In reaction to a Democratic resolution this week, authorizing subpoenas for top White House Aides, President Bush backed down from his previous, seemingly inflexible position, to offer Democratic leaders a compromise.
"What I'm proposing, is that we take the Democrat proposal, as I understand it, Verbatin, and just make a grammarically equivalalent substitution. See, the basic upshot of what I've been asked by the Democrats is that Karl Rove and other White House aides go before Congress and be put under oath. My proposal simply substitutes the prepositional phrase 'under oath' with the grammatical equivalent one 'above the law.'
Bush faced tough questions from reporters, however, at the rare press conference held to announce the counter-proposal. When challenged about the relevance of such equivalence, however, he did not back down.
"We're talking about exactly the same grammarical structure here. These are both prepositional phrases." Bush said, spreading his hands magnanimously, and raising his eyebrows in an expression of near-disbelief at a particularly pointed question from CNN's John King. "Let me put it to you this way: the sentence conveying my proposal is diagrammed exactly the same way you would diagram the sentence conveying the Democrat proposal. If that's not acceptable to my opponents, then I can't imagine what would be."
Critics of the syntactic switch are quick to point out that, relevance aside, the similarity is not as clear as the President would have you believe.
"President Bush maintains that his proposal and the Democrats' proposal are grammatically equivalent, and he's right up to a point," says Russell Burns, member of the Center for Linguistic and Academic Modernity (CLAM). "While it is true that the sentences parse identically, the President may be skirting the truth a skosh, in claiming that the sentences also diagram identically. The contradiction here is that where the Democrats' proposal contains the two words 'under oath,' the President has substituted three: 'above the law.' The extra word 'the' would have to be diagrammed as a little dangly bit, clearly differentiating the two diagrams."
Burns added, "Did you take down that I said 'skosh'? Stupendous."
Fortunately for White House aides, President Bush is no stranger to contradiction. He has spent much of his presidency assuring Americans that they are winning a war on terror, while his administration's policies, designed to combat global terrorism, have effectively increased it. The administration's cherry-picked and blatantly false information was used to support the preemptive invasion of a small Middle Eastern country in early 2000. The President, by his own account, acts largely on the orders of a God who speaks directly to him. Next to cognitive dissonance like this, equivocating on the scope of the word equivalence in two completely different contexts seems like small potatoes.
Bush left the press conference with these words of warning for house democrats:
"Accept this reasonable offer, or be destroyed."
Noted Linguist Noam Chomsky, a vehement critic of the Administration, was sleeping furiously at press time and could not be reached for comment - colorless, green, or otherwise.