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Hanging Bush

Contemporary, USA

gw bush says, it's tough, it's hard, it's hard work

It’s Hard, by Thomas Christensen, 2009
Digital image, black and white pixels
Lent by the artist

As the USA prepares to inaugurate a new president, we at the Museum of Folly are preparing to add contributions from the outgoing executive to our Hall of Quotations. This has been a difficult assignment for our curators because there is so much material to work with. Our new building is ample, but its space is not unlimited.

This president has been so creative with language that at times he seems to challenge the very concept of communication. And this is clearly by intent. As he noted in a speech in Beaverton, Oregon, on Aug. 13, 2004, “I hope you leave here and walk out and say, ‘What did he say?'”

Language has been a constant concern of the president. As he noted on Nov. 1, 2006, “Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words.” Which, no doubt, is why he was heard to inform British Prime Minister Tony Blair that “The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

It also explains his emphasis on literacy. As he noted in a speech in Townsend, Tennessee, “You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” President Bush was a constant champion of reading (who can forget that he refused to allow the 9/11 attacks to interrupt his reading of The Pet Goat), for, as he pointed out, “One of the great things about books is sometimes there are fantastic pictures.”

As a literary stylist, the president may best be characterized as an experimental modernist who has been influenced by such texts as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Finnegans Wake. We have already observed his fascination with the French language. Like the French Surrealist Andre Breton, he challenges the listener with seemingly contradictory concepts. For example, on one occasion he stated “I’m sure you can imagine it’s an unimaginable honor to live here.”

At times, like a novelist creating a multivolume saga, the president rolled out his challenges to logic over surprising lengths of time. Who would have guessed that his claim on Sept. 13, 2001, that “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him”  was merely laying the groundwork for the surprising counterstatement on March 13, 2002, that “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.” But both of these statements were, in turn, merely preparing the public for his November 4, 2006, masterstroke: “The only way we can win is to leave before the job is done.”

Such narrative twists and surprises were nothing new for this inventive wordsmith. Consider his May 14, 2001, statement, “For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three nonfatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It’s just unacceptable. And we’re going to do something about it.” Or an August 5, 2004, statement with an O. Henry-esque surprise ending: “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.”

Breton’s influence can also be seen in the president’s October 3, 2001, assertion that “I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport.” Or in his May 25, 2004, statement that “I’m honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.”

Like many Modernist authors, the president was obviously deeply affected by Heisenberg’s discovery of the Uncertainty Principle, stating “I think if you know what you believe, it makes it a lot easier to answer questions. I can’t answer your questions.” Perhaps that is why on June 4, 2003, he boasted, “I’m the master of low expectations.” Yet as early as October 31, 2000, he had foreshadowed these remarks by stating that “Never again in the halls of Washington, DC, do I want to have to make explanations that I can’t explain.”

Despite his fascination with Surrealism and Modernist wordplay, the president was not without a Romantic streak. On September 6, 2004, he lamented, “Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”

Mr. Bush has noted that “You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you’re gone,” but we at MoFo feel this president’s place in history is already pretty well determined. We welcome visitors to witness the hanging of Mr. Bush’s contributions to our Hall of Quotations by echoing his statement at the dedication of his portrait in Austin in 2002, “I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to come and witness my hanging.”

We know that in this time of economic recession there are many ways for you to spend money you may no longer have (sorry, we have been immersed in the president’s style). We appreciate your visit and hope that this addition to our museum will add a little more value against the price of your admission. After all, as the president has said, “It’s your money. You paid for it.”