William F. Buckley

If your assignment was to write an essay on the stupidity of President Bush, you could start in with some confidence. The reason for this is that George W. Bush hasn't any flair for the spoken word, so that you can take specimens of this weakness and deduce, for your composition on G.W. Bush, that he is stupid.

This is a game of sorts, but the temptations affect the thinking of those naturally attracted to condescension, an exercise which has the gratifying consequence of leaving you exalted. Slate magazine, the spicy child of Michael Kinsley, and nowadays the property of The Washington Post, is celebrating its 10th anniversary, to which end it advertises an anthology, "The Best of Slate." One of the essays in it is a mordant derogation of George W. Bush.

This isn't accomplished by discussing five public issues on which the critic differs from Bush, effecting demonization. Such public questions are given here and there, but only as background matter, and the passing point is made that he is worse than his father. ("While some describe the second Bush presidency as a restoration, it is in at least equal measure a repudiation. The son's harder-edged conservatism explicitly rejects the old man's approach to such issues as abortion, taxes and relations with Israel.")

But the author of this 10th anniversary celebration of Bushwhacking coolly rises from all such political passions, preferring just to leave it that Bush is -- the temptation is to write, "sort of dumb," but Jacob Weisberg doesn't say that. He prefers just plain dumb.

On the matter of the president's uttering sentences that are garbled, Weisberg can't be argued with. But a difficulty with language can be attributed to many public figures, paradoxically, even to such as have proven skills. The young Dwight David Eisenhower, for instance, actually wrote military manuals when he served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was a fussy overseer and a guardian of holy prose. And of course we know that en route to the White House, Ike served as president of Columbia University.

But it remains true that some of Ike's improvised spoken language was as impenetrable as the Rosetta stone. After his answer to the question, What would he do if the Soviet Union again laid siege on Berlin? someone made a wisecrack to the effect that resourceful Soviet cryptographers would have given Khrushchev absolutely contradictory accounts of what President Eisenhower threatened.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.