Monday, May 10, 2004

Cocksure, incurious, and lazy

What are: three words to describe the current commander in chief?

That's Josh Marshall drawing from Jacob Weisberg in a great post about the state of the union and the recent bad news flood. You should read it yourself - it starts off with an Andrew Sullivan quote on credibility and accountability. Another example of a pro-war type starting to see that out is better than in these days. But read Josh's explanation of the larger context and then read Sullivan himself.

Let's return to the Weisberg piece for a moment, The Misunderestimated Man - How Bush chose stupidity.

First off, great name - it's an adaptation of an introduction to a "Bushisms" book. He makes a good point about the folly of labeling Bush a dunce (as, I'll freely admit, I frequently do):

What's more, calling the president a cretin absolves him of responsibility. Like Reagan, Bush avoids blame for all manner of contradictions, implausible assertions, and outright lies by appearing an amiable dunce. If he knows not what he does, blame goes to the three puppeteers, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld. It also breeds sympathy. We wouldn't laugh at FDR because he couldn't walk. Is it less cruel to laugh at GWB because he can't talk? The soft bigotry of low expectations means Bush is seen to outperform by merely getting by. Finally, elitist condescension, however merited, helps cement Bush's bond to the masses.

I would say that last comment about cementing the bond is important - especially given his tendency to use humor and "believe me the American people know"-isms to snub the "elite" and praise the Texan in us all (that he himself comes from one of the most privilidge dynasties of all time seems to have slipped his and the country's minds).

"Aggressive ignorance," is perhaps the best two-word evaluation of the President.

And on the rebirth of a somber hard-worker:

After half a lifetime of this kind of frustration, Bush decided to straighten up. Nursing a hangover at a 40th-birthday weekend, he gave up Wild Turkey, cold turkey. With the help of Billy Graham, he put himself in the hands of a higher power and began going to church. He became obsessed with punctuality and developed a rigid routine. Thus did Prince Hal molt into an evangelical King Henry. And it worked! Putting together a deal to buy the Texas Rangers, the ne'er-do-well finally tasted success. With success, he grew closer to his father, taking on the role of family avenger. This culminated in his 1994 challenge to Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who had twitted dad at the 1988 Democratic convention*.

Curiously, this late arrival at adulthood did not involve Bush becoming in any way thoughtful. Having chosen stupidity as rebellion, he stuck with it out of conformity. The promise-keeper, reformed-alkie path he chose not only drastically curtailed personal choices he no longer wanted, it also supplied an all-encompassing order, offered guidance on policy, and prevented the need for much actual information. Bush's old answer to hard questions was, "I don't know and, who cares." His new answer was, "Wait a second while I check with Jesus."

So we have a guy who likes order - a patter that's comfortable - whether it's the easily spotted order of the bible with its golden rules and handily numbered commandments or the ordered disorder of a disobediant son who sees the right path and simply chooses the other one. He sticks with something until it's convenient for him to change. So he changes context, but not really ever form. Willful academic failure gives way to willed business success, sorta, and then willed political victory - but always at the behest of an outside force - his father, Bill Graham, Cheney . . . .

But his acting out never really went away - his textbook frosh psych-ing of his father (I hate you but I need your approval, you never spent time with me, now go away) is evident in everything from his political life to his policy choices (if there's any difference between the two):

This Oedipally induced ignorance expresses itself most dangerously in Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. Dubya polished off his old man's greatest enemy, Saddam, but only by lampooning 41's accomplishment of coalition-building in the first Gulf War. Bush led the country to war on false pretenses and neglected to plan the occupation that would inevitably follow. A more knowledgeable and engaged president might have questioned the quality of the evidence about Iraq's supposed weapons programs. One who preferred to be intelligent might have asked about the possibility of an unfriendly reception. Instead, Bush rolled the dice. His budget-busting tax cuts exemplify a similar phenomenon, driven by an alternate set of ideologues.

An "aggressively ignorant," "dedicated fool."

Cast your ballots accordingly.

[Update - Check out this TPM post also: Just to pass on some added information, about which we'll be saying more. There is chatter in Pakistani intelligence circles that the US has let the Pakistanis know that the optimal time for bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects in the untamed Afghan-Pakistani border lands is the last ten days of July, 2004. Gee, what else is going on at the end of July, 2004 . . . there was something on the calendar, I want to say, maybe, Boston? God, what was that? . . . .]

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