We Provide the Context, So Slate Doesn't Have To:

Here's today's Slate's Bushism of the Day:

"That's George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three -- three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?" -- Showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006

Now it strikes me as a little odd that Slate, one of the pioneers of online journalism, doesn't take advantage of one of the great advantages of online journalism over offline journalism -- the ability to link to the original sources (eithers ones that are already online or ones that are put up on the Web by the journal itself), so that readers can see the context for themselves.

Here is the context for that quote:

That's George Washington, the first President, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three -- three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting? People say, so what? Well, here's the "so what." You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone. If they're still analyzing the presidency of George Washington -- (laughter.) So Presidents shouldn't worry about the history. You just can't. You do what you think is right, and if you're thinking big enough, that history will eventually prove you right or wrong. But you won't know in the short-term.

Without this context, Bush's quote seems mysteriously inarticulate, and understandable only as an unintentional self-parody of his own unintellectualism. Why would he say that it's interesting that he read three or four books about Washington this year? Mystifying.

But the rest of the quote explains the mystery, and makes what strikes me as a pretty sensible (though of course not earthshattering) point. It's true that as a logical matter the interesting point for Bush's argument is that there are three or four such books (presumably recent ones), not that Bush read them. But it's the sort of formally illogical but conveniently descriptive statement that ordinary speakers would, I think, often make, if they wanted to orally make the points that (1) there are (at least) three or four books on a subject, and at the same time that (2) they're interested in the subject enough to have read three or four such books on it.

In any case, analyze this how you will -- but it does seem to me that (A) the full quote seems a lot different from the brief excerpt that Slate provided, and (B) it would be nice if Slate made a habit of providing links so that readers can more easily check such things for themselves.