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Although the President cultivates the image of a
plainspoken Texan, and despite his oft-criticized ineloquence,
Bush frequently has a sense of what is appropriate
to say in a given situation; however, his actual execution
may veer slightly—sometimes grossly—off track.
Rhetorical scholars have a term for this problem, anesis,
or when a concluding remark diminishes the overall
impact of what has been previously said. For Bush, this
frequent slip of tongue makes him look insincere,
uncompassionate, or just plain pompous. Whether Bush
means to convey what his anesic comments say is irrelevant,
for in communication message effects are more
easily discernible than a speaker’s intent.
Throughout his tenure, Bush has given us many
examples of anesis, but one statement during the first
Presidential Debate raised heckles. When asked to justify
the number of American causalities in Iraq since the
official end of combat, Bush replied that
every life is precious and acknowledged
that he had difficulty with the decision
to put soldiers in harm’s way. T h i s
seemed to be an appropriate response,
but then he launched into a narrative
about Missy Johnson, whose husband
P.J. was killed while serving in Iraq. At
the end of this narrative, Bush said, “You know, it’s hard
work to try to love her as best as I can, knowing full well
that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in
harm’s way.” I watched the first debate on campus in a
crowded auditorium. When Bush said this, there were
audible groans of disgust. While the idea of “hard work”
was a repeated theme for Bush in this first debate, it
should not be “hard work” to show compassion to someone
who has suffered because of a decision he made.
Whether Bush meant to say those exact words is not
important—image is rarely formed solely on a speaker’s
intent. In this instance, Bush only succeeded in giving
his enemies more ammunition for claims that he is
insensitive to troops and doesn’t understand the impact
of his decisions.

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