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Hullabaloo


Monday, April 19, 2004

 
You Can Believe Me or You Can Believe Your Lyin' Eyes

Michael Tomasky gets to the point. It's really very simple:

My overwhelming reaction to the 60 Minutes segment on Bob Woodward's new book and the reports and leaks about the book over the weekend is that Woodward's account shows a man who just doesn't have the intellectual capacity to do this job. This may not strike some readers as a newsflash, I know, but Woodward does shed some new light on the question. Bush took this country in a radically new foreign-policy direction without really thinking through the consequences of his actions; without reckoning in a serious way with the question "What if we're wrong?"; without seeking the input of aides who might have disagreed or painted a more complex picture than the one he wanted painted for him. It's a profoundly irresponsible way to govern.

What his defenders will continue to call his "idealism" -- the belief that God put him in the Oval Office to spread liberty's bounty across the globe and so on -- is in fact a rather shocking shallowness. It's fine and indeed admirable for a world leader to speak this way, to aspire to greatness and fairness for his nation and for the world; Tony Blair did so in the run-up to the war, and his pro-war speeches were considerably more convincing than Bush's. But clearly, Bush actually believes this and looks at global geopolitics this way. This, too, might be fine, if it were balanced by more hard-headed and skeptical assessments, but Bush seems to have embraced it as a totalizing explanation. And as such, it has barred other interpretations of world events at the door.

Even this might be fine, if the consequences had not been so tragic. But once Bush transformed himself in his mind into God's messenger of liberty, things like the State Department's multi-volume report on post-war Iraq -- a report that predicted many of the tragedies that have come to pass -- became irrelevant. What was the research of mere mortals next to the fiery inscriptions of God, emblazoned across his welcoming mind?

And so hundreds are dead today who didn't need to die, because the possibility of their deaths was not supposed to be part of the great plan and therefore was not contemplated in its mandated fullness. There exists no acceptable definition of "idealism" by which the above qualifies as such. Neither is it quite malevolence. Dick Cheney is malevolent, all right, but he's not the president, at least officially; not the one making the final call. It is incompetence. It is shallowness. To put it more colloquially, it?s trying to wish something true; we've all done it in our private lives, so we all know how irresponsible it is.

And it's happening because the guy in charge doesn't know any better. Our first impression was, catastrophically, right.


Yessiree. But to listen to bespectacled, waspy, Episcopalean beltway insider Fred "Nascar" Barnes, this is wrong because "real Americans" like him don't need no stinkin' Kissingerian nuance.

I'll leave it to the inimitable Charles Pierce to retort:

One of the reactions to C-Plus Augustus's prime-time blithering that makes me truly angry is the notion that only elitist Blue Staters expect the president to get from a subject to an object without breaking an ankle, but that the good plain-spoken average American doesn't cotton to such book-larnin', consarn it.

What a huge steaming crock of beans. One of the nice things about being a sportswriter is that you actually get to see a lot of the country and you get to meet a lot of its people, many of them living in places that people like David Brooks and the Crazy Dolphin Queen visit only in their smug condescension. I have seen the sun rise over the Piedmont and I have seen it set over the Mississippi Delta. I know the way Puget Sound looks on a clear morning, and the way the snow blows straight up off the surface of Lake Superior on a cold afternoon. I know how the Ohio sounds, and how it sounds different from how the Fox River sounds. I have played bingo in Wisconsin and I have played poker in Reno and I have gambled on horses in the sweet breezes of Keeneland. I've seen Tracy Chapman in a subway, and Muddy Waters on a midway, and Bob Dylan at Bally's Grand on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. I have seen Michael Jordan play. I have been around.

Don't tell me what this country and its people think -- and, especially, don't be using that "We" thing to do it. Don't tell me that, as a nation, we can't distinguish courage from stubbornness, philosophy from platitudes, and an empty suit from a full one. Don't tell me we prize simplicity when you really mean we prize the simple. Don't tell me about my country and my countrymen, you smarmy, honorarium-fattened, makeup-encrusted hyenas. Don't you freaking dare. I been there.

And, by the way, all of her Beltway Heather pals should note that Peggy Noonan this week intimated that asking the president of the United States what in the hell he's doing makes you less of a real American. Go on. Go on the shows with her again, and know the contempt she feels for your craft. Then, go home and break every damn mirror you own.


It is foolish for Democrats to buy into the notion that it is too dangerous to question Bush's competence to do this job. That is blatent GOP propaganda designed to cow us into discarding a potent argument. The vast majority of American people don't follow politics to the extent that we junkies do and they don't care all that much about the details. But they are remarkably good at cutting through the bullshit when it's right in front of them.

Throughout the 90's the Republicans cried wolf on average of once or twice a week. Clinton was the anti-christ. A corrupt, murdering, philandering communist was running the country. When he was finally caught with his pants down (literally), the American people were fascinated but unmoved. His approval rating remained strong even through impeachment procedings. And that, of course, is what saved him.
And it was because they believed what they saw with their own eyes --- a competent president caught in an entertaining political spectacle that didn't affect their lives.

Bush is dumb. People can see that with their own eyes, too, and Fred Barnes knows it. That's the real subtext of that whole "the grown-ups are back in charge," nonsense. Most people thought that Bush was a middle of the road fella who would listen to his Dad if anything big came up and would calm the partisan waters. After all that wild sex with Clinton he was supposed to be the cigarette in the afterglow. But, they knew he was dumb. Times were so good that quite a few people didn't think it mattered all that much who was president.

After 9/11, people wanted to believe that Bush had risen to the occasion because it was too frightening to think otherwise. The GOP successfully framed criticism as lack of patriotism. And, as with Clinton's TV soap opera, the press liked the big budget war movie. So, for a short time Bush was seen as bold, resolute, strong, decisive, whatever. Unfortunately for him, he then made the huge mistake of selling a war on a demonstrably false premise. They can try to ignore that big fat GOP elephant in the middle of the room, but it isn't going away. There are no weapons of mass destruction and Bush is babbling about turkey farms and mustard gas. He can't testify before the 9/11 commission without Vice President Gepetto. Republicans are writing tell all books about his failures even before his first term is finished. Everyone is being reminded that he never was very bright.

Now, candidates and their surrogates can't go around saying that too obviously because people will begin to feel sorry for him. But, they should be constantly talking about the complexity of the problems we face. They should discuss what leadership really is and tie it in to experience, maturity, trust and brains.

And the rest of us should use humor to hammer the point home. I'll never forget Jon Stewert's countdown of the biggest stories of 2000. The top story of the year was Florida, naturally. We'd been watching footage from the state for one reason or another for the entire 12 months. He ran down the story of the recount and the supreme court decision and then said something like "and at the center of the storm that was Florida this year was one small frightened little boy." At which point he showed a picture of George W. Bush.

It was obvious then and it's obvious now that Bush is in over his head. And Fred Barnes's protestations to the contrary are as phony as Bush senior chomping on that bag of pork rinds.





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