Thursday, October 07, 2004

Never Enough Presidential Intelligence Department

The LA Times posted an editorial which, I'm relieved to say, finally repeats something I've been tossing around for a while--that, in fact, I mentioned in a conversation last night. To wit, President Bush is not dumb. To paint him as such is a disservice to those Americans who might have insecurities about their intelligence, and therefore might feel resentment towards those calling Bush "dumb". He's got intelligence, after his own fashion. It's also a disservice to those who are attempting to point out serious political problems, since calling a politician "dumb" will close, not open, ears.

But the LA Times gets it right: Bush is "mentally lazy". That is, Bush is unwilling to scrutinize his own beliefs, to reconcile where those beliefs contradict one another, and unwilling to accept data that refutes his beliefs. This sort of intellectual laziness is dangerous when it resides in a President responsible for running the most powerful nation in the world. Any leader knows how to listen to others, knows when to demand data to get a clear view of the situation, and knows when to change course when necessary. Bush, in his career both in and out of politics, clearly doesn't act in this way, preferring to insulate himself with yes-men who tell him what he wants to hear, and ignoring critics--if they're lucky--when they try to offer an alternative view.

The Times missed on one point, however, when comparing Bush to Ronald Reagan. Now, I'm hardly an apologist for Reagan; growing up under his shadow has not been good for my soul. But the Times' comparison falls apart with scrutiny. Reagan may have been "mentally lazy" in some senses, but if so, he was still less lazy than Bush. Unlike Bush, Reagan read newspapers and allowed himself to be exposed to opposing facts and opinions. He even raised taxes, once it was clear that the federal government would collapse without a partial reversal of his earlier tax cut. Bush, on the other hand, wouldn't raise taxes if it were clear that the Army would go to battle with miniature Swiss Army knives.

Furthermore, Reagan was willing to talk to Brezhnev and Gorbachev, and thus helped (in a small way, I feel) wind down the Cold War. Reagan was able to tone down his public "Evil Empire" bluster and open dialog with world leaders, when it was necessary, and so came across as much more diplomatic than his words might usually belie. Bush, in contrast, has pretty much blown his wad in terms of diplomacy; he started out belligerent, then cynically used September 11 to excuse his belligerence. It's almost as if, in his arrogance, he sees no need to consult with anyone at all--no need for consensus, no need for openness.

We've had enough of this arrogant variety of mental laziness. The problems of the world require a much smarter leader than we currently possess. Unfortunately, for the past few years the United States itself has been lulled by its own mental laziness--an unwillingness to scrutinize facts and a resistance to demanding truth and justice. By November 2, I fully expect our own mental laziness to come to an end.

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