Hail to the chief, take 2

On the heels of John’s eyewitness account of President Bush speaking extemporaneously before a friendly group in Minnesota yesterday afternoon comes Kathleen Parker’s column with her own eyewitness account of President Bush at an off-the-record luncheon with a hundred or so supporters. Like John, Parker was impressed:

What I witnessed was revealing. Not only was the man fluent in the English language and intellectually agile, he was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects raised during a 90-minute Q&A. Someone apparently had been slipping intellectual-curiosity tablets into Bush’s cola.

Toward the end, one of the guests said, “Mr. President, I think if Americans could hear you speak the way you have today, you’d have a 95 percent approval rating.”

I think that’s almost true. Not 95 percent, obviously, but he’d surely have a higher than 30 percent approval rating were he better able to explain what he’s thinking. Bush does know; he just can’t seem to say.

Why? Parker has a theory:

My theory dovetails with something one of his most acerbic critics, columnist Molly Ivins, once wrote: “George W. Bush sounds like English is his second language.” That’s because it’s true. “Washington English” is a second language for Bush; “Texas English” is his first.

When he tries to speak Washington English, which is the way Bush thinks presidents are supposed to speak — over-enunciating and sprinkling his comments with awkward aphorisms — he fumbles. He forgets what he’s saying because the thoughts and words are not his own.

This is also when his annoying sibilance kicks in. The “terroristsssssss,” he says when “terrorists” would do. My guess is he over-enunciates to cover his prairie accent, but the effect is, well, sssssstrange.

Tapes of Bush as governor of Texas reveal none of the malapropisms for which he is now infamous. That’s because in Texas, he speaks his native tongue — dropping syllables and esses without fear of criticism or embarrassment. That kind of freedom seems to liberate the man’s mind and his mouth.

Anyone who speaks before cameras knows the taste of humility and can relate to the agony of being George Bush.

(I can relate.) During the Reagan administration, occasionally discouraged conservative supporters theorized that Reagan was the victim of misguided advisers and counselled “Let Reagan be Reagan.” Taken together, John and Parker make a compelling case to explain the mystery of George Bush: “Let Bush be Bush!”

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