Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday you called for a deadline for U.N. action on Kosovo. When would you like that deadline set? And are you at all concerned that taking that type of a stance is going to further inflame U.S. relations with Russia? And is there any chance that you're going to sign on to the Russian missile defense proposal?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thanks. A couple of points on that. First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline. I thought I said, time -- I did? What exactly did I say? I said, "deadline"? Okay, yes, then I meant what I said.

--George W. Bush, U.S. President, from a press conference in Albania, June 10, 2007

I'm sure the hard-core 28% of the public that still supports Bush most likely voted against Al Gore for being "too smart". Yeah, Al would have been a lousy President of the United States. Who did that damned, nose-up-in-the-air egghead think he was trying to impress with his fancy book-learning, huh?

But Robert Kagan, writing in USA Today, believes it's time for something different:

Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, tried-and-true or fresh-face-on-the-scene, the next president had better have a complex mind.

I'm not just talking about intelligence or smarts, George W. Bush graduated from Yale and Harvard; C student or not, he wasn't failing. The tragedy of the Bush presidency is not about failure; it is about a conception of success that is much too simple.

Bush campaigned, for example, on the promise of "compassionate conservatism", but when the chips were down, he delivered a simple form of "cowboy conservatism" long cherished in the American psyche. Like the citizen-sheriff in High Noon, a decent man and reluctant warrior, George Bush-as-Gary Cooper courageously stood up at one end of our global Main Street and faced down the Bad Guy, Saddam Hussein, to protect his family and community.

But here's the problem: The real world is not a western movie. In High Noon, when the lone heroic actor succeeds, the town is saved and the movie ends in the quiet triumphalism of plain-spoken American. In the real world, a super-power sheriff acting essentially by himself, no matter how brave, imperils the global town no matter the outcome of the gunfight.

Other than being entirely too generous of Dubya's intentions, Kegan fully understands what the problem is: complex issues don't have simple solutions. Leaping before you look isn't "staying the course", especially if you're stepping off the roof. But that stubbornly-loyal 28% of the public with fifteen second attention spans doesn't want to hear that. What they want is fast food news they can gulp down without thinking, and big, won't-go-away political headaches like Iraq solved by tossing it in the microwave. Bush is the type of President they want, the guy they can have a beer with and not worry about him making them feel stupid. What's worse, there are other voters who feel the same way as the 28% does, they're just not out of the closet yet.

It's a seductive but false luxury America can't afford anymore. Ignorance isn't bliss; it's a temporary blindness that keeps you from seeing the beast that's gonna tear your throat out. Personally, I wouldn't want the guy I'm having a beer with to fix my car, never mind putting him in the White House. I don't want a boozehound that's going to vomit on my shoes. I want the sober, boring, responsible guy who's going to drive my drunken carcass home. What I and the rest of this country needs is somebody in charge who isn't afraid to be smart. As Thomas Fuller said, “Get the facts, or the facts will get you. And when you get em, get em right, or they will get you wrong.”