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A Tale of Two Bushes
April 20, 2004
By Scott C. Smith

I'm still fascinated by the very different responses to Bush's April 13 press conference by liberals and conservatives. Many a conservative pundit praised Bush; on the Hannity and Colmes show that aired immediately following the press conference, Sean Hannity proclaimed, "I thought the president was articulate, poised and laid out the case of why this (the war in Iraq) was necessary."

Let's take a look at that word, articulate. Here's how Webster's Dictionary defines articulate:

1. Endowed with the power of speech.
2. Composed of distinct, meaningful syllables or words, as human speech.
3. Expressing oneself easily in clear and effective language: an articulate speaker.

I'm sorry, but in the press conference I watched, Bush was the opposite of articulate. In fact, the following antonyms are more descriptive of the press conference I viewed: bumbling, inarticulate, misrepresent, misspeak, mumble.

For instance, in the "misspeak" category, we have Bush calling Donald Rumsfeld "Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld."

So, how is it that conservatives seemingly watched a completely different press conference? One answer is that so many conservatives are so blinded by their slobbering devotion to the president that they "overlook" those elements of the press conference that reveal Bush to not be up to snuff in the difficult task of public speaking. To one reporter that wondered if Bush thought he had communicated his message clearly to America, Bush said, "I hope today you've got a sense of my conviction about what we're doing. If you don't, maybe I need to learn to communicate better."

Yes! That's it! He does need to learn to communicate better. I think Bush could make a tape recording of himself snoring loudly, play it back for conservatives, and have the conservatives remark about how "articulate and on message" the president was in his snoring.

I'm a former military journalist (I served my country; Sean Hannity did not. That's an important distinction). Although my training was mainly in print journalism, I did take some classes in broadcast journalism, and let me tell you, one of the worst things to happen during a television broadcast is dead air. Dead air is silence. A few seconds of dead air can cost a television station or network viewers; they'll simply switch channels. That's why the debate format seen in shows like The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes is so popular, especially with television producers: there never is any dead air. Indeed, it is very common to have the guests, and the hosts, talking over each other. Someone is always saying something, and people stay tuned to see what line of bull will come out of Hannity's mouth next.

Based on that criteria - the ability to speak a seemingly endless stream of inanity - Hannity is the most successful broadcaster working today.

Perhaps the most painful moment of the press conference was when a reporter asked Bush about mistakes Bush thought he had made (the reporter brought up the story Bush liked to tell of how his one big mistake in life was trading away Sammy Sosa when Bush was an owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team), and what he had learned from them. That question really stumped Bush. As the gears in his brain slowly started to turn, the dead air became deafening. Finally, Bush answered, I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. Very poised, right Sean?

Bush continued, "John (the reporter), I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could've done it better this way or that. You know, I just - I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer (sic), but it hadn't yet." Frankly, if Bush buckles under this kind of pressure, I don't think he's the right man for the job of President of the United States.

I think Al Franken's assessment of conservatives holds true in this circumstance. Franken says conservatives love America like a child does; so, in the eyes of the child, the parent can do no wrong. To Bush's supporters, it's easy to ignore each instance of "uhm" or the periods of dead air during a press conference. They'll simply see their man delivering a powerful message to America.


Scott C. Smith is a freelance writer from Beaverton, Oregon. In addition to his column, which appears regularly at the Democratic Underground and Smirking Chimp web sites, Scott writes for his web magazine, What's In Scott's Head.

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