Monday, August 16, 2004

Bush as Dummy, Again

Matthew Yglesias tries to make the case that whatever the man's character strengths, Bush's intellectual failings are so severe as to make him unfit to hold office.

Given the longstanding popularity of the "Bush is a moron" theme amongst the left, I'd feared that this was the final sign that Yglesias had descended completely to partisan hack level, but on actually reading the article I found myself feeling pleasantly surprised. The points he makes about the policy failings of the Bush administration are, I think, valid, and they ought to be troubling both for those on the right as well as on the left. Having said that, however, I cannot bring myself to endorse the central thrust of Yglesias' article, which is that Bush's policy failings are due to his intellectual limitations.

On the contrary, reading through the examples provided in the article, the predominant impression one gets is of a chronic indecisiveness that allows problems to fester until they've grown more dire than they need have been, given prompt action. This is certainly a far cry from the "decisive leader" image the Bush administration tries to project, but it is by no means an intellectual shortcoming: Bush could be Socrates reincarnated and still suffer from an inability to make up his mind. Indeed, there's plenty to suggest that Kerry also suffers from the very same tendency to straddle and temporize, whatever his intellectual strengths may or may not be. It's all well and good to suggest that the postwar situation in Iraq wouldn't have been half as chaotic had Bush only read the policy papers of the Future of Iraq Group, but this is really an indictment of him for the character flaw of laziness (which really is a gigantic black mark against Bush, if true), and in any case, who is to say that a too clever-by-half leader wouldn't have drawn conclusions from said briefings that might have lead to far more dire consequences than those we're currently dealing with?

The bottom line is that Yglesias uses the word "character" in a verkrampte sense that confines it to the way one relates to one's family and associates, whereas the term has traditionally been taken to refer as much or even more to one's official conduct; to illustrate, Cato the Elder was a lush, and it certainly wasn't his teatotalling ways that brought him lasting renown in a civilization that has always abhorred public intoxication. Bush may not be a genius, but there's precious little hard evidence that he's an idiot either, malapropisms notwithstanding, and it is a dangerous conceit to imagine that raw brainpower is what ought to matter most: Hjalmar Schacht, Karl Dönitz and Hermann Goering would likely have outdone both John Kerry and Yglesias himself on any assessment of raw intellect, as almost certainly would have Richard M. Nixon and James L. Carter, yet none of these men could be considered ideal leadership material by any stretch of the imagination.