Tag Archives: George W. Bush

All the malaprops and melodious valedictories of office 

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The public’s love-hate relationship with political speeches is not merely a matter of record; it is an historical fact. It’s also an observably mutable one.

On word, for example, that a young Winston Churchill, primping and posing in the early years of the 20th century, was about to speak, his fellow parliamentarians (of all ideological bents) could not flee the Commons’ chamber fast enough.

Today, of course, we recognize the late Prime Minister of Great Britain as one of the all-time great speechifiers in english

His famous quips inspired (“to build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years; to destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day”), assured (“success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”), motivated (this is no time for ease and comfort; it is time to dare and endure”), advised (if you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. . . use a pile driver. . . hit the point once. . . then come back and hit it again. . .then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack”), and amused (“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly”).

Prior to winning the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama had been considered a worthy successor of Churchillian oratory – certainly, a breath of fresh and invigorating air, given his immediate predecessor’s preternatural talent for issuing verbal gaffes and malapropisms.

Ah, yes, George W. Bush, we continue to miss your skilled use of language from 

“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” to “rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?”

And we have not forgotten this: “They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander in chief, too.”

Or this: “There’s no doubt in my mind, not one doubt in my mind, that we will fail.” Or this: “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.”

Or, finally, this: “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.”

In the dim light of such unintentional tom-foolery, Obama has presented himself as a virtual oracle of hope and promise (which is his deliberate brand statement). In fact, giving speeches, some critics have observed of his term-and-a-half as president,  is about the only thing he does well.  As for follow through. . .well, not so much.

Still, in last week’s sixth State of the Union address he was, as political speechwriters like to say, on fire; and sitting here in the frigid northern reaches of North America, it’s hard not draw comparisons with our own latter-day Ciceros.

“At every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot,” he thundered. “We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the Internet tools they needed to go as far as their effort and their dreams will take them.

“That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success, we want everyone to contribute to our success.”

In Canada, our version of a call to citizen action sounds a lot like this passage from the 2013 Speech from the Throne: “(Ours) is now among only a few countries in the world with a triple-A credit rating. By taking decisive action, Canada has stayed strong where others have faltered.

“But we cannot be complacent. The global economy still faces significant risks from factors that we do not control. We must stay the course. And sound management remains our Government’s guide.”

Who knows? Maybe this will be remembered someday as a glittering example of 21st Century oratory.

“Staying the course” may be every government’s boring, old bread and butter, but

a political speech that doesn’t over-promise. . .well, that’s something to commemorate.

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What’s another weasel word for ‘waterboarding’?

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Oh, Dick Cheney; God, love you, man.

At least, you’d better hope the Almighty has a soft spot in his eternal, cosmic heart for ilk such as yours.

Down here, on planet Earth, we mortals wrote you off at about the time you insisted that forcibly pouring water down someone’s throat to the point of nearly asphyxiating him was not torture.

Indeed, you sly dog, you casually observed it was merely an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Why, it happens all the time. Right? Move along people; nothing to see here.

Earlier this week, the former vice president of the United States in the George W. Bush administrations of 2000-04 and 2004-08 (the world’s very own, live-action Darth Vader-Emperor Palpatine dynamic duo of the early 21st century) was at it again, defending, on major news programs in the United States, the indefensible.

Lending a hand to congressional Republicans in a co-ordinated attack on a scathing report by Senate Democrats on the CIA’s predilection for torturing people it suspected of being terrorists in the years following the 9/11 attacks on lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C., Cheney declared, “I would do it again in a minute.”

Naturally, he denied that what American intelligence officials were authorized to do to its detainees and prisoners constituted anything like torture, a claim that is almost as risible as his own definition: “Torture is what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

There they are again, three of the ugliest weasel words of the modern age: enhanced interrogation techniques. The intelligence community, ever up for a twisted joke, actually slaps an acronym on them (EITs) as if to further distance the practices to which they refer from what regular folks generally understand to be torture

According to information contained in a 2005 Justice Department memo, obtained by The Associated Press last week, “EITs” included: abdominal slaps, attention grasps, cramped confinement, dietary manipulation, facial holds, facial slaps, insult slaps, forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall standing, wall slamming, water dousing and, of course, everybody’s favorite, waterboarding.”

None of which gave Cheney pause to reflect when he was in office; it still doesn’t.

During one news program on which he appeared, he seemed genuinely unfazed by a section of the Senate report which described the mistaken identity of a man who subsequently died at the hands of his interrogators:

“The problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end(ed) up back on the battlefield,” he said.

When pressed about findings indicating that as many as 25 per cent of those who were detained were innocent, he said, “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent. . .I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.”

And how did that work out for him?

According to the current director of the CIA, EITs didn’t actually get the job done as Cheney and his pals like to claim. At a press conference convened at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, last week, John Brennan stated: “Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”

“But,” he said (and it’s a mighty big but), “let me be  clear. . .We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees.”

In other words, “the cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is, in my view, unknowable.”

In fact, The Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper reported this week “More than a decade (ago). . .the U.S. military’s top lawyers were warning that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were legally questionable, likely ineffectual and could expose American troops to criminal prosecution and torture at the hands of their own captors,”

So, then, the CIA’s EITs quite probably violated several specific human rights and, what’s more, they didn’t work.

Would it, I wonder, torture the world’s news media to turn their collective back the next time Dick Cheney comes running for an interview?

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Foaming at the mouth over lickspittles

Poor Ms. Maj. Her eyes are shut wide open

Poor Ms. Maj. Her eyes are shut wide open

It is rare that a member of the Senate of Canada affords so exquisite an opportunity to drink deeply the rich elixir that is the English language. So let us compliment Marjory LeBreton, the federal Government’s chief representative in the Upper Chamber, for her recent, and truly marvelous, display of verbal pyrotechnics.

To be perfectly clear, here’s exactly what she said in a speech last week: “We moved at the first opportunity to make the Senate more open, accountable and transparent. It was determined from September 2010 onward, Senators expenses would be publicly reported on a quarterly basis. Had that not taken place – no one would have been any the wiser. Things would have carried on in the old Liberal way –nudge, nudge, wink, wink!”

Indeed, she said, “The reality. . .is that we are facing this crisis because we flung open the door and revealed what was going on and now rather than being credited for doing so, we are paying the price for taking this important and necessary step.”

Alas, she added, “I am not surprised. I am a Conservative and I know more than most that around this town, populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles, tut-tutting about our government and yearning for the good old days, that we are never given the benefit of doubt and are rarely given credit for all the good work that we do.”

Lickspittle. What a most excellent word; a true mouthful of antiquated bile and embalmed moral authority.

“A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper,” is how the 19th century American writer Ambroise Bierce defined the “lickspittle” in his masterwork of humour, The Devil’s Dictionary. Such a cad, he wrote, “is closely allied to the blackmailer by the tie of occasional identity; for in truth the lickspittle is only the blackmailer under another aspect, although the latter is frequently found as an independent species. Lickspittling is more detestable than blackmailing, precisely as the business of a confidence man is more detestable than that of a highway robber; and the parallel maintains itself throughout, for whereas few robbers will cheat, every sneak will plunder if he dare.”

Modern definitions, found in online dictionaries, include, “a fawning underling; a toady; a flattering or servile person” and “a contemptible person.”

Lickspittle’s closest synonym is, perhaps, “sycophant” from the Latin “sycophanta”. According to a Wiktionary entry it denotes “one who uses compliments  to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another; one who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.” A lickspittle, therefore, is also an “ass-kisser, brown-noser, suck-up, yes man, parasite, flunky” or “lackey.”

Sadly, this detestable creature can be found in nearly all walks of life, doing the  loathsome bidding of their profane superiors in every country of the world. During the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, you could have papered the walls of the Oval Office with them. These days, you can observe them at the IRS, targeting conservative groups seeking tax exemptions.

And while Ms. LeBreton may be justified in vilifying the “media lickspittles” in her midst, sometimes it works the other way around.

“The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press. . .called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records unconstitutional,” The Washington Times reported earlier this month. Gary Pruitt. . .said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. (He) told CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities. ‘If they restrict that apparatus. . .the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know, and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,’ he said.”

In fact, about the only institution, public or private, that remains utterly devoid of lickspittles is a certain branch of the Canadian Parliament, where 105 unelected members, appointed by the Governor General on the “advice” of the prime minister exercise only the soundest judgement, free of influence, in the lofty interest of the citizens they represent.

Isn’t that true, Ms. LeBreton? What, pray tell, is your word for them?

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