Bush Meets the Press

Lexicon | Politics

If only he be meeting the press more often. A linguistic foray into today’s Presidential interview.

Those who learned anything over the national debate a few years back “ebonics” (what linguist call African American Vernacular English) should at least have come away with the lesson that standard English has a rather imprecise definition of the present tense. The confusion in “proper” English was perhaps most infamously expressed by President Clinton, who in the climax of the flytrap investigations, admitted that it all depended on what the meaning “is” is. In AAVE, the use of “be” before a verb indicates a habitual present tense. When you say “He be working,” you mean that he’s working at a regular job, and not just working at this present moment (see definition of “be” in the American Heritage Dictionary, section on “our living language.”)

With that in mind, we mind say that President Bush did in fact “meet the press” with Tim Russert on NBC today, though he we can’t say that “he be meeting the press” on a habitual basis (the media has found his dozen or so press conference in 4 years to be the lowest of any modern President). But it’s not the present which President Bush confuses; it’s the past.

In the transcript, I find much of the discussion based on the analysis that Saddam Hussein “had” weapons of certain destruction*. Or otherwise, he possessed some the capability (which I’ll define as a criminologist would, with the motive, means and opportunity), to acquire them. But the widespread understanding is that Saddam’s capability had largely diminished between 1991 and 2003. So it’s still a key point to demand exactly when is meant by had. Or else, we’ve all been had.

Also, with President Bush, the future is in doubt. What Russert should have asked him simply is this: “If there’s a tax cut, the money has to be transferred from somewhere. Either from the wealthy today, the wealthy in the future, or from everybody in the future. Which is it?” The supply-siders claim that the money will come from increased growth (and by extension on the Laffer curve, increased tax revenues). Only this has not happened. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal tax revenues have fallen over the last three years in absolute terms, even before adjusting for inflation. As well, they have dropped as a percentage of the economy. The theory that supply-side absolutism will benefit revenues is optimistic, at best (and at worse, a fraud, as Paul Krugman has written).

The overriding theme about Bush’s defense of the Iraq war was that he took preemption against another potential terrorist attack against the U.S. He didn’t want to have that risk open. Well, with that forethought, you’d think that the administration would prepare for the worst economically as well, with prudent tax policies. Nope.

I think I’ve exhausted the explorations tenses for now, but I did want to pass along some thoughts on the use of possession. When we are told that by the President that Hussein “had used (chemical) weapons against his own people”, we should remember that the “ownership” of the Kurds didn’t extend both ways, as it does in a legitimate political system. It is more accurate to say “he used chemical weapons against a minority people under his rule who couldn’t retaliate in kind.” Or one could say that “he used the thread of WMD’s (lacking any working systems) to maintain his rule over society.”

The vapor of this all is the WMD’s– they did not exist in the physical for many years, and they don’t quite stay stable as a term (see Christopher Hitchens’s essay on “WMD” and “Inspection”: Are Saddam’s weapons really so unconventional?”). The formulation of “weapons of mass destruction related program activities” from the October report of the Iraq Survey Group was made more familiar by the “State of the Union” speech. We the United States, along with our allies, happen to have WMD’s, so here’s how the President distinguish

“See, free societies are societies that don’t develop weapons of mass terror and don’t blackmail the world.”

Fair enough. But earlier, when Russert asked “whether we can launch a preemptive war without iron clad absolute intelligence that [Saddam] had weapons of mass destruction,” Bush answered:

“Let me take a step back for a second and there is no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of iron clad absolutely solid evidence.”

Aside from those dictatorial regimes who have displayed their weapons of mass terror for all the world to see.

* I suggest that we rename “WMD” to be “Weapons of Mutual Destruction”. This would harken back to the “Mutually Assured Destructrion” (MAD) theory of superpower deterence, and a reminder that North Korea and Pakistan aren’t going to use their own WMD’s unless they’ve written their own wills. It would also conveniently tie in suicide bombings, which has been recommended to be defined as war crimes, by the Human Rights Watch.

I was pleased to see William Saletan of Slate nailed the philosophical angle, Bush as understanding reality through Platonic ideals: “What’s real is the general idea of these things. The idea of a computer. The idea of a desk. The idea of an Iraqi threat to the United States. Whether you actually have a computer or a desk, or whether Saddam Hussein actually had chemical weapons, is less important than the larger truth. The abstraction is the reality.” (“You Can Make It With Plato: Bush’s difficult relationship with reality.”)