Bush and the English language

This war business gets no easier to understand.

Asked about a second United Nations resolution at the Azores press conference, George “A Metaphor For Every Occasion” Bush replied: “I was the guy that said they ought to vote. And one country voted—at least showed their cards, I believe.
It’s an old Texas expression, show your cards, when you’re playing poker. France showed their cards. After I said what I said, they said they were going to veto anything that held Saddam to account. So cards have been played. And we’ll just have to take an assessment after tomorrow to determine what that card meant.”

It is quite difficult to convey, in normal English, what a spectacularly meaningless statement this is. “Showing your cards” is not an old Texas expression. It’s barely even an expression. Poker is a game riddled with complex terminology—but in a language of straights, flushes, hooks, bullets, big sticks and Broadways, showing your cards is entirely unfigurative. It simply means showing your cards. And it means the same thing all over the world.

Lovely to see Bush trying to charm the Azorean press corps, but you might just as well say, “There’s an old Texas expression: ‘Good Morning’.” For most of a poker game, cards are hidden. That is the point. Players use hidden cards to bluff, to bet, to manoeuvre and to bamboozle. When all that’s finished, everybody shows their cards, and the highest wins. That’s it. You can’t go anywhere after that. You most certainly can’t “take an assessment after tomorrow to determine what that card meant”. That’s just the last desperate struggle of the sore loser.

Having an argument after the cards have been shown is terribly bad form. You can be thrown out of a casino for that sort of thing. If Bush were really at a poker game, he should pat the table, say “Well done, good luck,” get up and walk away. Unfortunately, it seems he is still trying to win a finished hand—fine, but let’s not pretend he’s playing by the rules.

Perhaps what he should have said, and this would certainly have appealed to his folksy cowboy fans back in Lubbock, is: “I’m playing poker Western-style. Like the old days in the saloon. The cards have been shown, I don’t like the result, so I’m getting out my gun.”—Â

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