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August 6, 2000 - George W. Bush/Style - 2002-02-06

INTRO: Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble discuss Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's speaking style with an expert in political rhetoric.

AA: Wayne Fields is an English professor and director of American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

RS: Professor Fields looks at the way George W. Bush communicates with the public and sees some of both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.


FIELDS: "Focusing upon the idea that he connects with people personally, emotionally, as opposed necessarily to policies or ideology or content. He doesn't really offer arguments per se so much as instincts and feelings and attitudes. And I think that's become much more a style in American politics, with the success of Reagan and Clinton, who shared some aspects of that as well."

RS: "How good is he at it."

FIELDS: "Well, he's fortunate in that he's up against a candidate who is not very good at it, and so he doesn't have to be as good as if he were running against either Reagan or Clinton."

AA: Professor Fields says although George W. Bush inherited his father's knack for slips of the tongue, he also learned from his father how to put verbal gaffes in context this way:


"'I may make mistakes like that, but look, I went to Yale, I'm no dummy' -- the larger argument of being a part of a genteel class in America. And this gets re-emphasized particularly in the younger Bush, by his tendency to emphasize what he is in his heart."

RS: But, in the general election campaign, the Texas governor can expect greater scrutiny of what he says, and how he says it:


"On one hand we've had a tendency in recent years to ask for presidents who don't come from Washington, who haven't been corrupted by knowing what really goes on there. On the other hand we get very nervous about presidential candidates who don't know what's going on there. So I think this sort of sound-bite rhetoric that has served him pretty well up till now increasingly has to give way to something that suggests that he has the capacity to satisfy the job. And since he can't really do anything except campaign and give speeches to prove that, the rhetoric has to convey that."

AA: One of the phrases central to George W. Bush's campaign is his description of himself as a "compassionate conservative."

RS: We asked Wayne Fields to put the phrase in context.


"When the senior Bush ran, remember his acceptance speech emphasized `a thousand points of light,' a kind of compassionate aspect of Republicanism that by the very fact that they put so much emphasis on it, suggested that they were aware that most of us don't immediately put those things together.

"That's to say, that the notion is that the Republican Party has been more hard-headed, and consequently more hard-hearted, than either Bush was projecting. But there is this tradition certainly in the upper classes of Republicans, from the beginning of the party on, that they are to be somehow that wing of the party that represents the interests of the vulnerable, that they are to take up causes that we typically now associate with liberals.

"So to say that you can be conservative and be compassionate may on one hand, at one extreme, say that you can care about people and not spend any money on them. That might be one interpretation. Or you can say that there are conservative principles that are themselves compassionate social forces and influences."

RS: And, Wayne Fields says, it was those principles that the elder Bush emphasized, and that his son now echoes in his own campaign speeches.

AA: Political rhetoric expert Wayne Fields will be back later in the month to talk about the soon-to-be-nominated Democratic candidate, Al Gore. Let us hear from you. Our e-mail address is or write to us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20237 USA RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble. We leave you with some of George Walker Bush's own words, from his acceptance speech Thursday night, at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.


"Big government is not the answer, but the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference. It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism."

"And on this ground, we will lead our nation."

"... When I act, you will know my reasons. And when I speak, you will know my heart. ... We are now the party of ideas and innovation, the party of idealism and inclusion, the party of a simple and powerful hope. My fellow citizens, we can begin again. After all of the shouting and all of the scandal, after all the bitterness and broken faith, we can begin again."