This was the startling title of a controversial segment in August on the MSNBC talk show Scarborough Country, in which host Joe Scarborough moderated a discussion between two guests who debated the possibility that it was true. The show also had a clip of some of Bush’s incoherent ramblings on important topics, a montage which has to be seen to be believed. It seemed to me that Scarborough had concluded that Bush was an idiot and was using the common rhetorical device of posing his conclusion as a question as a defensive strategy to protect himself.
(Most of the Bushisms in the montage were familiar golden oldies but there were some new ones. My personal favorite was when he says: “I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.” I became curious as to what possible context could have prompted him to express this heartwarming sentiment about interspecies harmony. Perhaps he said it during one of those summer shark attack news frenzies and he was calling for dialogue between the two species to end the bloodshed, his reworking of Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” The website Snopes says that Bush said these memorable words when he departed from the text of a campaign speech about dams in Saginaw, Michigan in September 2000. He did not elaborate on what he meant.)
The Scarborough Country program was remarkable not because of what the final verdict was on Bush’s mental capabilities but because such a question was even being asked at all by the mainstream media. Just a short while ago, they would have been debating the question “Is George Bush a god or is he simply the smartest, bravest man who has ever lived?”
If you think I am exaggerating, then take a look at this passage written by John Hinderaker just one year ago:
“It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.”
Bear in mind that Hinderaker is not some small-time nincompoop who suffers from an acute case of Bush worship. He and two others, all attorneys, are the authors of the Power Line blog which was voted by Time magazine as Blog of the Year in 2004. They are major players in the world of big-time nincompoops, the kind that populate the talking head shows on cable TV. Hinderaker is also someone who has access to the White House.
Scarborough came in for some heavy criticism from Bush cultists because of the program and he defended himself in a later program by showing even more clips of Bush’s idiocies. But he also said something significant. He pointed out that he himself is a proud conservative, who once served as a Republican congressman from the south, and that the question that he was posing was one that widely, but privately, being discussed among conservatives in the nation’s capital.
The reason that conservatives have become so uneasy about Bush is that his approval ratings have sunk to the thirties and remained there for some time. The Harriet Myers debacle, and Katrina fiasco, the continuing disaster that is Iraq, the unexpected disintegration of Afghanistan, and the horrendous events in Lebanon and Gaza have made it obvious to all but the most die-hard Bush supporters that this administration has completely botched almost everything it touched, with no end in sight to the steady ruination of the country.
It is clear that the White House is uneasy about this negative re-evaluation of Bush’s mental abilities. While they have been eager to cultivate the image of Bush as a folksy, plain-spoken, brush-clearing, mountain-bike riding ‘man of the people’, being seen as a total doofus would be going too far. So they have counterattacked, giving out, like the proud parents of a precocious child, what they claim is Bush’s summer and annual book reading lists that includes up to 60 titles including Albert Camus’ The Stranger, with the Press Secretary even saying that he and Bush had discussed that novel’s existentialist themes.
This attempt at intellectual rehabilitation has strained credulity among observers. Some have looked closely at the list and cranked out the numbers. Here is one analysis from the The Carpetbagger Report:
Of the twelve books listed, I come up with a total page count of 5,356 pages, including 1,585 pages not available until at least 4/2006 of this year. That is an average page count of 450 pages per book. Multiply by his 60 books so far this year for a total page count of 27,000. 27,000 pages means the President would have to average a little over 115 pages per day. Reading a quick pace of a little over a minute per page, that is two hours a day of reading, and let’s be honest, longer if you want to retain information in these types of books. And this from a man who prides himself in not reading the paper. I don’t buy it.
As the Carpetbagger reports: ” The fact that the White House gang is experimenting with a new persona — Bush, the reader — is embarrassing. He’s not supposed to be about book learnin'; he’s about governing by instinct and relying on the advice of educated people who tell him what he wants to hear. Switching gears now is not only literally unbelievable, it’s pointless. The die is already cast.”
But for an even more embarrassing display at damage control, one can reliably return to Hinderaker who is still determined to portray Bush as the obvious heir to Aristotle and Kant and Einstein and that it is only we who are the idiots for not being able to see the dazzling mind that is on display right in front of us. In an August 22, 2006 post, it is clear that while even other conservatives may see Bush as a low-power night light among the bright chandeliers in the showroom of great thinkers, Hinderaker, perhaps because of the special night vision goggles he wears, is still dazzled by the brilliance that is hidden from the rest of us.
I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I’ve ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I’ve ever seen any politician. . .The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. . . It was, in short, the most inspiring forty minutes I’ve experienced in politics.
There are many thinkers I admire greatly and have no hesitation in saying so. But I can never imagine myself writing about anybody using the words that Hinderaker habitually uses to describe Bush. There is an obsequiousness to them that is cloying and repulsive. Frankly, I cannot see how anyone, other than a total sycophant who has completely lost his self-respect and is angling for a job from a powerful person, could write in public in such an obviously ingratiating way.
Hinderaker is not, unfortunately, an isolated case. The disease that afflicts him can be found among many politicians and journalists who continue to assure us that the public still likes Bush and sees him as a great leader, when the polls have for a long time indicated that the country has turned away from him. And that raises an interesting issue. What exactly it is about Bush that makes so many men (and they do tend to be men) go weak in the knees and not see him clearly for what he is: a man who is completely out of his depth and desperately treading water, waiting for the clock to run out on his presidency before he drowns?
This intriguing question will be addressed in a future post.