Quote: “I know George Bush. I’ve worked against George Bush. I’ve even run against George Bush, but I’m not George Bush.” Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Figure of Speech: antistrophe (an-TIS-tro-phee), the last-word repeater; and the reverse innuendo, the self-inflicting rhetorical wound.
Six years after Al Gore tapped Joe Lieberman as his running mate, the senator lost a primary race against an anti-war candidate. Lieberman ran a clumsy campaign; today’s quote is a good example. During the candidates’ sole debate on July 6, Lieberman let loose an antistrophe (“turn-around”) a figure that repeats the last word in successive phrases, clauses or sentences.
Lieberman wants to distance himself from the president. How does he do it? By repeating the president’s name over and over and over. Figaro calls this blunder a reverse innuendo, in which the speaker unintentionally makes a label stick by denying it. Richard Nixon similarly did himself no favors when he growled, “I am not a crook.” In denying the accusation, he repeated it: a reverse innuendo.
George W. Bush, a far more sophisticated rhetorician than Lieberman, uses the reverse innuendo to his own advantage by repeating words that mean the opposite of what hurts his case. Take Iraq. Instead of saying, “We hadn’t anticipated the violent reaction to the invasion,” Bush said, “We are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome.” A messy invasion becomes a peaceful welcome — with an incidental “not” in front of it. (For more praise of Bushspeak, click here.)
Snappy Answer: “George Bush loves you anyway.”