Read more of Slate's coverage of the end of Bush's presidency.
I started gathering Bush's verbal slip-ups while covering his first presidential campaign. From the first one we published in Slate in October 1999—"The important question is, how many hands have I shaked?"—adding to the collection has been my main pleasure, perhaps my only pleasure, in watching the man.
Since then, I've collected—with help from Slate readers—more than 500 Bushisms. What follows is a list of my 25 favorites. There were many to choose from, but in my opinion, the greatest Bushism of all was delivered on Aug. 5, 2004, when the president declared: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
People often assume that because I've spent the past nine years collecting Bushisms, I must despise George W. Bush. To the contrary, Bushisms fill me with affection for the man—and not just because of the income stream they've generated. I find the Bush who flails with words, unlike the Bush who flails with policy, to be an endearing character. Instead of a villain, he makes himself into an irresistible buffoon, like Mrs. Malaprop, Archie Bunker, or Homer Simpson. Bush treats words the way he treated recalcitrant European leaders: When they won't do what he wants them to, he tries to bully them into submission. Through his willful, improvisational, and incompetent use of language, he tempers (very slightly) his willful, improvisational, and incompetent use of government. You can't, in the end, despise someone who regrets that, because of the rising cost of malpractice insurance, "[t]oo many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."
It helps his case that Bush, like Yogi Berra, is in on the joke. This was clear from the first White House correspondents' dinner, in March 2001, when the new president read from the first collection of Bushisms, which he described as like Mao's "little red book," only not in Chinese. "Now ladies and gentlemen," he said, "you have to admit that in my sentences I go where no man has gone before." Of course, he bumbled his speech, claiming that he'd invented the term misunderstanding. He meant to say "misunderestimated."
Being able to laugh at yourself is a rare quality in a leader. It's one thing George W. Bush can do that Bill Clinton couldn't. Unfortunately, as we bid farewell to Bushisms, we must conclude that the joke was mainly on us.
1. "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."—Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004
2. "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."—Greater Nashua, N.H., Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 27, 2000
3. "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"—Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000
4. "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."—Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004
5. "Neither in French nor in English nor in Mexican."—declining to answer reporters' questions at the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, Canada, April 21, 2001