"Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of — is nine other presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s, I think it was. President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door." — Showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006
My first reaction when reading it was: Huh? Kennedy putting his head out the door? What is he talking about? I had assumed that this would be the reaction of many other readers, and the response to my post below confirms that it was indeed the reaction of some.
If I'm right, wouldn't it have been just a bit more fair to include a little more context?
Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of — is nine other Presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s, I think it was. President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door.
Q Yes, the very famous picture --
THE PRESIDENT: That's it — the most famous picture. And then Reagan, interestingly enough, put the bottom on there. He was a big guy, he didn't want to bump his knees under the desk.
I'd never heard of the picture, but it turns out that the picture shows John F. Kennedy's son (sometimes known as John-John, but quite properly called John, especially when the context is clear to listeners, which in this case it obviously was) coming out the door in front of the desk. Am I one of the few people who had never heard of the desk? And if I'm not, wouldn't it have been better to explain the matter to readers? Bush rightly guessed that the journalist who was interviewing him would get the reference, and in any case he was right there to clarify if the journalist seemed confused. But it seems to me that the Bushisms author couldn't fairly make such an assumption.
What's more, why exactly was that line included in the quote, if not to make Bush sound absurd — unfairly so, for the reason I just described? Some commenters suggested that the point of the Bushism may relate to Bush's diction: "where we'll have our picture taken in front of" instead of "in front of which we'll have our picture taken" or "where we'll have our picture taken," plus the unnecessary "is" before "nine other presidents used it." These glitches happen routinely in unscripted speech, even in the speech of intelligent and generally articulate people. Read some transcripts some time, and you'll see a lot of it. Carefully listen to yourself or your articulate friends talk, and you'll hear the same.
But in any event, all these glitches are in the first sentence; the other sentences are quite grammatical. (Some commenters claimed otherwise, but I think they're mistaken.) Why are those sentences included? Some commenters objected to the "us" in the "given to us by Queen Victoria" as a supposed "royal we," but I take it that in context "us" simply means "Americans" (as in "the French gave us the Statue of Liberty").
Some other commenters said the sentences are disjointed, but recall that Bush is discussing items in his office. How do you describe an interesting piece of furniture to someone who's looking at it with you? I'll bet you point to one aspect, say a sentence about it, point to another, say another sentence, and so on. The connections between sentences are provided by your gestures and the listener's examination of the piece; you don't need to worry about sounding disjointed. A few people pointed out that the desk was used by more than nine Presidents — one source reports that it has been all since Hayes except Johnson, Nixon, and Ford — but surely that can't be the Bushism author's point. One commenter suggested that "The author's point: Bush is quite willing and able to prattle on about inane details of a desk. Yet, by many accounts, he demonstrates far less willingness and ability to discuss important policy matters." Yet that hardly seems like a fair way to use the quote; Bush is giving a journalist a tour of his office — aren't Presidents allowed to do that, and to talk about the furniture in the process?
In any case, I still can't see any legitimate reason for the third and fourth sentences to be included. If the inclusion is an attempt to make Bush sound like he's saying something absurd, it's unfair, because it would work only because of the audience's own ignorance of the photo to which Bush was referring, and which is noted in the very next sentence from the transcript. And if it's not an attempt to do that, I have no idea why those sentences were quoted.
Finally, let me stress again: Of course the Bushism item is a joke, and jokes shouldn't held to the same standards of logic or fairness as a newspaper article would be. But it's clear that the joke is meant to make a political point — meant to be something of a criticism. Shouldn't such material pass at least some standard of fairness, like for instance that it not be something that looks absurd (at least to some readers) in context but perfectly sensible in context?
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