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Bush Moves On
Published: Sep 04 2003
New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers politics and media.

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 malefactors.

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, 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 Crawford ranch.



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