by Joshua H. Liberatore
Although famous for his deep, unrestrained piety and his regard for wholesome family values, POTUS is not above venturing the occasional gauche crack when the occasion arises. Over the past eight years, the casual, folksy manner that has sometimes baffled critics, depressed linguists, and mystified foreign dignitaries, has no doubt also endeared POTUS to millions of Americans who delight to see their own lower sensibilities and visible shortcomings writ large in the occupier of the Oval Office. No one can argue that POTUS hasn’t earned his laughs, many of them the result of his deliberate provocation.
Some of POTUS’s more innocent forays into the untoward have been couched strategically in a well-placed quotation. To an audience of military support organizations and enthusiasts, POTUS recalled Marilyn Monroe’s famous 1954 performance at a USO venue overseas:
As she stood before a sea of soldiers, one officer called her “the greatest hit the Yankee Clipper ever made.” [Laughter] One awestruck sergeant who had the privilege of driving her around couldn’t help but note that: “In my 14 years of Army driving, this will be the most curves I’ve ever taken in one car.” (October 1, 2008)
A favorite quip among his editors at the Federal Register was of the more spontaneous variety, in which POTUS rendered an ironic twist on his own sincere, if often botched, attempts to speak Spanish in public. At a joint press availability with Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe Velez this September 20th, POTUS reminded his guest of the American tradition of calling on journalists personally:
PRESIDENT URIBE: We have two Juan Carlos here. A ver, un Juan Carlos de RCN y otro Juan Carlos de Caracol.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I only saw one Carlos.
Get it? POTUS himself liked the joke so much, he returned to it when Uribe called on the other Juan Carlos:
PRESIDENT URIBE: El otro Juan Carlos.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I only saw one Carlos. Speak English this time, Juan, will you?
By the time he and Uribe left the Rose Garden, the kindly Colombian President was in on the joke too:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Si. Gracias. Adios, Juan Carlos.
PRESIDENT URIBE: Dos Juan Carlos. Two Juan Carlos.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Y vamos?
Often, POTUS elicited hearty – and sometimes awkward – laughter, when he made himself the object of his own mockery. Concerning his own ineloquence:
The East Room is a fitting place to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I say fitting because in 1860, this was where James Buchanan first – became the first President to receive an official delegation from Japan. It was a great meeting – except for one slight wrinkle. The interpreter the Japanese brought with them couldn’t speak English. [Laughter] So he translated Japanese into Dutch, and then another interpreter translated Dutch into English. I thought that was pretty interesting. People say when I speak, it sounds like Japanese translated into Dutch translated to English. [Laughter] I’m just upholding a diplomatic tradition. (May 1, 2008)
After a rousing performance by a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator, POTUS cited the bad habits of his past:
And, of course, it’s good to see President Roosevelt. [Laughter] Oftentimes people ask me, do you ever see any of the ghosts of your predecessors here in the White House? I said, “No, I quit drinking.” [Laughter and applause] But we just saw one. (October 27, 2008)
And when his own peccadilloes did not suit the humorous opportunity of the moment, POTUS poked fun at his deputy:
The Vice President tells me there’s a lot of fine fishing here, and I’m looking forward to going out and trying to catch some. I love to fish. And the good news there’s a lot of good fishing here is because the Secret Service won’t let me go hunting with him. (October 20, 2007)
Cheney’s reputation of cold mercilessness came in handy again at last year’s ceremonial pardoning of the national turkeys:
I also thank everybody who voted online to choose the names for our guests of honor. And I’m pleased to announce the winning names. They are “May” and “Flower.” They’re certainly better than the names the Vice President suggested, which was “Lunch” and “Dinner.” (November 20, 2007)
Readers following other news stories in this traditional season of presidential pardons might well have submitted two other names to this year’s White House competition – “Cheney” and “Gonzales” – but as in 2007, the softer choices “Pecan” and “Pumpkin” won the day.