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Whitehouse Notebook: Dana Milbank

Reprising a War With Words

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 17, 2004; Page A13

Earlier this month, President Bush was almost done with a speech to a group of minority journalists when he dropped a rather startling proposal.

"We actually misnamed the war on terror," he said. "It ought to be the Struggle Against Ideological Extremists Who Do Not Believe in Free Societies Who Happen to Use Terror as a Weapon to Try to Shake the Conscience of the Free World."

Or, if you prefer to abbreviate, SAIEWDNBIFSWHTUTAAWTTTSTCOTFW.

Speaking to a meeting of minority journalists in Washington on Aug. 6, President Bush said: "I cut the taxes on everybody. I didn't cut them. The Congress cut them. I asked them to cut them." (Ron Edmonds -- AP)

_____White House Notebook_____
Do You Hear What I Hear? (The Washington Post, Aug 24, 2004)
Keeping the Power (The Washington Post, Jul 27, 2004)
The Kerry Campaign's One-Word Weapon (The Washington Post, Jul 20, 2004)
Leaked Salary List Shows Bush's Highest-Paid Staff Is Mostly Male (The Washington Post, Jul 13, 2004)
The Administration vs. the Administration (The Washington Post, Jun 29, 2004)
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Ladies and gentlemen, the Bushism has returned. The malapropisms that adorned Bush's 2000 campaign before going into remission during much of his presidency have reemerged to garnish his reelection bid.

In that same speech to the minority journalists this month, Bush offered this definition of policy toward Native Americans: "Tribal sovereignty means that, it's sovereign. I mean, you're a -- you're a -- you've been given sovereignty and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities."

The day before, when signing a Pentagon spending bill, Bush delighted late-night comics when he said that our enemies "never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

While Democrats rushed to agree with that accidental Bush admission, they couldn't compete with the brief but forceful way he summed up his candidacy the previous day in Davenport, Iowa: "We stand for things."

As in 2000, the president seems to enjoy his linguistic miscues. Appearing last week with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bush said he and the Austrian-born California governor "share a lot in common" -- good wives, big biceps and "trouble with the English language."

The next day, he offered a curious wish for his audience in Oregon: "I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?' " The question was rhetorical, but it is possible a listener would at times be truly befuddled about Bush's meaning.

There was this discussion of Iran policy last week: "As you know, we don't have relationships with Iran," Bush said. "I mean, that's -- ever since the late '70s, we have no contacts with them, and we've totally sanctioned them. In other words, there's no sanctions -- you can't -- we're out of sanctions."

In that same session, Bush might have listeners worried about their civil liberties when he ran into plural trouble. "Let me put it to you bluntly," he ventured. "In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your own life."

As if rerunning the 2000 campaign, the national and international media are again examining Bush's syntax. "Tongue-Twisted Bush Is Bent on Self-Harm," announced the Independent newspaper of London. "Dubya's New Word Blunder" was an Australian newspaper's take. National Public Radio wondered if Bush's gaffes "might influence the coming election."

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online publication Slate and author of four volumes of Bushisms, said his theory is that Bushisms subsided after Bush took office "because the opportunities for him to go off script became more limited."

Now, with Bush again campaigning, there are opportunities for verbal mishaps almost daily. At a campaign event in Florida last week, Bush could be heard joking about an attempted ax murder of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his wife. "He wakes up one night and an ax-wielding group of men tried to hatchet him to death, or ax him to death. I guess, you don't hatchet somebody with an ax. And you don't ax them with a hatchet. He wakes up, the glint of the blade coming at him, and he gets cut badly, escapes. The guy hit his wife, who never recovered, really."

This year's standard for Bushisms was the Aug. 6 meeting of minority journalists, where Bush offered a range of creative phrases.

Taxes? "I cut the taxes on everybody. I didn't cut them. The Congress cut them. I asked them to cut them."

Discrimination? "I knew this was going to be an issue in our country, that there would be people that say, 'There goes a Muslim-looking person.' "

Immigration reform? "I have talked about it lately. I talked about it this winter."

War? "I wish I wasn't the war president. Who in the heck wants to be a war president? I don't."

Maybe that's why he calls it the Struggle Against Ideological Extremists Who Do Not Believe in Free Societies Who Happen to Use Terror as a Weapon to Try to Shake the Conscience of the Free World.

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