Interview by Bruce David
The author of The Bush Dyslexicon reveals the creepy intent behind the Presidents goofy gaffes.
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at New York University and an author whose writings and commentaries have been published worldwide. His books include Boxed In: The Culture of TV and more recently The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, in which Miller exposes the fact that Bush's verbal gaffes are much more than the silly bloopers of a bumbling public speaker; they inadvertently reveal the inner workings of a sinister mind.
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HUSTLER: Tell us about your book.
MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Although it has its share of laughs, The Bush Dyslexicon is no joke book. It's a close reading of Bush's off-the-cuff remarks and a critique of the mainstream media, which has enabled him from the beginning. One of the things I've tried to do is debunk the notion that Bush is a simple imbecile. That caricature has actually done him a lot of good, even though it does insult him, because it allows the White House to maintain the fiction that he's a regular guy, salt of the earth. Well, this "regular guy" went to Phillips [Academy] Andover and Yale thanks to his family connections, and then went to the Harvard Business School. He's a member of one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in the country. The queen of England is a distant cousin. I wanted to refute the view that Bush is a plain-spun, down-home Will Rogers type. And I do it, in part, by showing that his is not at all the language of the common man-that his linguistic problems tell us more than that he's just a dunce. In fact, on certain subjects, Bush is perfectly coherent [while speaking] off-the-cuff. What's most troubling about Bush is not stupidity so much as insincerity-that he's incapable of winging it on any idealistic or altruistic theme. It's when he tries to sound like he cares about the unemployed, believes in racial harmony or cherishes democracy that he makes his most hilarious mistakes. But when he talks about revenge, punishment or death, he tends to be quite coherent. This is not a judgment based on one or two stray statements. It's a constant pattern with him and, therefore, I would say definitive.
HUSTLER: What has been the public reaction to your study?
MILLER: Some of his supporters have accused me of armchair psychoanalysis, but what I'm doing isn't medical in any way. Rather, I've subjected Bush's words to close analysis and point out something striking about what it is that he has trouble saying. It's the sort of thing we do with one another all the time. If you were married to somebody who just couldn't say "I love you" or express affection without screwing up, but who had no trouble barking at you, cracking nasty jokes about you, and spoke with easy viciousness about her enemies and what she'd like to do to them, you'd have some justifiable qualms about your future as a couple. The same thing applies here. It's significant that Bush has such a hard time talking idealis-tically and such a good time talking cruelly.
HUSTLER: Give us a couple of examples.
MILLER: One of the most famous was, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." He said it when he was campaigning in New Hampshire back in 2000. He could not say, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family's table." It's a very easy thing to say, but he couldn't manage it because he doesn't know what it's like to have to go without, and more importantly, he doesn't care. Another good one: "The goals for this country are a compassionate American for every single citizen." What is that, a new federal program? As I said, the guy can't really do compassion. And sometimes, when he tries, he just sounds fucking scary: "If you want to hurt people, and help them to feel better...." Comforting, no? Like this recent assurance: "I will use our military as a last resort and our first resort, and I understand the consequences of military action." Now, if Bush were a really gifted political actor....
HUSTLER: Like Clinton.
MILLER: Yes, or Reagan. Such a performer is always able to believe what he's saying at the moment he says it. Even if he doesn't really buy it in his heart of hearts, he can make himself believe it just enough, and for just long enough, to make it sound credible. It's much the same with professional acting. Bush doesn't have that capacity. Neither did his father. At the same location where Bush said, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family," Bush Senior had once said, "Message: I care!" which was a stage direction, written in the margins of his speech. He read it out loud by mistake. In such transparent clumsiness, the son is like the father, only more so. But after 9/11, it was suddenly taboo to point out any of his verbal errors. And he kept right on making them despite the myth of his total metamorphosis into a second Churchill. Chris Matthews actually made that comparison, by the way. When Bush said, "Let's roll," Matthews said it was "Churchillian." In January of 2002, Bush was trying to boast of the great good that we had done the people of Afghanistan: "We're freeing women and children from incredible impression." Again, the press did not make mention of it. But he did catch a little flak last fall when he tried to say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
HUSTLER: He couldn't say it at all.
MILLER: Yes, and the reason why he couldn't say it is that Bush could never in a million years say "shame on me." If you watch that moment carefully, you can see that as soon as he realized that he was going to have to say "shame on me," he went to pieces. He quickly had to quote The Who instead: "Won't get fooled again." He could never admit fallibility because he is without a doubt the most stiff-necked, self-righteous and opinionated President we've ever had. For him, it is a point of pride that he can't change his mind. He sees total rigidity as a sign of"character"-much like Nixon, his true spiritual father.
HUSTLER: Why did you write the book?
MILLER: I wrote the book in part to reconfirm the truth that people picked up naturally from watching Bush on TV. With certain politicians, television is a medium that has no mercy. It cuts right to the quick, showing us exactly who they are. Others-Clinton, Reagan, JFK-have been blessed by the medium, which has made them look like gods. But TV is poison to the other type, exposing all their insecurities. Thus it was with LBJ, and especially with Nixon.
HUSTLER: In Bush's case, he's constantly exposed.
MILLER: Absolutely. Viewers can spot his anger, his resentfulness and arrogance as surely as the television audience could see the vengefulness in Nixon, or the effeteness of Bush Sr. This Bush, however, is consistently protected by the corporate forces that control the medium in this country. That is, those commercial entities-the pundits, anchors, correspondents-have consistently attempted to play down the truth that the medium itself exposes in this President. So there has been a very disorienting gap between the man we see with our own eyes and the idealized version largely worshiped by the network personnel. One purpose of my book is to confirm that we did see exactly what we thought we saw throughout the Presidential race. I'm scrupulous throughout in reproducing Bush's statements in their full context. I haven't merely isolated ludicrous misstatements just to get a laugh. I think there's more to what Bush says than its apparent silliness. What he meant to say is often more appalling than the mangled way he said it. And, more important, there's the fact that his inept performance was consistently enabled by the so-called liberal media. The reporters' full complicity was an important aspect of the context, and so I also have that there in black and white. If the Dyslexicon can help refute the stubborn myth of liberal media bias, I will be very pleased.
HUSTLER: The very fact that the press ignores Bush's gaffes suggests that we really don't have a free press.
MILLER: The mainstream press is nothing but a propaganda echo chamber for the White House and the Pentagon. And we're well past the point of merely issuing warnings about some possible Orwellian future. "I just want you to know that when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace," as Bush put it in June of 2002. And the amount of news-important news-that doesn't get reported in this country, but is reported elsewhere, is astonishing.
HUSTLER: It's nearly impossible to get a well-rounded picture of events from the domestic media.
MILLER: My audience, by and large, [consists of] quite sophisticated people. They're certainly progressive, and they try to stay informed. I'd say that 85% of them are shocked by most of what I have to tell them-stuff that I pick up from a range of wholly reputable foreign sources. It's stuff buried in the fine print of the Homeland Security Act and the USA PATRIOT Act: stipulations that are totally unconstitutional and, therefore, very dangerous to all of us. It's the requirement stuck deep inside the No Child Left Behind Act that all U.S. public schools provide full contact information on every student, or else face a cutoff of federal funding. It's the dictatorial powers granted to the nation's governors by the Emergency Health Protection Act, which holds that each state's chief executive can order you to [either] get a smallpox shot or be detained. It's the fact that there's a no-fly list in this country, which prevents something like 1,000 Americans from boarding any airplane in the United States-and these aren't folks with terrorist ties or even Arabic surnames, but antiwar activists-Green Party organizers and so on. And it's the fact that these electronic voting machines are owned by private interests very close to one of the two parties.
All of this is relevant to our self-government, and none of it is carried by the major media. The Bill of Rights itself is now at serious risk because of it. The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.
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Bruce David is the Editorial Director of HUSTLER. His writing has appeared in Playboy, Penthouse, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, LA Weekly and National Lampoon. He has also written for the television series Alf and Family Ties.