Ironically, in his response to accusations of ineffective
and repetitive speaking, Bush predictably retreated
to a formulaic tangent about his commitment to get the
bad guys, punctuating it with anxious stammers, poor
grammar, and his trademark deer-in-the-headlights stare.
He finally conceded that, “Maybe I need to learn
to communicate better.”
Gosh, do you really think so, George?
Because of the media’s meticulous coverage, public-speaking
skills (or the lack thereof) play a large part in defining
politicians’ identities, whether they like it
or not. Look at what happened to good old Joe Lieberman,
another politician whose dreadful oratory skills wreaked
havoc on his political identity. Like Bush, late-night
comedians lampooned him relentlessly, specifically for
his droopy speaking style (one Conan O’Brien sketch
had him dozing off mid-speech). The difference between
the two men, however, is that Lieberman is obviously
intelligent but leaves us doubting his passion, while
Bush is obviously passionate but leaves us doubting
Many left-leaners use phrases like “bumbling
idiot” or “stuttering moron” (most
others can’t be repeated here) to describe the
president, associating him with his speaking ineptitude
before his policies. And Bush defenders are quick to
point out that just because he is a poor public speaker
does not mean that he is unintelligent or a bad leader.
Bushists’ favorite illustrations include Steven
Hawking’s inability to speak clearly and Adolf
Hitler’s undeniable oratory skills, implying that
verbal dexterity is not necessarily representative of
intelligence or goodwill.
But Bush’s blundering performance in that most
recent press conference — as well as his awkward
February interview with Tim Russert — brings up
serious questions about his tunnel vision on relevant
issues. His familiar tough-guy smirk and shoot-‘em-straight
swagger have deteriorated into desperation to stay on
message (which basically means infinite repetitions
and combinations of the phrases “war on terror,”
“stay the course” and “the American
While presidents from Kennedy to Clinton often traded
witty barbs with reporters during their frequent press
conferences, Bush understandably shies away from media
interaction and admittedly was “stumped”
when asked about mistakes he had made since Sept. 11,
according to an Associated Press report.
"Maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should
be,” replied the visibly stunned commander in
chief, as he struggled to think of an acceptable answer.
"I'm sure something will pop into my head here
… but it hadn’t yet"
You can’t get hired at McDonald’s with
a response like that.
But will it be enough to get hired for a second term
as the leader of the free world? To use the president’s
own wise words from that press conference earlier this
month, “That's the kind of thing the voters will
decide next November.” Insightful as always, Mr.
Regardless of what happens in November, the press conference
shows that Bush’s oratory incompetence has emerged
from the realm of late-night comics and is now a fully
viable political issue.