Sunday, March 04, 2007

Three Little Words: George W. Bush’s Infatuation with the Sound of His Favorite Phrase


President George W. Bush will be remembered for many traits of character and speaking style. Among the latter will be the soaring orations written by speechwriters and haltingly read piecemeal by him on state occasions. In consort with these are the language-torturing disjointed speech patterns that have earned him the title of President Malaprop. His earnest desire to be liked and to be seen as a great communicator with an innate ability to understand people’s problems is in stark contrast to his shallow penetration into any subject, his stubborn obstinacy and his inflexible unwillingness to concede error.

To cover these failings, he has fixed on certain expressions intended to convince listeners that he is not the incurious and unfeeling dolt many perceive him to be. One of these expressions, “I fully understand,” has become so ingrained in his speech patterns he can be counted on to use it in every public utterance, sometimes as many as three or four times in succession on a single occasion. To underscore for Postscripts readers how casual overuse of this expresion by President George W. Bush has made it into a meaningless stock phrase that can only leave listeners unconvinced of the President's sincerity, we append a small sampling of his careless employment of this now virtually meaningless expression over the past six years.

“And I am most pleased with the support we're receiving here, and I look forward to continuing to describe our efforts to our close friends and allies. And they will see in me a determination to succeed. And I fully understand that some over time may grow weary and may tire. But they'll realize the United States of America under my leadership will not. We must be successful in the war against terror." Press conference with President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea, Seoul, South Korea, October 19, 2001.

“Well, I fully understand that some countries will participate with military forces, and others won't feel comfortable doing that. Some countries will be very good about sharing intelligence; other countries may not be so good. Some countries will be much more efficient about cutting off money; other countries may be a little lax about cutting off money. But the point is, is that the coalition is broad and deep and strong and committed.” Remarks made at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, October 20, 2001.

"I fully understand the consequences of what we're doing. We're changing the world. And the world will be better off and America will be more secure as a result of the actions we're taking.” Press conference, Washington, D.C., April 13, 2004.

“The other thing I want to do is to make sure that everybody can feel the great power of love. Again, I fully understand government's role is limited in love." Said at an “Ask President Bush” event, Niles, Michigan, May 3, 2004.

"I believe the decision to go to war was the right decision, particularly after September the 11th. And in this great country people are entitled to express their concerns, I fully understand that." Aboard Air Force One flying from Crawford, Texas, to a campaign rally at Las Cruces, New Mexico, August 26, 2004.

“I laid out a doctrine, David, that said if you harbor terrorists, you're equally as guilty as the terrorists, and that doctrine was ignored by the Taliban, and we removed the Taliban. And I fully understand some people didn't agree with that decision. But I believe that when the American President speaks, he'd better mean what he says in order to keep the world peaceful. And I believe we have a solemn duty, whether or not people agree with it or not, to protect the American people. And the Taliban and their harboring of al Qaeda represented a direct threat to the American people.” Said to NBC correspondent David Gregory, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2004.

“There is a certain attitude in the world, by some, that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. I've heard that criticism. Remember, I went to London to talk about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East. And I fully understand that that might rankle some, and be viewed by some as folly. I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world.” Said to NBC correspondent David Gregory at news conference, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2004.

“In the Cabinet, there will be some changes. I don't know who they will be. It's inevitable there will be changes. It happens in every administration. To a person, I am proud of the work they have done. And I fully understand we're about to head into the period of intense speculation as to who's going to stay and who's not going to stay, and I assured them that--today I warned them of the speculative period. I said, it's a great Washington sport to be talking about who's going to leave and who their replacements may be, and handicapping, you know, my way of thinking.” Press conference, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2004.

“Certain issues come quicker than others in the course of a legislative session, and that depends upon whether or not those issues have been debated. I think of, for example, the legal issue--the legal reform issues, they have been--medical liability reform had been debated and got thwarted a couple of times in one body in particular on Capitol Hill. And so the groundwork has been laid for some legislation that I've been talking about. On an issue like tax reform it's going to--tax simplification, it's going to take a lot of legwork to get something ready for a legislative package. I fully understand that. And Social Security reform will require some additional legwork, although the Moynihan Commission has laid the groundwork for what I think is a very good place to start the debate.” Press conference, Washington, D.C. November 4, 2004.

“And I'm looking over the--I fully understand some people are concerned about whether or not this is affordable. And at the appropriate time, we'll address that aspect of reform.” Discussing Social Security reform at thee first news conference of his second term, Washington, D.C., January 26, 2005.

"I fully understand that as long as I'm the president I will face criticism. It's like part of the job.” Press conference, Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005.

"Listen, one of the interesting things about September the 11th that I want you to understand as we have this discussion is that I fully understand that for some, September the 11th was an important moment and a terrible moment--and we appreciate the condolences of the people of the Netherlands--but for us it was a change of attitude. I mean, it changed a lot about how I looked at the world, and a lot of Americans, it changed how they looked at the world. I mean, it was more than just an attack; it was a whole mind-set." Youth Roundtable, Maastricht, The Netherlands, May 8, 2005.

"As a matter of fact, I fully understand that right here in the state of Wisconsin, a lot of people are counting on the Social Security check." Speaking about Social Security for younger workers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 19, 2005.

“What we're talking about today is new programs and plans with prescription drugs becoming available for our seniors. This is as much an education exercise as anything else, because I fully understand, and our government fully understands, many seniors don't want to change. They're not interested in change. And, therefore, what I'm telling you is, is that at least listen to what's available. You don't have to change if you don't want to, but at least be open-minded enough to listen." Meeting with senior citizens at Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort and Country Club, El Mirage, Arizona, August 29, 2005.

"Look, I fully understand there is--I guess, my reputation is, he sticks to his guns and--it's a very legitimate question, do you ever kind of understand that maybe that you've got to be somewhat flexible?" Press conference, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina, April 6, 2006.

"I fully understand the consequences of making such a decision. I was at church yesterday in Twentynine Palms. In the pew that I was sitting in was a mother and stepfather grieving for a guy who lost his life. And I knew that I would have to deal with this as best as I possibly can." Press conference, Irvine, California, April 24, 2006.

“I fully understand English is the key to unlocking opportunity in America. Part of the greatness of America is that we've been able to help assimilate people into our society, people from all kinds of backgrounds who have come here to seek a better life and become American, because we have the capacity to assimilate.” Press conference at Border Patrol headquarters, Yuma, Arizona, May 18, 2006.

"I fully understand the need for there to be simplicity in the documentation. It needs to be easy for somebody who is known and a person that is--makes a living on the other side of the border. There's--a lot of kids go to college in, like, El Paso, Texas, and they're living in Mexico, so they've got to go back and forth on a regular basis. So I'm familiar with this issue a lot, and I really do emphasize the need for us to be mindful of what a onerous program could mean to good relations, as well as facilitation of trade." Press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, July 6, 2006.

“And then the third area of conflict, the one that gets a lot of attention, as it should, is the sectarian violence taking place in Baghdad. And I fully understand that we've got to help the Iraqis deal with that. So my thinking is--and a lot of our strategy sessions revolve around how best to deal with this problem, and how best to help the Iraqis deal with it. And I've got some more work to do, and I'll come forth at the appropriate time and explain the way forward to the country.” Oval Office interview with Washington Post staff writers, Washington, D.C., December 30, 2006.

“And failure in Iraq, defeat of America, in quotes, will then embolden these extremists. They'll be able to recruit more. They'll be able to find more suiciders. They'll have resources at their availability, like energy if they were able to topple modern governments. In other words, these people have a plan. They have a vision of the world. And they intend to use murder to enact their vision. And I fully understand that. You know, some of my buddies in Texas say, “You know, let them fight it out. What business is it of ours? You got rid of Saddam. Just let them slug it out.” And that's a temptation that I know a lot of people feel. But if we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.” Interview with Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes, Camp David, Maryland, January 14, 2007.

“Well--listen, I fully understand the president has got to convince the American people it's worth it and that we can succeed, and no doubt--and I've spent a lot of time during my presidency talking to the American people and educating the American people about the stakes and what we're trying to get done. And I fully understand, Jim, by the way, that the American people are going to say, okay, show us whether this works. When it's all said and done, what really matters is not my speech or my interview with you, but what happens on the ground. And that's my primary concern in coming up with something different, was that it was working in Baghdad, so therefore we've got to do something different. One option was to leave, one option was to step up--but let me talk about Baker-Hamilton." Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer, Washington, D.C., January 16, 2007.

“No, and no question about that. And that's why I'm having this interview with you. I'm trying to do my very best to explain to people why success is vital. In other words, people have got to understand that if we decide and we grow weary of--and there's a lot of war weariness in this country, and I fully understand that--and we say, okay, well, let's just leave; we can leave in stages, but let's just leave, or let's just pull back and hope that the Iraqis are able to settle their business, the consequences of that decision will be disastrous for the future of this country. And therefore, we got to keep working on ways to succeed, as far as I'm concerned." Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer, Washington, D.C., January 16, 2007.

“I fully understand it's going to be up to the Iraqis to solve their problems. I was hoping to be in a different position. In other words, I had hoped I'd be able to interview with you and say, well, you know, we're not needed as much anymore, but I fully recognize that unless the violence in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, the sectarian violence and the criminality is dealt with, then the political reconciliation necessary to unite the country isn't going to happen. And so I made a tough decision, and that is to reinforce our troops there and put a new commander there in the hopes of breaking the sectarian violence--or helping the Iraqis break it.” Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer, Washington, D.C., January 16, 2007.

"I told the American people I fully understand there are differences of opinion. But one of the things I have discovered is, in Washington, D.C., most people understand the consequences of failure." Press conference at House Republican Conference in Cambridge, Maryland, January 26, 2007.

“I fully understand it's going to be up to the Iraqis to solve their problems. I was hoping to be in a different position. In other words, I had hoped I'd be able to interview with you and say, well, you know, we're not needed as much anymore, but I fully recognize that unless the violence in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, the sectarian violence and the criminality is dealt with, then the political reconciliation necessary to unite the country isn't going to happen. And so I made a tough decision, and that is to reinforce our troops there and put a new commander there in the hopes of breaking the sectarian violence--or helping the Iraqis break it." National Public Radio interview with Juan Williams, Washington, D.C., January 29, 2007.

"I fully understand that if you read your newspaper articles--which I do sometimes--and listen carefully, you'll hear voices in both parties saying they don't like No Child Left Behind: It's too much testing, or, we don't want to be held to account, or whatever they say. The bill is working. It makes a lot of sense." Press conference, Washington, D.C., February 14, 2007.

“And it's a--at any rate, that's why I made the decision I made. Presidents have to weigh different options all the time. Look, I fully understand there are some who are--don't agree with every decision I make. I hope the American people understand I make those decisions because I believe it's going to yield the peace that we all want." Press conference, Washington, D.C., February 14, 2007.

“I committed to stay involved in the rebuilding of--gosh, a United States Senator, excuse me, Senator--and the Congressman, I beg your pardon. I committed to the people of this part of the world and the Gulf Coast that the federal government would fund recovery and stay committed to the recovery. And one of the reasons I have come down is to hear from you. I fully understand that there are frustrations and I want to know the frustrations. And to the extent we can help, we'll help. I told the people that I would work with the Congress to write a $110 billion check--the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, and that check has been written. And now it's incumbent upon us to get the money into people's hands."
Said March 1, 2007, at lunch at Lil Dizzy’s Café, New Orleans, Louisiana, after touring portions of the still-devastated Gulf Coast.

Apropos our linguistically awkward President's most recent use of "I fully understand," his favorite empty phrase: George W. Bush likes to call himself "The Decider"--but wonders never cease. Eighteen months after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing period of unkept promises to restore the Gulf Coast region to economic viability, the wonder is that he would dare to show his face in a region still dotted with FEMA trailer colonies and proceed to lay the blame for both the untoward delays and the reconstruction debacle everywhere but upon himself.

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