Bush Speak: An Interview with Mark Crispin Miller
George W. Bush is renowned for saying things like "It's not the way American is all about." His gaffes include "Desert Storm. We sold a lot of tickets" and "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm dictator." So if Bush has a way with words it's for twit-like wit and malapropian fluency. Last year he told the Los Angeles Times, "One of the common denominators I have found is that expectations rise above that which is expected." And on the campaign trail he shared with the New York Times: "I don't care what the polls say. I don't. I'm doing what I think what's wrong."
Mark Crispin Miller, the author of The Bush Dyslexicon: The Sayings of President Dubya, sees more in these verbal tics and grammatical bungles than just plain idiocy. In fact, the professor of media ecology at New York University credits Bush for speaking a language television producers and talk show hosts can understand: one of superfice and shallowness, of one-liners and aw-shucks answers. As Miller argues in his introduction:
"[T]his book is meant to shed some light on the propaganda of our time. The Dyslexicon attempts to give the lie to that enormous wave of propaganda -- a joint production of the GOP and the major media -- whereby George W. Bush was forced on us as President, then, after his inauguration, hailed nearly universally for his amazing charm, his democratic ease, his rare ability to be all things to all Americans, and so on. Our experience of this transparent coup has been disorienting from the start."
AlterNet spoke with Miller about his book and why, and how, the disorientation continues...
Don Hazen: Why do this book?
Mark Crispin Miller: It may sound grandiose, but my purpose was to help inspire the scattered and demoralized opposition to the Bush cabal, which was un-democratically installed and whose aims are wholly, dangerously anti-democratic. I try to do this mainly by reminding readers of George W. Bush's absolute unfitness for the presidency -- a fact that television always made quite clear to most of us (including many Bush supporters), even as "the liberal media" worked hard to play it down.
I'd like to add that, while I see Gore's "defeat" as a grotesque miscarriage of democratic procedure, the book is not intended as especially pro-Gore. While it takes a very dim view of the House of Bush and the far right, The Dyslexicon is also critical of both Gore and his party. The book suggests that both parties, and the corporate media, have much to answer for.
Nevertheless, Gore won. His fate, effected jointly by the GOP and the major media, was an appalling setback for American democracy.
DH: What's the biggest misperception the public has of Dubya?
MCM: That he's a moron -- and a benign moron at that. Although Bush is indeed illiterate, bone-ignorant and generally illogical, he's not a cretin. At the nastier kind of politics, he is extraordinarily shrewd. In this he is a lot like Richard Nixon, who, as I argue, is his spiritual father. Bush only benefits from his wide comic reputation as a genial idiot (he's neither genial nor an idiot). So we "misunderestimate" him at our peril.
DH: How does Bush's style work for him?
MCM: He is adept at the sort of "self-effacing humor" that lets people see him as a regular guy. Through this pose, first of all, he turns his major weakness -- his enormous ignorance -- into a seeming strength. Anyone who calls him on his lack of education can be dismissed as stuck-up and elitist, like the Stevenson supporters who would jeer at Ike's weak syntax. (That confusing syntax was deliberate on Ike's part. He was incomparably more literate, and better-educated, than this Bush.)
And while clearing him of all charges of under-education, his tactical self-mockery also helps to cloud the basic issue of his privilege. In fact, Bush was, and is, a spoiled and lazy child of wealth -- great wealth, far greater than Al Gore's. His proud ignorance is actually a shameless exhibition of his having blithely squandered an extremely costly education. By seeming to goad on himself, however, he gives us the misimpression that he's "just folks."
DH: What is the media's role in Bush's success?
MCM: They've been utterly complicit in his rise. They've played such a large role in his elevation that they should share credit for it with Karl Rove. As the Brookings Institution demonstrated last fall, the major media's pro-Bush bias was pretty obvious. While they dumped all over Gore for such trivialities as his too-orange make-up and loud sighs, they gave Bush a pass, despite his enormous weaknesses. They then compounded that original sin by loudly calling on Gore to throw in the towel just after Election Day -- as if that was their decision to make, and not the people's.
DH: Evaluate the legitimacy question now, six months out. Any legs to the anger?
MCM: Absolutely. Millions of Americans are now so sickened by what happened that they've simply given up -- on both the political system and the major media. Roughly 52 percent of the electorate voted against the right -- and, if we factor in Buchanan's margin-dwellers, some 53 percent voted against George Bush. It's hard to believe that all those people took their votes so lightly that they'd now jump on the Bush bandwagon -- which is what the networks' polls would have us think. In fact, those who could clearly see that Bush was lacking, and then voted fervently against him, are today's "Silent Majority." Their turn -- that is to say, our turn -- will come again; and then the small network of rightists who've been calling all the shots will be in trouble. The turn seems lately to have started, what with the remarkable defection of Jim Jeffords -- a move that has poked giant holes in the great myth of Bush's "likeability" and talent for uniting not dividing.
DH:What was most disturbing to you about the election?
MCM: Most shocking of all, this "election" was a massive violation of the civil rights of millions of Americans, mainly African Americans. Those voters have been screwed before, of course -- but never as baldly, or in such numbers, as in this unprecedented case. This entailed the systematic and illegal purging of the voters' rolls in Florida; the illegal disenfranchisement of Florida residents who had served their time for felonies in other states; widespread state chicanery -- arbitrary shuttering of polling places, incomplete or incorrect voting lists, intimidation by police, etc. -- not only in Florida but also in (as AlterNet has now reported) Tennessee; and, of course, the Supreme Court's perverse and indefensible misuse of the Constitution's equal protection clause to stop the counting of the vote in Florida.
All of this was aimed primarily at African American voters -- and where was the so-called "liberal media" through all of this? Where were the investigations into those abuses? Where was the coverage of the NAACP's important hearings into the whole matter? Those same intrepid "journalists" who always can be counted on to bow down at the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., and who would also gladly pester Bush about, say, his failure to condemn the South Carolina government for flying the Confederate flag, were in this instance nowhere to be found. Black Americans have every right to feel abandoned and betrayed -- both by the mainstream media and by the Democratic Party.
Want more? Read an excerpt from The Bush Dyslexicon.