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Smart, Dumb… or Something Else?

September 16th, 2009

An interesting angle on Bush reported in GQ:

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met [Sarah Palin] before. I’m sure I must have.” [Bush’s] eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment.

“This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party.

Andrew Sullivan then added:

When the history of the Bush administration is written, Bush may emerge as the sanest of them all. Remember his alleged first reaction to the WMD data: “This all we got?” Or his alleged response to torture: “Do these harsh interrogations actually work?

There’s one more he didn’t cover: when Cheney wanted to push through yet another tax cut for the rich, Bush’s response was, as I recall, along the lines of, ”Didn’t we do that already?“

The thing is, in all of these cases, the observations Bush is reported to have made were not really strokes of genius or anything remarkable. Seeing the actual reports of WMD would have made it clear to even an amateur that the evidence was weak; that torture was unreliable was not exactly a secret; that they pushed too many tax cuts for the rich was remarkably obvious; and that Palin was unprepared was painfully clear.

What marks Bush in these cases is not his wisdom or insight, but instead the fact that he let all of these things pass without acting on them. Maybe there wasn’t much he could do about Palin, but note his reaction when reminded that it was the party choice: ”I’m a team player.“ It seems as if that was his reaction all the time. If he knew the evidence on WMD was not enough, why did he not revise his opinions, or at least not lie brazenly to the American people? If he knew torture was ineffective, why let it happen? If he knew that there were too many tax cuts for the rich, why did he become the spokesperson for their passage?

Maybe I’m being too harsh; it’s not like Bush was, you know, in charge or anything.

These revelations do not say anything good about Bush; in fact, they make him look worse. If you’re president, you don’t do things you know are wrong because those around you say they’re for it; in such cases, being a ”team player“ is worse than immoral. Were he simply a dunce who could be gulled into believing anything, that would be bad. But to know that something is wrong and yet allow himself to be directed to do it anyway, that’s even worse. He was not just a puppet, he was a puppet and complicit. He was in the position where he could have acted, where he could have told Cheney to stop on any one or all points. Instead he willingly acted wrongly, even criminally, at the behest of underlings, as if he had no will power of his own.

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