Quote of the Year

From Mark Lebovich of the Washington Post, via the LA Times (reg. required):

As a general rule, the most durable quotes don’t require the media to keep replaying them or a hostile opposition to keep reminding everyone of them. Rather, they stand on their own absurdity, famous last words that hang naturally from the necks of their authors. All the better if they are uttered with conviction, from a bully pulpit.

This year provided another classic in the famous-last-words category. It is the slam-dunk, read-my-lips, I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman 2005 doozy, a Cat 5 quote for the ages:

"Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job."

— President Bush,

during his first visit to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, commending then-FEMA head Michael D. Brown.

Really, it was never even close. The president’s vote of confidence had all the markings: Patently false, it came during a widely viewed event, was uttered by a prominent speaker, played to an unflattering caricature (of both people) and packed supreme irony.

Within days, Brownie was no longer doing any job, never mind a heckuva one.

It also bestowed a belittling one-word nickname that would eliminate "Michael Brown" from any future discussion of the doomed Master of Disaster.

Plus: Brownie’s white dress shirt was buttoned too high and pressed too well for a hurricane.

Plus: Brownie’s e-mails would eventually make him look worse.

"I got it at Nordstroms," Brownie wrote of his outfit while Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Then he added: "Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"

Yes, yes and yes, Brownie.

But we digress.

Back to the presidential money quote:

"I think for both concision and cluelessness, Bush wins hands down," says Ted Widmer, a history professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and a White House speechwriter during the Clinton administration. "It’s very efficient," Widmer says. "It packs maximal inaccuracy into minimal expression."

An added bonus of "Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job" is that it will live forever in the lexicon of disingenuous boss-speak. Who will ever hear the words "You’re doing a heckuva job" again without half expecting to be frog-marched out of the office a few days later?

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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