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Sitting On Terrorism Intelligence Rove Cheney*


No Crawfishing From a Unique Vernacular

By Dana Milbank

Tuesday, September 10, 2002; Page A13

In these inebriating times, when it is hard to put food on our families and executives are led off in cuff links, there is a pressing need to know what President Bush, the author of such colorful phrases, has done to the English language lately. It is time for an update on Bush-speak.

Many listeners were surprised on Aug. 29, when they thought they heard the president, at a fundraiser in Oklahoma, declare: "If you let the people have their own money, they will demand a gooder service. And if they demand a gooder service, somebody will produce the gooder service. And when somebody produces that gooder service, somebody is more likely to find jobs."

Gooder service? As in: Build a gooder service and the world will bring a dictionary to your door?

Actually, no. Close followers of the president's verbal habits quickly determined that Bush was not saying "gooder service," merely applying a west-Texas intonation to "good or service." The phrase, which Bush uses regularly, has posed some difficulty for him. Speaking in Indiana last week, Bush pronounced the words clearly but in the wrong order: "When they demand or good a service in our society, somebody is more likely to produce it."

Everything came together for Bush that same day in Louisville when he referred to "a good or a service."

Bush has not lost his knack for inventing new words and new definitions for old words. In Oklahoma on Aug. 29, he had what might be considered a Freudian slip when he said of the terrorists: "They hate things; we love things." He presumably meant "freedom." Similarly, when he said in Waco, Tex., on Aug. 13 that "I firmly believe the death tax is good for people from all walks of life," he meant quite the opposite.

But the president, for the most part, has moved to a new generation of Bushisms, in which he deploys creative, if correct, usage.

For example, Bush's announcement last week that "Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement he had made" sent many listeners crawfishing for their Oxfords and Websters. In fact, the president's usage was perfect: "to retreat from a position taken up; to 'back out,'" as the Oxford English dictionary put it, citing American colloquial usage back to 1848. In practice, Bush's description of the Iraqi leader was even more dead-on: Crawfish live under rocks in streams, and when in danger of capture, propel themselves backward to escape. Unclear whether all that nuance will be conveyed by Iraqi state translators unskilled at crawfishing.

Bush has also found a clever way of dismissing administration leaks. Rather than confirm or deny the leaks, Bush crawfishes: He belittles the leaker's rank in the government. Asked about finger-pointing between the FBI and the CIA this spring, Bush dismissed it as "the level-three staffers trying to protect their hide." Asked about an attack on Iraq at a July 8 press conference, Bush scoffed at "somebody down there at level five flexing some know-how muscle." He did not explain why this leaker was two levels below the other.

Later, Bush's National Security Council spokesman, Sean McCormack, demoted the leakers by a level. "There are a lot of people {ndash}President Bush refers to them as level fives and level sixers -- these are people down in the government who are flapping their lips about various things," McCormack said.

Bush has increasingly peppered his speeches with "by the way" asides -- seven of them in one speech on Aug. 29. Often, these lines are whimsical afterthoughts, as when discussing Air Force One ("By the way, it's not a bad way to travel"). Sometimes, they don't seem to be afterthoughts at all, as when Bush offered this aside on terrorists: "By the way, they're nothing but a bunch of cold-blooded killers."

An agitated Vice President Cheney, in a tête-à-tête with NBC's Tim Russert on Sunday, said it was "reprehensible" that people would think the administration had "saved" its ammunition on Iraq to bring it out now, 60 days before an election. "So the suggestion that somehow, you know, we husbanded this and we waited is just not true," Cheney said.

Now where would people get such a cockamamie idea? Well, maybe from White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who made the case to the New York Times's Elisabeth Bumiller last week that they pretty much did what Cheney said they didn't do -- waited patiently and deliberately to launch a long-planned rollout. "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," Card said. Added Rove: "The thought was that in August the president is sort of on vacation."

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