Wednesday, October 01, 2008

There's an interesting passage in Bob Woodward's new book, "The War Within," as described in Jill Abramson's review in The New York Times:

In "Plan of Attack," the author’s doubts grow. When Bush tells him that "freedom is God’s gift to everybody in the world. . . . I believe we have a duty to free people," Woodward, in a rare interpolation, asks whether such a conviction might seem "dangerously paternalistic." "Those who become free appreciate the zeal" is the president’s retort.

"Those who become free appreciate the zeal?" I read and reread this apparent non-sequitur with some fascination. What could Bush possibly mean? Certainly he's had a history of offering churlish, dismissive responses to reporters, especially when he feels cornered. But there's something especially odd in the specificity of his statement here, given that it does not follow from the question. I felt there was something there to puzzle out, and here's my theory: George Bush does not know what "paternalistic" means. Of course, he's not going to betray his ignorance - he's going to think on his feet and make some half-assed guess as to what it may mean, cross his fingers, and toss out a reply. I think he assumed the root of "paternalistic" was the word "pattern," and that Woodward was therefore accusing him of trying to impose some sort of pattern upon the world. Therefore, he may well be accused of, or applauded for, zeal, in the sense of the zeal of an infant intent on fitting pegs into the appropriately shaped holes.