Our unimpressive president

By Camille Paglia


Salon Staff
April 20, 2001 11:00PM (UTC)

Read the story.

In defense of President Bush, I am more than happy to accept a man who cares about his country, all its people, who is reasoned and thoughtful when he speaks over silver-tongued devils who will lie without flinching, pretend not to know and don't care what you think as long as you don't know.

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Just because President Bush doesn't speak as well as you like, ordinary people can relate, and it doesn't mean that he doesn't have a good and reasoned mind. For me, it is not how you look or how you say what you say -- it is about producing results and, so far, Bush's presidency is reassuring.

-- G. Stephen, Alameda, Calif.

I wanted to respond to your comments regarding the president's difficulty with expressing himself. I find myself asking whether it would be better to have some suave, smooth-talking liar like Clinton, or someone who has trouble expressing himself but has integrity to do the right thing. We had eight years of appeasement with China and only just avoided four more. I think the CHI-COMMs were testing the waters and may just be a bit surprised by our response.

-- Radar Radford, Fairfax, Va.

President Bush's communication skills and foreign policy prowess will improve as he gains experience. He has the necessary skills but lacks polish. He is a diamond in the rough, but the multiple problems President Bush has inherited from former President Clinton are, of necessity, polishing this diamond very quickly. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with Bush within the next year. As a Christian, I really believe Bush is God's choice for this country, and God will not let Bush fail.

God bless you,

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-- Renee Bowling

While I agree that President Bush is not the best public speaker I've ever heard (or even a better than average one), I would offer one note of warning about putting too much emphasis on a politician's rhetorical skills. Remember, one of the most effective public communicators in the past century was Adolf Hitler, indicating that one's ability to speak well doesn't necessarily equal great leadership.

This fact was made clear to me in 1967 when a German exchange student lived with my family. She had never been allowed to hear Hitler's speeches at school in Germany (they were banned at the time); yet she had access to recordings of his speeches in America. The day she came out of the listening booth in our school library, she was in tears. She said that she had never been able to understand how Hitler swayed so many Germans in the 1930s and '40s -- until she heard him speak. His oratorical power shocked and terrified her.

While I agree that President Bush could stand a speech coach to improve his delivery, implying that oratorical skill equals political greatness, or oratorical weakness equals political ineptness, is simply wrong.

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-- Diane Singer, Madison, Ala.

I'm a Republican and faithful listener of Rush Limbaugh. I desperately wish President Bush to succeed, but I must admit that I too am dismayed every time I hear his butchering of the English language. It's reached the point where I expect him to be awkward on every occasion he appears before a microphone. When he does manage to string some sentences together, I'm struck dumb, much like Bush himself. I would vote for Condoleezza Rice for president in a heartbeat. She has poise and an obvious grasp on contemporary affairs, and besides, she's damn cute, too!

-- Trevor Olson

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God, I hate to admit it but you are so right in your assessment of George Bush. As a conservative, it is painful indeed to watch this man night after night reading his notes less fluently than would word-recognition software. I was distressed one night while watching some sound bites from Bush's visit to Mexico when I realized that Mexican president Vicente Fox spoke better English (as far as use of words and delivery are concerned) than did our president. While my Democrat wife hooted her pleasure, I had to admit the obvious.

-- Robert D. Wood

Inarticulate Bush: His confusion results from two personalities -- the mother's son that cannot lie and the father's son that must speak strategically.

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-- Peter F., Santa Monica, Calif.

I reluctantly agree about GW's apparent lack of interest in tutoring himself in public speaking. King George VI was an inveterate stutterer and painfully shy, and hence a three-pack-a-day man, which killed him too young. He didn't expect to have to be king, but when the call of duty came, he inured himself to the public-duties aspect and hired himself a speech therapist. This birdlike woman used to make the king lie on the floor, and she would stand on his chest and make him recite poetry and the daily headlines. Eventually he could speak into the microphone regularly without causing embarrassment to himself or his audience, unlike our present great man. The point is that public duty carries with it the obligation to orate at more than an adequate level.

-- Walter T.

But really -- DiFi for president? The woman is a certified Nanny State Parlor Liberal with pretensions of totalitarianism (she never met a punitive reg she didn't like, as far as I can tell, and her support for our own 30-plus years war on drugs, or more accurately the Non-Conformers who take them, is unwavering, never mind the collateral fallout on the constitutional rights of the citizenry). I'll run my own life, thank you.

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I am most assuredly liberal, at least relatively speaking, but I lost my faith in Big Government some time ago. Our current model seems to increasingly resemble the 1920s-'30s China of Tai Li, Chiang Kai-Shek and the Green Gang more than Jeffersonian democracy.

-- Bob Reed

You mentioned your desire to see a worthy woman as president. Goodness knows an unworthy woman would probably be better than the inarticulate lame duck you have there now. I would like to commend to you my country, which has a woman prime minister, a woman leader of the opposition, a woman chief justice and a woman governor general.

You will not hear much about New Zealand in the U.S. (apart from the fact that Russell Crowe was born here!) because we do not have favored nation status, as we had the temerity to refuse entry to your nuclear ships. Our independent spirit cast us beyond Uncle Sam's pale, but we love you all anyway! There is a McDonalds in every town, and we are nightly entertained by the same TV product that entertains the American people.

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-- Jane Stafford, New Zealand

Re the comments on Condoleezza Rice and Sen. Feinstein, I have had the pleasure of meeting Heather Wilson (a U.S. representative from New Mexico) whilst we were both at Oxford. She is extremely impressive, and my wife and I calculate that she stands a strong chance to be our first female president. This is one very, very sharp person that I would vote for in a heartbeat.

-- Mike Guyote

Can Christians be capitalists? As an atheist living in secular Australia, I'm naturally bemused by the extreme religiosity of the United States, and I've never heard anyone explain how so many wealthy people (in the U.S. and elsewhere) can claim to be Christians, when surely Jesus Christ (whose teachings they presumably adhere to) was the original Socialist.

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I'm no expert, but didn't he teach that one should give away one's worldly possessions to those with less, even to the point of impoverishing yourself? Isn't it clear that he was strongly opposed to the accumulation of personal wealth? Isn't it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if there is hypocrisy in the world, but to me this seems its most offensive manifestation. How is this mass delusion maintained?

-- Danny Witmer, Sydney, Australia

You are absolutely correct in saying, "School has become a form of mental and physical oppression." People do not appear to want to wake up and see that their babysitter is a monster. Anyone with children in a public school who has had meetings with a teacher, been to the principal's office, listened to their child's school friends or just talked to their child ought to see that there's a bad pattern here, folks.

As you have probably guessed, I home-school my children. I did not intend to do this, but I wouldn't trade it now. It has become an issue of freedom for me. My children's spiritual development is way beyond their years. It is terrible to see the public school children's sad souls reflected in their eyes when you encounter them in Girl Scouts or dance class, etc. Parents in this country need to realize the soul has a price and it is being paid in full with the lives of their children in the public school system in this country. I'm scared to see this generation mature and we reap what has been sown.

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-- A North Carolina mom

As the son of public school educators, I thought your arrows at the current system were right on the mark. There's no question in my mind that kids should be allowed to drop out at 14. Kids should be allowed to go to war, get married, drink, drive (not at the same time of course), do everything a man or woman can do by no later than 18, preferably 17 or 16. Delaying adulthood simply increases the chances that a man or a woman will engage in stupid, adolescent behavior far longer than they should. Because young men and women aren't supposed to marry anymore at an early age, we now have "unplanned" pregnancies out the yin yang. In the old days, these people would be married and having kids. Their bodies haven't changed, it's society that has.

I also would encourage trade unions to make the kids members, rather than see them as potential competitors for jobs. It's time to unionize Burger King, for onion's sake. Burger King's stockholders are making money just like Microsoft's, and those profits should be shared with the workers, even if they have acne. Enough lies, enough crap. Let's become a country of men and women again.

-- Rob Cullivan, Rochester, N.Y.

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Ventura County, in semirural California, offers some real insight into a perverted education system. The county voters, through an initiative referred to as SOAR (Save Our Agricultural Resources), have placed in effect an economic system that requires lots of cheap labor. We have farm labor camps in the cities of Oxnard and Fillmore and carefully tucked into the canyons outside the city limits of Ventura and Santa Paula. The children of these workers need training at skills that will make them productive citizens at whatever level their culture encourages them to attain. What they don't need is to be shoved through an education system designed for the middle class just to inflate the headcount so more funds can be justified for schools that don't serve their needs.

-- Pat Delaney

I was disappointed to read you celebrating Billie Jean King's victory over Bobby Riggs. This was one of the great nonevents in the history of feminism. Riggs had been a professional tennis player in the 1930s and '40s. When he played King in 1973, he was four decades past his prime. In the "Battle of the Sexes," the best female tennis player in the world defeated a vain, deluded old pensioner. For a woman of King's stature and ability to play a clown like Riggs was beneath her dignity. And the fact that her defeat of this elderly man was news only showed how little men thought of the athletic prowess of women.

King had 100 achievements that were greater. This was the woman who single-handedly created women's professional tennis, thereby establishing in the public mind the idea that a woman could make her living as an athlete. Every woman with a shoe contract with Nike should be paying her royalties, because she made their careers possible.

For most of the 20th century, the female athlete was viewed as a novelty. Trailblazers like Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias were the best women in track and field, in softball, in golf, in swimming, in every sport they attempted. This revealed the paucity of the competition they faced. Since the essence of sport is competition, women's athletics at this time was not sport but sideshow spectacle.

King's historic achievement was getting female athletes taken seriously. The Riggs match was a holdover from the ballyhoo of the 1920s, when the female athlete was viewed with condescension.

-- Jeff Crean

I was in "The Vagina Monologues" on one of the college campuses that participated in the V-Day Initiative, and I'm disturbed by the way you write it off. I consider myself a pro-sex feminist, and to me, "The Vagina Monologues" are an essential part of our campus. So essential, in fact, that I risked graduating at all by being in them.

My school, one of the only small Catholic women's colleges in the country, explicitly forbade a performance on campus, but a wonderful group of women got together and decided to do it anyway. I'm a senior and had no idea what sanctions the school would take against me. I believe strongly that there is a message in what I did, and in "The Vagina Monologues."

At my college, the word "vagina" is a swear word, and the idea of sex is so foreign to our administration that they swear no one is having any. This has created a culture of such repression that sexual assault and rape are not spoken of on our campus. Security alerts supposedly go out when someone is assaulted, but I didn't see but one in the first three years of my education -- while I know more than one woman who was raped in that time.

Therefore, a production like "The Vagina Monologues," while it isn't perfect (for example, Ensler's examination of lesbianism smacks of fakeness and no real understanding of the subject), does something that is so vital to my college: It makes the issues visible. I have heard the argument that there are other means of getting the message across, but I haven't seen that happen. Forums are held, speakers are invited and bimonthly meetings are a fixture, but no one shows up. The campus hasn't seen an event highlighting sexuality draw more than 150 students in the four years I have been around, but the "Monologues" drew about 450 last year, and 250 this year. When a speaker or forum can draw that many, I will gladly substitute those options for the play.

-- Ang Romano, South Bend, Ind.

The thing that drives me nuts about the "Vagina Monologues" phenomenon are those questions asked for the "luminaries" involved in the project to answer. "If your vagina wore clothes, what would it wear?" and "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?"

Am I the only one that finds this insulting? My pudenda is not a Barbie doll and is fine in fur, thanks. Not to mention that last I checked, it didn't have teeth -- despite what the media may want men to believe.

-- K. Rutherford

Bravo to Camille Paglia and her spot-on comments regarding the absurd "Vagina Monologues," which I finally saw last month. In one of the bits, they were revealing the oh-so-insightful answers to the question of "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?" My answer: "I want a refund."

-- Peggy Mullaney, New York

Although I have yet to see "The Vagina Monologues," I couldn't agree more regarding your comments about the infection of college campuses with the women-as-victim mentality. I am a 30-year-old single mother who has recently returned to school. I was thrilled to be accepted in a course called "The Female Literary Imagination." The course outline says that through the readings we would "explore what it means -- to various women -- to be a woman." I expected to read works by female authors I had not been exposed to before. I expected to feel empowered by the great strides women have made in the literary community. I expected to read about the huge variety of experiences women have had in the last century.

Instead all I've read about are women who hate their bodies, who were sexually abused and confused and who tried to commit suicide throughout their entire adult lives. When we asked our instructor why this was, she replied that unfortunately to be successful in the literary world, women have had to have been considered sexy, and unfortunately this is what was considered sexy in the 20th century. I firmly believe that this lie is perpetuated by the academic community, which spews out generations of confused, timid and frustrated students. I am not arguing that these aspects (suicide, sexual confusion and sexual abuse) are not part of the "female experience," but rather that they are not the only experience.

-- Katie Grigor

I've been living in Europe for the past six years, rarely go home to the U.S., and I am shocked by the stuff I read in your columns. I went to college in California in the mid-'80s, and political correctness was then in its infancy. I cannot believe that the intellectual discourse in America has descended to this level. I cannot even talk to my friends here about such things. For Europeans, it's just too ridiculous! Of course a certain amount of "p.c.-ness" has descended upon the Continent, but the extent and seriousness of its viral spread have been contained by a certain amount of levelheadedness and perspective on life that European academics and students have, and that Americans don't. I can't say what it is except that people here are more realistic, if that's the word -- they tend to see things as they really are.

-- Isolde

Enjoyed your contributions to A&E's "It's Burlesque." I did think the program fell short exploring burlesque shows during their late heyday, through the WWII years and into the 1950s -- along with the shows that played carnivals. The burlesque theatres died out during the early part of the Vietnam period. There was still a circuit into the early '60s, and of course every major city had theatres. There is a lot of archival material, including recordings from Minsky's, when they were forced to cross the river and ended up in New Jersey. "Sopranos" types would have been there.

I saw burlesque shows in downtown Los Angeles during the late 1950s. During the early '60s, while a student at Cal, I attended the President in San Francisco. I remember the tattered chorus line, comic bits and rather innocent sexuality compared to present sitcoms where 30-somethings pretend they're 20 and obsess over getting laid.

George Eells, Cole Porter's biographer, was fascinated with burlesque and had a great archive of stills from shows and from companies that toured big carnivals. Called "girlie shows," they played the carnivals that toured state fairs, etc. A woman who died recently and was married to a member of the Los Angeles City Council was famous for stripping nude and doing what they called a "lunch act" in carnival girlie shows, where there was intimacy between performer and the male audience. Through the late '60s, when burlesque shows were really dead, I used to read Amusement Business and see carnivals wanting to book girlie shows, stating emphatically: "No Lunch Acts!"

-- Michael Grace, Los Angeles

Thank God someone else hated "Gladiator" as much as I did. I have been at my wits' end trying to explain to people why "Gladiator" was a bad movie, but to no avail. Like other commercial directors, Ridley Scott doesn't understand the fundamental crafts of camera placement, performance or how to edit for story rather than visceral effect. "Gladiator" winning Best Picture represents the ultimate triumph of the Hollywood MBA crowd and serves as a reminder of why I couldn't stand the business when I was there.

-- Brant Hadaway, Miami

I stood six feet behind Julia Roberts for an hour last week in the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. Her legs are terrific. Surprisingly, she is small and delicate, unlike her screen presence.

The best legs I've seen were Cyd Charisse's in the '50s; I was in the box behind her at the Hollywood Bowl. I think the next best were on a hooker (I'm guessing $5,000) I passed in the Bellagio Hotel, but that was also just last week, so I may be overreacting. Mira Sorvino may outclass everyone, but my field is in-person sightings.

-- Fritz Griffin, South Pasadena, Calif.

Finally. I'm not the only one who feels Julia Roberts set back the image of women 50 years with her idiotic screeching and sporadic posture on hearing she won this year's award for best actress. Maybe her fellow actors feel she earned that award, but I will never understand it -- it is an insult to the truly talented women in movies and theater. Thank God for Julie Andrews, who reclaimed on stage the dignity, intelligence and femininity of today's woman.

-- Marilyn Kingsley, San Francisco

Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock -- the "Look at me, Daddy!" message they pummel us with makes me want to vomit. Are any of these "girls" ever going to become women!?

-- An adult female film enthusiast

We are also baffled at the success of Julia Roberts. My daughter calls her "cheesy," which is almost the most damning epithet that she can apply to an actor. (The only thing worse is "tacky.") It is also disconcerting to see someone whose grin is so wide that she can flash her third molars.

-- Brenna

Julia Roberts: Manticore? I've always maintained that Julia Roberts looks like a manticore, without recalling exactly what a manticore is, but having a definite image in my mind. You be the judge.

-- Scott Cook

Manticore:

"A monstrous creature which inhabits the forests in Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The manticore, considered to be the most dangerous predator in these regions, has the body of a lion and a head with human resemblance. The mouth is filled with three rows of razor-sharp teeth and the scaled tail ends in a ball with poisonous darts. The monster stalks through the forest in search of humans. Upon an encounter with a human, the manticore fires a volley of darts at the victim, who dies immediately. This unfortunate person is devoured completely, even the bones and clothing, as well as the possessions this person carried, vanish. When a villager has completely disappeared, this is considered proof of the presence of a manticore.

"The earliest accounts seem to be from Persian legend. The name itself is from the old Persian martikhoras meaning 'man-eater'. The earliest accounts of the existence of the manticore come from the Persian courts in the fifth century B.C. documented by Ctesias, a Greek physician at the Persian court. Greek and Roman authors (Aristotle, Pliny) described the beast the same way the Persians had.

"In the middle ages, the manticore was the emblem for the prophet Jeremiah because the manticore lives in the depths of the earth and Jeremiah had been thrown into a dung pit. At the same time, the manticore became the symbol of tyranny, disparagement and envy, and ultimately the embodiment of evil. As late as the 1930s it was still considered by the peasants of Spain to be a beast of ill omen.

"The manticore's mouth reaches 'both sides to its ears.'"


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