voice to your savage fury. Read this book and howl. Even howling, you'll be more coherent than the president.

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