The debate over whether George W. Bush is a moron continues to sputter. Morons are outraged at being lumped in with the U.S. president. Americans, meanwhile, are mildly amused that it has taken Canadians so long to discover the obvious.
The controversy exploded last week when Francoise Ducros, an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, was overheard at a NATO meeting in Prague saying, “What a moron,” apparently in relation to Bush.
Morons say this is an outlandish slur. “We’re nice people,” explained one. “We don’t threaten other countries or use the courts to steal elections. George W. Bush may be a dangerous lunatic. But he’s no moron.”
Chrétien seems to agree. “He’s not a moron at all,” the Prime Minister told reporters on Thursday, referring to Bush.
Still, the opposition parties are not content. The Canadian Alliance argues that if Bush discovers he is a moron, this could affect Canada-U.S. relations.
Chrétien, however, says there is nothing to worry about. Bush, he said, doesn’t read Canadian newspapers
According to the International Dictionary of Medicine and Biology, most morons are “educable and do not require institutionalization but need some supervision in working at some simple job by which they can become self-sustaining members of society.”
Some have argued that this definition fits Bush to a tee. In most matters, they note, he is carefully supervised by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield and Attorney-General John Ashcroft.
Cheney and Rumsfield run Bush’s wars while Ashcroft stifles domestic opposition. At home in the White House, first lady Laura Bush is charged with watching over the president.
“Since the president’s inauguration, he’s only been left unsupervised once — to watch a football game on television,” recalled one expert. “And look what happened. He fell off the couch, choked on a pretzel and hurt his head.”
While the Canadian media have gone gaga over the Bush-is-moron story, Americans seem to have taken it in their stride. “Once again, Canadians have discovered the obvious,” editorialized the Wall Street Journal dismissively. “Duh, Canada” riposted the New York Post.
In a lengthy analysis, the New York Times pointed out that Americans have long made a practice of electing dead people to the Senate and morons to the presidency.
“This kind of flexibility is what makes U.S. democracy so vital,” the Times went on. “Why should the Senate be denied the wisdom of those who have passed on? Why should the presidency be the preserve of the mentally capable?”
Recent polls suggest that most Americans agree. A stunning 67 per cent of respondents think that Bush is a moron compared with the next largest category, 28 per cent, who believe him to be a space alien.
Yet neither has affected his 82 per cent approval rating.
“He may be a moron,” explained one respondent interviewed by pollsters. “But he’s our moron. He speaks our language.”
Meanwhile, in Canadian journalistic circles, an ethical debate rages over whether the original moron comment should have been printed at all.
Ducros apparently made the crack in private conversation to one journalist (who did not publicize it) but was overheard by another, the National Post’s Bob Fife, who did.
Chrétien says that Ducros was actually defending Bush.
“Fife overheard the words accurately,” said one senior federal source,” but he didn’t hear the punctuation.
“Francie didn’t say `What a moron!’ She said ‘What? A moron?’ and then stormed out. She was reacting because the reporters were referring to Bush as a moron and she couldn’t bear the insult to such a dear friend of Canada.”
Still others say that Fife missed the possessive.
“We were all sitting around the briefing room waiting to find out if Uzbekistan would be accepted as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” said one scribe. “Francie was doing the crossword in the International Herald Tribune and the clue for six across was a four-letter word for moron beginning with B.
“English isn’t Francie’s first language, so she asked everyone, What’s a moron? Bob just missed the apostrophe s.”
However, to some media experts, the actual words said don’t matter. For a journalist to report something he heard, they say, could destroy the entire edifice of source-based journalism.
“If political aides think they’ll be identified when they badmouth their bosses’ opponents anonymously, they’ll stop doing it,” said one.
“Then what would happen? The media would have no stories.”
Still others defended Fife’s actions.
“The moron story was a windfall for our members,” said an official with the Canadian Association of Columnists.
“Bush as moron? It doesn’t get any better. Every two-bit columnist in the country is taking advantage of this baby. They’ll all be able to go home early.”
Thomas Walkom’s column appears on Tuesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.