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Bush doing his part for a healthier America
by Ann McFeatters
Block News Alliance


March 10, 2005

Washington - A hearty laugh, according to research presented to the American College of Cardiology, keeps you living longer because it juices up the body's vascular system by pumping blood through blood vessels.

Depression and stress can kill you, in part, because blood flow is reduced during mental stress. The researchers concluded that 15 minutes of laughter a day is good tonic.

Since this is a column about politics, I congratulate President Bush for working to keep Americans healthy. After analyzing his speeches, I find that his audiences (except the foreign ones) do not leave without getting their blood circulated.

Even in a somewhat dull speech on energy policy that he delivered in Columbus, Ohio, the other day, Bush managed to make the audience burst into laughter 11 times.

In a session with the Boston Red Sox, there were 14 moments of raucous cheer.

At a White House session on the sober topic of faith-based volunteer efforts, there were 17 moments of spontaneous joviality.

In a speech in Westfield, N.J., on his proposal to overhaul Social Security, Bush elicited 24 body-satisfying cackles from the audience.

How does the president do this? Memorize jokes with clever punch lines? Deliver witty word plays? Raise humorous nuance to a presidential art form?

No. This president relies on simple, failsafe methods anyone can master.

For example, he often refers to his mother with mock terror. In the Columbus speech, about his thousandth visit to the state that made him president for four more years, Bush proudly said again, "I have a history in Columbus. My grandfather, Prescott Bush, was raised right here. And down the road, my maternal grandfather, Marvin Pierce, was raised in Dayton, Ohio. I had to bring that up - otherwise my mother would call me."

At a job-training speech in Maryland, Bush noted that the governor's parents were in the room. "Still listening to Mom?" he asked Gov. Robert Ehrlich. "Yes, so am I," Bush said.

Bush's second technique is to chuckle or grin himself, making the audience feel churlish if it doesn't join in. When he travels with local members of Congress, he often says: "I want to thank the members of Congress who have joined us today. Very nice of them to take the afternoon off. They flew down on Air Force One and they're flying back on Air Force One. It's a convenient way to travel, isn't it, guys?" He laughs; the audience laughs. The lawmakers look around nervously, but then they, too, laugh.

A third element of Bush's repertoire is the offbeat reference to someone's alma mater. When he presided at the swearing-in of the dour Michael Chertoff as homeland security secretary, Yale man Bush noted that Chertoff was a Harvard lad but graciously said, "We'll forgive him for that, I guess."

Invariably, he salutes his wife Laura, saying she wanted to attend his 55th speech on Social Security but was detained, doing her outreach to gangs or reading. He usually refers to her supposed advice. In New Jersey, he said, "I can spend a lot of time on a lot of subjects, but Laura told me, 'You're going to have some panelists up there. Give them a chance to speak.' I will. In a minute."

Even though he's been president for coming up on half a decade, Bush refers to Washington with sarcastic detachment as an unfathomable, alien place. In Maryland, he said that if only Washington had more flexibility, 400,000 people could get job training for $16 billion, instead of 200,000. The audience dutifully chortled.

Bush likes personal references. In his many speeches on Social Security, he usually says that as a baby boomer, he plans to retire at the age of 62 in 2008. That cracks listeners up, because, of course, that is when his term expires.

And there is always sports talk. When the Boston Red Sox came to the White House after winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years, Bush said, "Please be seated, unless you don't have a chair. So, like, what took you so long?"

Sadly, Bush's gift for the pause that refreshes does not translate well abroad. In a recent speech to the citizens of Slovakia, there was not one laugh. None! When he met with young professionals in Mainz, Germany, his only laugh came when he referred to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as an "older man."

In a major speech in Brussels, the only tepid giggles he drew came when he referred to the warm reception Benjamin Franklin got in Europe, where the founding father was viewed as a friend to all mankind. "I've been hoping for a similar reception, but Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice told me I should be a realist."

But Bush can take heart, forgetting what Old Europe thinks. He should relish the heart-healthy good a collected version of his speeches via DVD could do just on this one continent!

Ann McFeatters is Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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