Bush Moves On
Published: Sep 04 2003
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
Dear Credit Card Company: I know I still owe on my
balance, but I won't be paying, because I'm moving on. Dear loved
one: I know I behaved badly, and I guess I should apologize, but
I've moved on. Dear police officer: I realize I exceeded the speed
limit considerably, and I know I'm supposed to pay a hefty fine, but
I won't be, because I've decided to move on.
I remember when "moving on" signified a more or less free
decision to forgive and forget someone else's transgression, as in,
"Okay, you let me down, but I'm not going to dwell on it. Let's put
this behind us and move on." Thanks to President Bush, we no longer
have to wait for others to let us off the hook. Now we can simply
move ourselves on. Bush has twisted the phrase around to mean a
self-serving self-absolution -- the very antithesis of true
generosity of spirit.
This neat trick has become a staple of the Bush administration.
For example, in response to complaints that his administration
misled the public on the reasons for a war with Iraq, Bush had his
departing press secretary, Ari Fleischer, trot out the line in his
final press briefing. Chastising the press for "misinterpret[ing]
why America went to war," Fleischer said the administration had
answered enough questions about Bush's erroneous claim in the State
of the Union address that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade
uranium in Niger. Bush, Fleischer said, was moving on to other
subjects. No matter that plenty of Americans still wanted to know
why the president used his bully pulpit to trumpet a claim that some
in his own administration had already labeled "highly dubious."
Actually, Bush has been "moving on" on a variety of fronts for a
long time. He seems to have started in early 2001 with an entirely
different conception of the term -- an inoffensive bit of management
jargon, perfect for a man with little patience for details.
According to the book, Team Bush: Leadership Lessons from the
Bush White House, Bush "believes in focusing quickly on the
decision at hand, getting the job done and then moving on to the
next agenda item."
Since then, in addition to moving himself on in the face of
serious accusations, Bush has also learned the fine art of moving
others on. More and more, Bush has been sounding like the
stereotypical beat cop ordering loiterers to "move along."
Perhaps it all started a few days after 9/11, when the
administration sent a fax to every school in the nation, saying that
sports competitions ought to resume, because it was time to move on.
Then in June 2002, he told Palestinians it was time for them to move
on from Yasser Arafat to new leadership. This January, when
then-Senate GOP leader Trent Lott faced criticism for remarks
interpreted as racist, Bush chastised him, but then declared, "It is
time to move on." Meaning, of course, it was time for Lott's critics
to move on -- presumably to topics more pleasant for the GOP. (In
the end, it was Lott who was forced to move on -- to the end of the
plank.) A few months later, when Bush told French President Jacques
Chirac that it was time for their two countries to "move on" from
their differences over Iraq, his meaning was clear: "We won, you
lost, get over it."
Recently, Bush benefited from the perfect "moving on" move.
Former President Bill Clinton, in a call to Larry King, declared it
was time for the country to move on from the brouhaha over Bush's
uranium claim. Certainly no one knows the attraction of moving
oneself on better than Clinton. But perhaps he was simply paying
Bush back. After W. took office, he declared it was time to move on
from inquiries into the last-minute pardons Clinton had granted to a
grab bag of well-connected felons. Some wondered, though, if Bush
was worried about the light a serious investigation might throw onto
the pardons issued by Republican presidents to the Iran-Contra
The genius of the new Bush Speak is to fudge all substantive
distinctions, on the assumption that the American people won't
notice what you are saying as long as you get the photo op right.
Ironically, the Bush folks may have gotten their "move on" fixation
from liberals. There's the activist political group MoveOn.org,
which was formed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to urge an end to
government gridlock over the Lewinsky affair, but has become a
rapidly growing political force. That force is dedicated largely to
helping President Bush move on -- to a permanent vacation on his