Obviously, I’m not much of a fan of George W. Bush. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s all bad. After catching some flak in the comments for having portrayed him as stupid, I feel that I should go on record with some of my thoughts on dubya, minus the sarcasm.
The man has focus, and determination. See this interesting article from the Washginton Post’s On Politics, for example: Close look at a focused president. Bush goes his own way, even in the face of criticism. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether that way is a way I think the country should be headed, you have to give the guy credit for sticking to his guns.
Also, I give Bush high marks for personal honesty. I know that sounds crazy, given that I also think he has led a sustained effort to lie to the world and to the American people about his justification for going to war with Iraq. In terms of the severity of its consequences, that’s a pretty serious lie. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s much worse in that sense than the lies Clinton told about Lewinsky.
But in a way, what Bush is doing with this Iraq war justification isn’t really lying. Clinton’s Monica lies were just outright whoppers, pure and simple. With Bush, the lies are fuzzier. They’re down there in the clutter of details that he simply doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to. Clinton, I’m sure, had no illusions about whether he was lying or not when he waggled his finger at the camera and asserted that he’d never had sexual relations with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Bush, though, with his west-Texas anti-intellectualism, views “facts” with suspicion. Facts are things that propeller-headed Poindexters worry about. A real man like him pays more attention to his gut. His gut told him that Saddam was a bad man, and that “taking him out” was an appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks. Once he’d arrived at that decision, the hooey he fed the public was a secondary issue. He was acting on the basis of Truth with a big “T”, and he wasn’t going to let truth with a little “t” get in his way.
Bush really is like those country fans singing along with Darryl Worley and Toby Keith. He just doesn’t discriminate that finely. From his perspective, the differences between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are much less important than the things they have in common. They both come from a part of the world he’d never paid much attention to before being not-quite-elected president. They both speak Arabic, are at least nominally Islamic, and don’t like the United States. And that’s good enough for him.
It’s not that he’s stupid, as much as ignorant, and (especially) possessed of bad judgement in his refusal to look carefully at the consequences he’s committing us all to before deciding to follow his gut. Here’s how I put it in responding to a user’s comment on the Dare to be (not) stupid piece the other day:
I don’t think George Bush is all that stupid. I don’t think he’s all that smart, either, but I don’t think that disqualifies him for the presidency. What I think disqualifies him for the presidency is his poor judgement.
A stupid person could be a decent president, I think, as long as he was aware of his limitations, had a solid emotional foundation, and used good judgement in evaluating the advice he received from those around him. He’d have to be able to make his decisions based on the right reasons, rather than letting his emotions and the darker side of his personality push him to do stupid things that “felt” right at the time, but really weren’t.
That’s what I think Bush is doing, in particular with his reaction to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. I don’t blame him for being out of his depth; I think any president, no matter how intelligent, would have been out of his depth faced with the events of 9/11. I blame him for picking the wrong people to listen to in deciding what to do about it, for letting himself be manipulated, and for letting his emotions lead him into taking the country down a path that will only make the problem worse in the long run.
If someone injures you, but doesn’t stick around to let you hit back at them, you’re going to feel a lot of bottled up aggression. You’re going to want to use that aggression on somebody. Whether or not you indulge that desire by beating up on a bunch of people who have no connection with the person who initially injured you has more to do with personality and judgement, I think, than raw intelligence.
There’s a level on which George Bush is more honest, more trustworthy, than someone like Clinton. Clinton would tell you black was white, and be completely convincing about it, if he thought it would help him politically. With Bush, what you see is what you get. As frightening as he is to me, as bad a president as I think he is, I have to give him credit for that.