I just watched a newsclip of Bush answering questions at a rare press conference yesterday. I am not exaggerating when I say I wanted to cover my face in embarrassment.
I think of the way Tony Blair, through a contagious passion and the confidence of a born orator, can inspire a crowd. I think of Clinton and Reagan, the two greatest American communicators of my lifetime. I think of Churchill. And Hitler (the man could talk, I’ll give him that).
Then we come to Bush. As he coughs and sputters and stammers and stutters, trying to decipher his torturous syntax becomes an exercise in sheer futility. He is fine when he has a prepared speech in front of him. But when he’s on his own, forced into spontaneous dialogue, all we see is this fat head with two frightened eyes swimming helplessly in their sockets, an obvious “fight-or-flight” dread emanating from his pores; he clutches at phrases, for some banal platitude that will be uncontroversial enough to get him out of the vice alive. When he isn’t uttering incoherent gibberish, he’s spewing out the tritest and blandest of cliches. It is painful watching him flounder to keep afloat.
More than anything else the president is a communicator. In this regard, Bush gets the lowest marks ever. He is the anti-communicator, the Great Obfuscator, the tongue-tied village idiot. That’s the best I can say for him. Watching him simply makes one’s skin crawl, in several different directions at once.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.