The Buzzwords of George W. Bush
How he spins the issues.
Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. This series analyzes their pet phrases, candidate by candidate. Today's subject is George W. Bush.
Hot on their trail/got them on the run
Example: "We're bringing al-Qaida to justice. And for those we haven't brought to justice yet, we're hot on their trail. We're close by. We've got them on the run, and we'll keep them on the run" (speech, June 19, 2003).
What it means: They're at large.
What it hides: If we were hot on their trail, they wouldn't still be at large.
Subtext: We've got 'em right where we want 'em—wherever that is.
Example: "To get our economy going again, we have twice led the Congress to pass historic tax relief for the American people" (speech at a Bush-Cheney fund-raiser, June 23, 2003).
What it means: Tax cuts.
What it hides: Relief for some people means budget cuts for others.
Subtext: I'm not giving money to taxpayers; I'm taking less of it from them.
Example: "Thank you for letting me come by to talk about … the opportunities and the chances of modernizing Medicare. … I want to spend some time talking about the historic opportunity we have to modernize Medicare on behalf of America's seniors. … We're modernizing Medicare" (speech, June 30, 2003).
What it means: Change.
What it hides: The reason we're changing Medicare is that it's too expensive. Guess what that means.
Subtext to old people: Medicare is too old and cumbersome.
Subtext to young people: Grandma is too old and cumbersome.
Example: "I commend the House of Representatives for acting to permanently eliminate the death tax. The death tax results in unfair double taxation of income. … Permanently eliminating the death tax is an important step toward increasing fairness in the tax code and promoting economic security" (statement, June 18, 2003).
What it means: The estate tax.
What it hides: Unless you're worth more than $7 million, supporters of the "death tax" aren't proposing to tax your death.
Subtext: Don't think of dead rich people as rich people. Think of them as dead people.
Example: "My hope is to change the culture from one that has said, 'If it feels good, do it; if you've got a problem, blame somebody else,' to one in which every single American understands that he or she are responsible for the decisions that you make. …You're responsible for being involved with the quality of the education of your children. You're responsible for making sure the community in which you live is safe" (speech, June 17, 2003).
What it means: You're responsible.
What it hides: Therefore, I'm not.
Subtext: It feels good to blame somebody else for the culture of irresponsibility.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of George W. Bush by Khaled Mouftah/Agence France-Presse.