George W. Bush

Subliminable Messages

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Matt has already noted Kevin Drum's rather paranoid reaction to Bush's Yalta remarks, but I'm going to repeat the passage:

[H]ere's what I'm curious about: why did Bush mention Yalta at all? For most people alive today this is long dead history, but Bush's speechwriters are well aware that "Yalta" was once a codeword extraordinaire among a certain segment of the population. In fact, it was perhaps the single biggest bugaboo of the wingnut right in the late 40s and 50s, right up there with Alger Hiss and Joe McCarthy's list of communists in the State Department.

But most of those people are dead. So who was the reference aimed at? Not just the Latvians, that's for sure. Bush is a master of using codewords in his speeches, and inserting Yalta into this speech wasn't a casual decision. It was there for someone. Who?

It's not the first time I've encountered this notion that Bush, like Dylan or Nostradamus, speaks with a hidden second meaning (or, in some cases, a hidden first meaning). The suspicion took off with his peculiar invocation of Dred Scott in the second presidential debate, which turned out to be the most prominent veiled reference to abortion since Billie Joe MacAllister and a girl that looked a lot like you were spotted throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge. "The potential double meaning," The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick wrote, "rekindled speculation among Mr. Bush's critics that he communicates with his conservative Christian base with a dog-whistle of code words and symbols, deliberately incomprehensible to secular liberals." Thus we see detailed hermeneutic analyses of everything from Bush's quote from Ecclesiastes at the Republican National Convention (which doubled as a boomer-friendly shoutout to the Byrds) to his repeated use of the phrase "I believe."

My question: Is there any other American president whose words were subject to such frenzied interpretation in their own time? If you've got any nominations, post 'em in the comments.

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  1. It’s simple retreat from reality, you see it a lot on the far left these days. They think Bush is very clever and very stupid at the same time.

    “Not just the Latvians, that’s for sure.”

    Apparently it’s beyond this guy to consider that Yalta might, just might, have a great deal of significance to Eastern Europeans.

  2. The first that comes to mind is John Adams, though I don’t think he faced such constant criticism.

  3. Here’s the thing.
    Was the whole purpose of Bush’s trip to piss off Putin?
    If so, why?

  4. Was the whole purpose of Bush’s trip to piss off Putin?

    Actually, the administration tried to counterbalance the overt Soviet nostalgia of Russia’s V-E Day parade that Bush attended by also visiting non-Russian republics and decrying the Soviet occupation the end of the war ushered in.

  5. It’s the age of National Treasure and The DaVinci Code. (Ages are shorter than they used to be.)

    PS, I think the brickbats are toast.

  6. I agree with Todd Fletcher: it’s kind of dumb to assume that Bush couldn’t have been talking to the Latvians about Yalta.

    Pat Buchanon is another practiced dog whistler. As he went about trying to build his movement of militia feaks, he would refer to Capitol Hill, Washington, or the State Department as “Zionist Occupied Territory.” This was at the time that the most fascist elements of the militia groups were using the term “ZOG” or “Zionist Occupied Government” to refer to the Jew-controlled federal government.

  7. “the administration tried to counterbalance the overt Soviet nostalgia”

    Josh,
    If it needed counterbalancing, why did Bush go in the first place.

  8. Holy crap…they were throwing a baby off that bridge!?! Am I just dense, or did other people not know that?

  9. Thanks for clarifying that for us joe. One could never have deduced it was an anti-Semitic remark otherwise.

  10. I seem to recall a fair amount of debate about what one President meant by the word “is”…

  11. Don’t forget the “Thousand Points of Light” and “New World Order” of Bush Sr.

  12. “SO HOW COME EVERY TIME I POST IT’S THE FIRST TIME???”

    Um… What?

  13. Bush said something, people got their noses out of joint, endless speculation, political blather, the world continues to spin; film at eleven.

    The analysis and the analysis of the analysts and their analysis has become, through three different revised posts and countless responses, tedious beyond description. Think I’ll go see what’s on ESPN.com. I’ll check back when there’s something I can pretend to give a rat’s ass about.

  14. Gotta agree with Warren.

    When Buchanan talks about “people playing the bongo drums on street corners”, you don’t need a secret decoder ring to discern his views on immigration.

  15. “It’s simple retreat from reality, you see it a lot on the far left these days. They think Bush is very clever and very stupid at the same time.”

    Nice strawman. No one but die-hard Bushies are accusing him of being “very clever”; it’s his speechwriters who put these things in: http://www.amconmag.com/2005_02_28/article.html

  16. Shouldn’t Bush get some kind of credit for simultaneously being a simpleton and an extremely clever secret communicator? Or maybe it’s me, cuz’ I was never able to figure out the nuance of John Kerry’s positions on the issues either.

    And, see, that whole ‘nukular’ thing is just a feint, a purposeful distraction from the truth that Bush is brilliant and stealthy communicator.

  17. Jack, Warren, by alluding to the term ZOG, Pat was making an overtly anti-Israel statement for mass comsumption, but also a covert Jewish puppetmaster statement for the crazies.

    The people who talk about ZOG go way beyond saying AIPAC has too many people on speed dial.

  18. Holy crap…they were throwing a baby off that bridge!?! Am I just dense, or did other people not know that?

    I was also a little surprised at that; I always assumed it was just Billy Joe who jumped off the bridge. Is it assumed that “something” is a baby?:

    Mama said to me “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?”
    “I’ve been cookin’ all morning and you haven’t touched a single bite”
    “That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today”
    “Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way”
    “He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge”
    “And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

    A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
    Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
    There was a virus going ’round, papa caught it and he died last Spring
    And now mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything
    And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
    And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

  19. Don’t forget the “Thousand Points of Light” and “New World Order” of Bush Sr.

    Yes, the second of which “set off” quite a few in the militia movement.

    I seem to recall a fair amount of debate about what one President meant by the word “is”…/i>

    That’s quite different, for a number of reasons, not the least of which the president in question initiated the debate . . .

    If it needed counterbalancing, why did Bush go in the first place.

    I guess some people will never grasp politics . . . no wonder Libertarians are marginalized . . .

  20. Is it assumed that “something” is a baby?

    Yes. Or, to be exact, a fetus aborted from the narrator’s womb. The guilt subsequently prompts Billie Joe to commit suicide.

  21. everything from Bush’s quote from Ecclesiastes at the Republican National Convention (which doubled as a boomer-friendly shoutout to the Byrds) to his repeated use of the phrase “I believe.”

    Perhaps “I believe” is a coded shout out to Generation Xers who listened to too much REM in college.

  22. Buchanan has a long history of using anti-Semitic code. (Pay attention, Rick Baron.) Here’s an example, quoted by Virginia Postrel in Reason some years ago. It’s not the best example I’ve seen, but it’s the first one I could find:

    “The battle for the future,” writes Buchanan, “will be as much a battle within the parties as it will be between the parties, a battle between the hired men of the Money Power who long ago abandoned as quaint but useless old ideas of nationhood–and populists, patriots and nationalists who want no part of Robert Rubin’s world.”

    Hmmm… it’s almost like he hates “rootless cosmopolitans.” Buchanan is also known for sneering the name “Goldman Sachs” when he wants to convey moneyed evil; somehow “Smith Barney” doesn’t have the same impact. Wonder why?

  23. The events alluded to in “Ode to Billy Joe”, have been much speculated over, but never definitively clarified.

  24. What kind of paranoid do you have to be to believe in a CODED MESSAGE like this? This “code words” nonsense BEGINS to worry me.

    Does Drum really think Bush was sending some kind of code TO AGENTS IN PLACE to do something?

    What? Some kind of sinister GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER, perhaps? Oops, I have to go now. I have TO TAKE something some PLACE and I have an appointment I must keep AS SCHEDULED.

    Perhaps Drum is generating this paranoia about a coded MESSAGE for his own ENDS.

  25. Holy crap…they were throwing a baby off that bridge!?! Am I just dense, or did other people not know that?

    I had no idea either.

    As for the original topic, does anyone else have a nominee or we would all rather fight with Joe about another, not even tangential, statement?

  26. I don’t know joe. If you want to be covert, the words you use should go way over people’s heads.

    I’m not a member of The Order, but I’ve heard the term ZOG. Likewise, you don’t have to have grown up around Jews to realize that Goldman might be an Anglicized version of Goldberg.

    Per the topic at hand, if you want to allude to Alger Hiss, “pumpkin” would be a little too obvious.

    However, saying that Roosevelt “hated orchids”* would be a better version of code word.

    *- an allusion to a famous commie hunter and orchid grower, James Jesus Angleton

  27. Nice one Stevo!

  28. Has anybody ever tried playing Presidential speeches backwards to see if they contained Satanic messages? I could concoct a half-hearted theory about how the phasing out of vinyl in favor of CDs was an insidious plot to ensure people couldn’t play things backwards anymore.

    Was the CD-to-vinyl transformation during Clinton or Bush I? I don’t want to sound paranoid until after I decide who to be paranoid about.

  29. As for the original topic, does anyone else have a nominee or we would all rather fight with Joe about another, not even tangential, statement?

    I’d rather keep talking about the song. Google turned up this tidbit:

    There actually is a parody of “Ode to Billy Joe” called “Ode to Billy Joel”. It was recorded by a group called Slap Happy and released on a local (Boston-area) EP called Shooting Stars in 1981 on the “Slap Happy” label. I live in the Boston area and picked up this EP after hearing “Ode to Billy Joel” on the Dr. Demento Show.

    Can’t find the lyrics online, but here’s the first verse from memory:

    It was the third of June, another silly, smoggy Brooklyn day
    I was upstairs choppin’ cocaine, my brother was smokin’ a J
    I hollered down to my mama, “Can you tell me what’s for dinner, please?”
    She said, “I thought I’d call the Peking Palace, get some take-out Chinese.”
    And then she said, “I heard some news this morning when I was in Bay Ridge.
    It seems that Billy Joel jumped off the Verrazano Bridge.”

  30. When I was in my teens I went through a long & ugly Weird Al phase of writing parody songs, and I did one about Billy Joel, to the tune of “You May Be Right.” Started off like this:

    Friday night you changed the diapers
    Sunday got some windshield wipers
    This got you so pumped up you wrote a song

    It was full of cheesy synths
    and the vocals sounded like shit
    and six weeks later it was Number One

    So you said hey Chris let’s hit the road
    for a thrilling set of hour-long shows
    she packed the picnic basket full of fruit

    Then you jumped out on the stage
    looking twice your age
    in your Reeboks and your Don Johnson sui-t

    You may be rich!
    I may be cheesy
    but at least I’m not a dork on the cover of Rolling Stone…

    Like I said, ugly.

  31. Oxford American magazine (“The Southern Magazine of Good Writing”) did an article on the ode a few years ago. I believe the author’s conclusion was that the thing being thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge was our innocence.

    I don’t buy it, but Faulkner might.

  32. I don’t buy it, but Faulkner might.

    I’m not sure Faulkner would, but an English Lit prof would definitely.

    Thread officially hijacked. My work here is done.

  33. Stevo —

    Readily, I understand your
    Oration concerning the
    Gregarious preparation.
    Everything always turns
    Right, when needed.

    *Whew* Think I’ll go back to listening to numbers stations on the shortwave…

    …yankee hotel foxtrot…yankee hotel foxtrot…

    Out here.

  34. “I seem to recall a fair amount of debate about what one President meant by the word “is”…”

    I recall the President being the only one debating – most already had a fairly fixed idea of the meaning of “is”.

  35. Billie Joe was a boy!?!

    Didn’t Eisenhower cause mental breakdowns among the Washignton press corps with his veiled references to “eagles” and “bogies”? Thinking about it, maybe the bogey remarks cause the flying saucer craze?

  36. Billie Joe was a boy!?!

    Yeah, the girl was Bobby Sue.

    Oh, wait, sorry wrong song. Never mind.

  37. Billie Joe, Bobby Sue, Billy Mack, all you hillbilly redneck names got me confused

  38. I’d say another significant difference is that in the 40s, the “Republicans” who were accusing Roosevelt of knowing about the attack to get us into the war included numerous Congressmen, Senators, governors, and members of the party leadership. Today, the Democrats who accuse Bush of knowing about 9/11 include a few unpaid bloggers, and one or two Congressmen who are considered loonies by even the progressive wing of their party.

    But both presidents were totally determined to get their country to go to war. They didn’t stage the attacks or deliberately ignore the threat, but they both jumped at the chance to get the troops marching to where they’d already decided to send them.

  39. I never understood the “Roosevelt allowed it happen” theory. As if a failed attack that resulted in 40 Japanese planes crashing on the beaches, maybe 20 dead Americans, and a sea battle near Hawaii, coupled with the invasion of the Phillipines, wouldn’t have been enough to take the country to war.

  40. Joe,

    Please list those Republican leaders who accused him of that. Republicans were willng to and did serve in the Roosevelt cabinet during the 1940-44 term. The leadership was very explicit in its endorsement of the war and its willingness to go accross party line to support it even going back to 1940 when the draft was reinstated. Even post 9-11 the Democrats have never been that supportive. Could imagine the fate of a Democrat who agreed to serve in the Bush cabinet. Further, you talk about FDR’s determination to go to war to stop the Japanese and Germans and Bush’s determination to rid the world of the Taliban and Hussein like they were bad things. If that is the way you feel, I am very sorry for you.

  41. John,

    Senator Gerald Nye, R-North Dakota (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=N000176).

    He was the Republican’s answer to Burton Wheeler.

  42. Gerald Nye may hold the title as the slimiest, most repellent individual ever to serve in the United States Congress – Burton Wheeler was a blowhard, but Nye was a psychological thug. Even Joe McCarthy looked almost human next to Gerald.

    Roosevelt is a good comp to Bush Jr. in terms of meta-analysis of his speechifying. I can’t think of many other Presidents whose utterances received that level of scrutiny – Warren G. Harding made speeches that reporters like Mencken spent a lot of time dissecting, but that was because no one could figure out what the hell he just said.

  43. Thanks everyone. It just goes to show, if there’s one thing the American people just love, it’s steganography!

  44. Could imagine the fate of a Democrat who agreed to serve in the Bush cabinet

    Yeah, he’d get trashed by Republican pundits. See: Mineta, Norman

  45. All of which makes the Democrats current hysteria seem all the more childish, stupid and quite possibly dangerous.

    How about the Republican anti-Clinton hysteria of the 1990’s? How many Democratic members of Congress have threatened violence against President Bush?

    Even post 9-11 the Democrats have never been that supportive.

    I seem to remember that all but one congressional Democrat supported Bush’s action in Afghanistan.

    See: Mineta, Norman

    Mo, you beat me to it.

  46. Re scrutiny of presidential statements.

    How about Eisenhower?; but not really. In the Hidden Hand Presidency, author Fred Greenstein argues that Ike deliberately tried to sound confused or contradictory when responding to questions about Soviet/US affairs and American policies. It gave the image of him as a bumbling fool. A deliberate ruse.

    In reality, according to Greenstein, Eisenhower was immensely up-to-date on matters and keenly aware of events. But there was a great deal of talk about Ike “losing it” mentally especially after his first stroke.

    SMG

  47. “I could concoct a half-hearted theory about how the phasing out of vinyl in favor of CDs was an insidious plot to ensure people couldn’t play things backwards anymore.”

    I’d write a program that plays CDs backwards, but the Satanist/Communist Alliance behind the DMCA would probably have me locked up.

  48. What was the coded message in the Dred Scott reference?
    I remember thinking “Oh: he’s trying to come up with an example, off the top of his head, of a bad Supreme Court decision. Of course Dred Scott springs to mind.”
    Was there some gnostic subtext I missed?

  49. Ken Schultz,
    Can you write a program that will allow me to fast forward through the federal warning on my movies? Or better yet a program that will allow me to fast forward whenever I want, and skip whenever I want. And wont tell me that I can’t do stuff with MY MOVIE, on MY DVD PLAYER?

  50. Hey, yo, kwais! Welcome back!

  51. I’m with you there kwais.

    I thought the suggestion that all the ridiculousness of the DMCA might be explained as a Satanic/Communist plot to prevent people from playing CDs backwards and hearing all their backwards masked messages would be funny.

    …Not that concerns about the DMCA are ridiculous.

    I admit it was a feeble attempt at humour. Everybody’s hit and miss, right?

  52. kwais got back ok!

    I gotta say, I was worried.

  53. “Could imagine the fate of a Democrat who agreed to serve in the Bush cabinet.”

    Uhhhhh, he’d get nominated to stay on for a second term as Sec. of Transportation?

    “Further, you talk about FDR’s determination to go to war to stop the Japanese and Germans and Bush’s determination to rid the world of the Taliban and Hussein like they were bad things.” Actually, no, I simply mentioned them without editorializing either in favor or against. I’d have thought you’d be happy to see me compare Bush to FDR and, implicitly, the terraists to the Nazis.

    You aren’t engaging in frenzied interpretations of my words because of a pathological joe hatred, are you? 😉

  54. McClain,

    “What was the coded message in the Dred Scott reference?” In the Dred Scott case, the court ruled that black people were not legal persons, with rights that had to be respected. Lifers compare this to Roe vs. Wade, arguing that the SCOTUS once again ruled a class of humans, Foetal-Americans, are not legal persons with rights that the government and private citizens have to respect.

  55. Thanks for the welcome back fellas.

    I am back in Iraq, I am not going to have the time to be on H&R as much as I was last time. I have a different job now.

    I didn’t find time to get on H&R when I was back in the States, what with girls, getting together with them and breaking up with them, and trying to get together with girls that did not want to get together with me, and buying a new house.

  56. kwais,
    Welcome back. I can imagine coming back Stateside you had more important things to do than hang out with us. Good to hear you’re safe and back in action.

  57. Re: Dred Scott…I see…thanks, joe.

  58. kwais,

    Welcome back! It’s good to see you posting again. 🙂

    Stevo,

    love the encoded message. I mean, I understand what you’re getting at. Roger that. (wink)

    — Agent Smacky.

  59. Godspeed, Agent Smacky. The fate of the Somewhat Free World is in your hands.

    PS: Don’t let my imposter evil twin catch you. He’ll try to find out where you hid the secret documents.

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