It’s no secret that Eddie’s “Bu$hleaguer” is a scathing take on the current American president, George “Dubya” Bush. If you didn’t pick that up from the double entendre of the title – which name checks the prez and is a word meaning “inferior, minor league,” – you probably got the point last year when Ed often performed the song wearing a Dubya mask. The quasi spoken-word lyrics, a style Ed tried out before in “I’m Open” and “Push Me Pull Me,” are full of quotable lines. But if that one bit about Dubya being “born on third, thinks he got a triple,” sounds familiar, you aren’t crazy. It turns out that this paraphrased lyric has some history, history it’s likely Ed was somewhat aware of.
Barry Switzer, the successful head football coach at the University of Oklahoma and for the Dallas Cowboys in the 70s, 80s, and 90′s, was practically a sound byte machine. Relevance? A December 1986 Chicago Tribune article opens with a quote from Switzer: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” The article profiled the rags-to-riches Coach who related better to scrappy players who grew up poor, like him, than to the rich. The quote pre-dates “Bushleaguer” by roughly 17 years. Remember that Switzer would become famous for coaching Texas football, and in this story, Texas comes up a lot.
Fast forward to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Dubya’s father, George Bush Sr. was the Republican candidate running for president. Among the Dem convention’s high points was then Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower’s fiery speech which included him saying that George Bush Sr. was a person who was “born on third base [who] thought he had hit a triple.” Just as people often say Dubya only got ahead through nepotism, remember that even George Sr.’s had a head start in life. His father — Dubya’s grandfather — Prescott Bush was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut from 1952 – 1963.
Did Hightower rip off Barry Switzer? We may never know. But, Hightower is the one who has most often been given credit for the quote, especially in political circles. Later in the 1988 election year, Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen quoted Hightower. And years later, then Democrat governor of Texas Ann Richards referenced Hightower’s quote in a 1994 New York Times profile when saying that the entire Bush patriarchy were “all born on third.” Of course, Richards was familiar with the quote: she delivered the keynote speech at that same 1988 convention where Hightower spoke. In fact, she had her own famous Bush line from that convention. She said, “George Bush [Sr] was born with a silver foot in his mouth” (she is often maligned for not originating that quote, though, but I digress). Was Richards’s campaign for gubernatorial re-election successful in 1994? No. Ironically, she lost the election to then Texas Rangers baseball team partner George W. Bush, someone who no doubt knew a thing or two about third base and triples.
Since Dubya’s presidential campaign started in 1999, the quote has primarily been credited in the Political world to Jim Hightower, showing up in a many articles during the 2000 Presidential campaign. Switzer is given credit for the quote as well, but often just on “famous quotes” websites and is very popular on “quote of the day” blogs. The quote even appeared in an early, pre-Riot Act episode of the CBS crime drama “CSI – Crime Scene Investigation”.
So with this knowledge, is Ed a lyric thief? To quote Stone Gossard, “no way.” Ed Vedder has a clever way of integrating other people’s quotes into his own lyrics. There is no rule that music lyrics can’t consciously reference other’s lines. If you ever wrote a term paper in school, using quotes was surefire proof that you’d done your homework. In “Down”, Ed’s “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” is the title of a 1995 memoir by historian Howard Zinn. It’s a fitting line in a song about fighting political apathy, just like Ed’s purposeful invocation of Beatle John Lennon’s “all you need is love” in “Love Boat Captain” is fitting because it’s in a song about overcoming grief with love. The “born on third” in “Bu$hleaguer” works the same way, no matter who said it first.