US Presidents are often tagged with lines uttered in public that go down in history as expressions of their incompetence or political failures. With Bush Sr, it was "Read my lips, no new taxes" spoken clearly and concisely some months before he raised taxes. With Clinton, it was "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" as he testified lamely before the Grand Jury.
George W. Bush certainly has a bit of time left to come up with similar gems. At the moment, however, one of his more popular phrases is "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job", as he assessed the work done by FEMA director Michael D. Brown in helping the people of New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina. Given the obvious incompetence of FEMA at the time, and the reports of suffering going on in the Superdome and other places, this phrase is now used quite ironically by Bush opponents to ridicule and criticise him - "You're doing a heckuva job (insert name of incompetent Bush-appointed offical)".
So it is with a measure of surprise that Dubya has used the phrase again - not just anywhere, but in a speech given to people in New Orleans about the rebuilding effort. Speaking to these citizens, he pointed out that New Orleans is "a heckuva place to bring your family".
There's no doubt that Dubya said this innocently and without any idea of what he was saying - and that's the problem.
White House staffers, advisors and other Bush hangers-on would no doubt have be aware that his praise of Michael Brown was erroneous, and that the praise "You're doing a heckuva job" was becoming a popular anti-Bush phrase. So why did the president innocently utter it? The answer is simple - no one has told him of the problem.
That's right, all these people close to the president have not informed him of the awful truth that this innocent phrase should now be verboten. Not one of his advisors took him aside in the last few months and said "Mr President, I'm afraid that the expression you used to praise Michael Brown - 'you're doing a heckuva job' - is now being used by your political opponents. I really suggest that you be careful to never use that phrase again in public, because the phrase is now quite embarrassing".
Something similar happened during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in April, 2004. Things got so bad that the President made a speech live on television about it. What was interesting during that speech was that he mispronounced "Abu Ghraib" several times. This was not an example of Bush's inability to read, after all, most people did not know how to pronounce "Abu Ghraib" previous to the scandal unfolding. Nevertheless the question needed to be asked - why was George Bush mispronouncing a name that virtually everyone had heard and knew how to pronounce by the time the president appeared on TV?
Think of the generic 20th or 21st century president sitting at his desk in the White House. An advisor enters and says "Mr. President, an Air Force B-52 carrying nuclear weapons has crashed in Tajikistan." As he listens to the report, he is mentally saying to himself 'Ah, that's how you pronounce that word' ".
Had Mr. Bush been properly briefed about the issue, he would have been surrounded by advisors and staffers all pronouncing "Abu Ghraib" constantly around him as they talked about damage control. Through this process of being exposed to the name "Abu Ghraib", the president would have known how to say it.
But he didn't. On the night he made the speech, he mispronounced it several times. The only reason I can think of is that he had never been exposed to the name in the first place - or at least once or twice by the speechwriters before he sat down before the cameras.
Both the "Abu Ghraib" and "Heckuva" events show that George W. Bush is kept apart from the world. News items, talking points and important events that we are aware of are barely on the president's scope. For whatever reason, his advisors have learned to keep certain information from him - possibly because the president does not wish to know or even acknowledge these sorts of details.
All of this begs the question - what else does the president not know? The answer to this is probably frightening.
© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.