W.'s Greatest Hits
The top 25 Bushisms of all time.
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
6. "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''—Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001
7. "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."—Washington, D.C., April 18, 2006
8. "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."—Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005
9. "I've heard he's been called Bush's poodle. He's bigger than that."—discussing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as quoted by the Sun newspaper, June 27, 2007
10. "And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq."—meeting with Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008
11. "We ought to make the pie higher."—South Carolina Republican debate, Feb. 15, 2000
12. "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
13. "And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I'm sorry it's the case, and I'll work hard to try to elevate it."—speaking on National Public Radio, Jan. 29, 2007
14. "We'll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers."—Houston, Sept. 6, 2000
15. "It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet."—Arlington Heights, Ill., Oct. 24, 2000
16. "One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures."—U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 3, 2000
17. "People say, 'How can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil?' You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in's house and say I love you."—Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2002
18. "Well, I think if you say you're going to do something and don't do it, that's trustworthiness."—CNN online chat, Aug. 30, 2000
19. "I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep on the soil of a friend."—on the prospect of visiting Denmark, Washington, D.C., June 29, 2005
20. "I think it's really important for this great state of baseball to reach out to people of all walks of life to make sure that the sport is inclusive. The best way to do it is to convince little kids how to—the beauty of playing baseball."—Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 2006
21. "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."—LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000
22. "You know, when I campaigned here in 2000, I said, I want to be a war president. No president wants to be a war president, but I am one."—Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 26, 2006
23. "There's a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, 'I don't want you to let me down again.' "—Boston, Oct. 3, 2000
24. "They misunderestimated me."—Bentonville, Ark., Nov. 6, 2000
25. "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."—Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008
Slate V: The Best of Video Bushisms