George Bush, scholar of ancient Grecian! A White House staffer reveals that his boss has mastered George Eliot, Tocqueville, Aristotle and Wordsworth -- and if you believe that, you can kiss my Posterior Analytics.

Published June 20, 2002 11:22PM (EDT)

God bless you, John Bridgeland.

On the morning of June 14, on the way to a college commencement address in Columbus, Ohio, Bridgeland, director of USA Freedom Corps, briefed reporters on a speech President Bush was about to give. It would be, according to Bridgeland, based on the works of George Eliot, Alexis de Tocqueville, Cicero, Adam Smith, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Pope John Paul II, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

"And we've actually discussed [Aristotle's] 'Nicomachean Ethics' together," Bridgeland said, apparently with a straight face. "Yesterday, he was talking in the Oval Office about how Lincoln had completed or addressed the concern that the founding fathers had when -- Madison in particular, when he rejected Patrick Henry's request to include a declaration of rights in addition, because of the concern that future generations would not remember that there are duties associated with protecting the country we love so much. He made that very case yesterday in the Oval Office."

He did? Wow, we thought. Have we been reading the president wrong all this time? Has the self-described "C student" really been speaking over our heads all this time?

Thanks to Bridgeland we think we have cracked the code! Now the president is finally starting to make sense. (He certainly didn't the other way.) And so we decided to revisit some of Bush's more famous comments -- the ones destined for Bartlett's alongside his predecessor's parsing of "is" -- to see if they could be bolstered by the wise men and women whose intellect he has clearly been struggling to share with us.

So, we should have heard:

"Dreams are nothing but incoherent ideas, occasioned by partial or imperfect sleep."

-- Dr. Benjamin Rush, congressman, signer of the Declaration of Independence

When it came out like:

"Sometimes when I sleep at night I think of [Dr. Seuss's] Hop on Pop."

-- Bush at an education event in Philadelphia, April 2, 2002

We should have heard:

"We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... "

-- Thomas Jefferson, first draft of the Declaration of Independence, June 1776

When it came out like:

"You know, the enemy, when they hit America, didn't understand us. They didn't think we were a nation that could conceivably sacrifice for something greater than ourself, that we were soft, that we were so self-absorbed and so materialistic that we wouldn't defend anything we believed in. My, were they wrong. They missed -- they just were reading the wrong magazine or watching the wrong Springer show."

-- Bush, March 12, 2002

We should have heard:

"May it [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."

-- Jefferson letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826

When it came out like:

"Well, it's an unimaginable honor to be the president during the Fourth of July of this country. It means what these words say, for starters. The great inalienable rights of our country. We're blessed with such values in America. And I -- it's -- I'm a proud man to be the nation based upon such wonderful values."

-- Bush at the Jefferson Memorial, July 2, 2001

We should have heard:

"If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville, from "Democracy in America"

When it came out like:

"Do you have blacks too?"

-- Bush to Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, March 2001 (as reported in an April 28, 2002, Estado Sao Pauloan column by Fernando Pedreira, a close friend of President Cardoso)

We should have heard:

"After himself, the members of his own family, those who usually live in the same house with him, his parents, his children, his brothers and sisters, are naturally the objects of his warmest affections. They are naturally and usually the persons upon whose happiness or misery his conduct must have the greatest influence. He is more habituated to sympathize with them. He knows better how every thing is likely to affect them, and his sympathy with them is more precise and determinate, than it can be with the greater part of other people. It approaches nearer, in short, to what he feels for himself."

-- Adam Smith, from "The Theory of Moral Sentiments"

When it came out like:

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."

-- Bush in LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000

We should have heard:

"We see that all men mean by justice that kind of state of character which makes people disposed to do what is just and makes them act justly and wish for what is just; and similarly by injustice that state which makes them act unjustly and wish for what is unjust."

-- Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics," Book V

When instead we heard:

"If you don't stand for anything, you don't stand for anything!"

-- Bush, Bellevue Community College, Nov. 2, 2000

We should have heard:

The greatest necessity appears to be that of honor; next is that of security; and third and least weighty is that of convenience, which can never contend with the other two. But it is often necessary to compare these with each other so that, though honor is more excellent than security, nevertheless we may deliberate which is the more advisable.

-- Cicero, "The Genres of Rhetoric"

When it came out like:

"I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe -- I believe what I believe is right."

-- Bush, July 22, 2001

We should have heard:

THOUGH the torrents from their fountains
Roar down many a craggy steep,
Yet they find among the mountains
Resting-places calm and deep.

-- William Wordsworth, from "Song for the Wandering Jew"

When it came out instead like:

"I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah."

-- Bush, White House Menorah lighting ceremony, Dec. 10, 2001

We should have heard:

NATURE is what we see,
The Hill, the Afternoon-Squirrel,
Eclipse, the Bumble-bee,
Nay -- Nature is Heaven.

-- Emily Dickinson

When it sounded like:

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."

-- Bush, Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000

We should have heard:

"They [journalists] certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard."

-- Tocqueville, from "Democracy in America"

When instead what came out was:

"There's Adam Clymer -- major league asshole -- from the New York Times."

-- Bush, August 2000

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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