Tonight The Daily Beast re-printed an essay George W. Bush wrote ten years ago for P.O.V. magazine to commemorate his father's birthday titled, "The First Son." Just for kicks, we ran it through some of those online writing analyzers.
Since one of the tests had length restrictions, we took only the first four paragraphs of Bush's essay and plugged them into two online writing analysis tests, Writing Tester and Blue Centauri. Here's the exact writing sample:
I've lived with being "George Bush's son" all my life. Growing up, I probably didn't want to be like him. Today it's ironic that much of my career parallels his. He went to Yale. I went to Yale. He was a Navy pilot. I flew F-102s in the Texas Air National Guard. Now that I'm in political life, I like to say I've inherited half of his friends all of his enemies. Of course, there will be some who will prejudge me, but that's OK: I don't expect to get all of the votes anyway. Being George Bush's son is a tremendous plus.
The greatest gift that my dad has given me has been unconditional love. He loves me when times are good and he loves me when times are bad. He loves me when I've been successful and he loves me when I've failed. Take the 1994 campaign for governor, which no one thought I could win. I fought an uphill battle, but I had such a sense of security due to love that I was willing to take the risk. Because I feared neither failure nor success.
That love and confidence has always been there. (Even though, as the first of five kids, I tested my parents' patience more than once.) Growing up in Midland, Texas, I can remember clearly my dad saying, "Son, I can play catch with you now and throw the ball as hard as I can and you can catch it." There was a certain rite of passage when I could catch with my dad and he didn't have to hold back.
Dad loves the outdoors. He often took me fishing when I was a kid. We'd go fishing for bluefish off the coast of Maine. I learned the skills of fishing from listening to him, and the joy of fishing from watching him. Dad's a good hunter, too, and one Christmas he gave me a shotgun, a .410. I would go with him to Louisiana to shoot ducks. Those are fond memories.
So Writing Tester graded the above writing sample at a 4th grade level, while Blue Centauri graded it at a 3.5 grade level. Not quite a fourth grader, but more advanced than a third.
I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to deal with ideas—I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery in "The Portrait of a Lady" as well as the next person, "imagery" being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention—but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of "Paradise Lost," to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific's City of San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in "Paradise Lost," the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco's dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn't think. All I knew then was what I couldn't do. All I knew was what I wasn't, and it took me some years to discover what I was.
Which was a writer.
By which I mean not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?
Writing Tester graded Didion's writing at an 8th grade level, while Blue Centauri graded it at a 9.3 grade level.
I guess all of this only serves to prove that George W. Bush is no Joan Didion, but then again, we all probably knew that already, didn't we?