Greg Muttit, author of the book Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, interviewed by Chris Nineham from Stop the War Coalition. Video by Silvana Faria.
Will the boom in natural gas drilling contaminate America’s water supply?
The Rachel Maddow Show’s video site summed this one up as well as I could ever hope to.
Rachel Maddow holds Dick Cheney and Republican opportunists to account for their shameless hypocrisy, distortions and outright lies in criticizing President Obama’s response to the attempted bombing of Flight 253 in the face of their abject, egregious failures to deal with terrorists threats to the United States when they were in power.
She also took at whack at her cohorts in the mainstream media for whether they want to act like journalists and fact check the B.S. that’s being fed to them instead of just repeating it, or do their jobs. This was truly one of Rachel’s finer moments on television.
I don’t expect either of the Cheney’s or any of the other hacks politicizing this terrorism debate to be coming on her show any time soon. Keep giving them hell Rachel.
MADDOW: After days of essentially unanswered Republican political attacks against the Obama administration, finally, today, we got the big kahuna. The white whale of Republican politics, former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney, involved in this.
After five days of Republicans owning the airwaves on this issue, doubling and then tripling down on politicizing this thwarted terrorist attack, with almost no opposition from the Democrats, the maestro of terror politics, Mr. Cheney, gave a statement to Politico.com today. Not decrying the terrorist incident itself, but instead using that attack as an opportunity to bash the president, to accuse the president of not keeping America safe.
Now, as is often the case in politics, when attacks from one side go unanswered for a long time, when one side gets the platform all to themselves, that side can sometimes get over-exuberant. They can overplay their hand. Republicans, left to their own devices, have in this case excitedly launched a series of obviously baseless, factually incorrect, demonstrably untrue and hypocritical attacks.
Dick Cheney`s comments today probably the worst among them. He said, quote, “He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won`t be at war.”
Remember Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber”? Richard Reid was arrested December 2001, when a man named Dick Cheney was vice president. The Bush Justice Department let him, as they say, “lawyer up,” and Mr. Reid later pled guilty in federal court.
Remember 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Same deal. Given American rights, tried in the federal courts and convicted, all while a man named Dick Cheney was vice president.
What President Obama is doing right now with this case is the same thing that was done with the same type of cases while Dick Cheney was vice president. But Dick Cheney isn`t letting anything like that hold him back, saying, quote, “Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war? President Obama`s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war.”
According to Dick Cheney, see, this has to be seen as a military issue. This has to be seen as a war. This can`t be seen as law enforcement. This is something — according to Dick Cheney — this is something that you handle with the Department of Defense, right? Like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, do you have any insights you can share with us about Richard Reid, the American Airlines shoe bomber?
DONALD RUMSFELD, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That`s a matter that`s in the hands of the law enforcement people and not the Department of Defense.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Nothing you can share?
RUMSFELD: And I don`t have anything I would want to add.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Where was Dick Cheney and his outrage when his administration was treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue?
But, wait, there`s more. Quote, “He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won`t be at war.”
Like, for example, do you mean the Guantanamo prisoners your administration released to go to Saudi Arabia to be put in art therapy? The guys who then became leaders of the al Qaeda chapter in Yemen that is reportedly behind the plot to blow up that flight on Christmas Day? Did Mr. Cheney think that we weren`t at war when that decision was made by his administration? Where was his outrage over his own decision then?
We`re hearing over and over and over again from Republicans how President Obama waited too long to comment on the Christmas bombing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Disappointed it`s taken the president 72 hours to even address this issue.
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: The president has decided to stay silent for 72 hours. That — he needs to explain that.
KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: It`s over 72 hours from the time from the incident until the time the president spoke today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Seventy-two hours. How could President Obama possibly wait so long to comment?
For the record, after the Richard Reid shoe bombing incident in 2001, President Bush was not seen or heard from for six days. Count `em, six days.
Like President Obama, Mr. Bush was on vacation at the time of that incident. He apparently did not see fit to comment on the situation until almost a full week after it happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: The shoe bomber was a case in point where the country has been on alert. I`m grateful for the flight attendant`s response, as I`m sure the passengers on that airplane, but we`ve got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country. And our government is responding accordingly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Where was the Republican criticism of President Bush back then, for taking so long to make those comments? Perhaps President Bush dodged criticism on matters of terrorism, because of the language he used to talk about the war on terror. Remember, smoke `em out of their caves, bring `em on. That was the type of language that President Bush chose to use when talking about terrorism.
Mr. Obama does it differently. He has a distinctly non-cowboy rhetorical approach to this issue. And that is one of the things that`s also most rankling Republicans right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The important thing now, Harry, is that the president has downplayed the threat of terrorists since he took office. He doesn`t even use the word anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He doesn`t even use the word anymore. That is true, only in Jim DeMint`s mind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terror and extremism that threatens the world`s stability. Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. Suffering and civil wars that breed instability and terror. New acts of terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He never says the word “terror.”
Why let a 30-second Google search get in the way of your good sound bite, Senator?
But, you know, Senator DeMint is doing the country a service here — at least by clarifying things, by getting at the core of the conservative attack on President Obama. It was the whole point of Dick Cheney`s opportunistic statement today. The whole point was that President Obama ought to talk more about war.
Vice President Cheney said, quote, “He seems to think if he gets rid of the words “war on terror,” we won`t be at war. Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war?”
Keep in mind — this is coming from the former vice president of the administration whose record of talking about war includes dandies like these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Thanks to the United States and our fine allies. Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. The Taliban is history. And the Afghan people are free!
Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
DICK CHENEY, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I think they`re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, talking about war incessantly, beating your chest about it, acting like a cowboy, making premature declarations of victory over and over and over again might feel good, but those things don`t actually translate into effectively waging war, Mr. Chatty Cathy former vice president.
For the most part, Democrats are letting these charges from Dick Cheney and the rest of the Republicans go unanswered, even though these are charges that collapse very quickly in the face of even rudimentary fact- checking.
But even if you step back from the specific, ridiculous claims that they are making, consider what Republicans are trying to do here. Republicans apparently think they can survive the fact-checking problems they will have here if anybody ever decides to look into these things they`re saying. They think they can survive the fact-checking because they imagine they have this transcendent credibility on national security matters. A credibility on national security that, what, transcends the facts of their record?
The Bush/Cheney administration created the terror watch list system that theoretically should have flagged the Christmas bomber this past Friday. As has been noted, this is a list that has more than 500,000 names on it. That`s handy.
It`s a list that`s full of so much noise, so much useless, incoherent junk that random people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy and the former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens` wife would get hassled at airports all the time because of their position on the list, even though that list could not function properly to keep actual terrorists off of actual planes.
That`s their list. It hasn`t been changed since then. Maybe the problem is that we haven`t cleaned up after the Bush/Cheney administration fast enough.
The Bush-Cheney administration is, inconveniently enough, also on whose watch 9/11 happened — unless, of course, you ask them about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, FMR. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: You know, we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush`s term.
MARY MATALIN, FMR. BUSH ASSISTANT: I was there. We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation`s history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, remember how no terrorist attacks happened when Bush and Cheney were in office? Remember when the nation inherited 9/11 from that incompetent Democratic administration that was in place in September in 2001 — in the Bush administration`s own minds?
The rallying cry now from Republicans is that we shouldn`t try the Christmas bomber in civilian court — that, instead, he should be tried in a military tribunal, declared an enemy combatant. I mean, what`s the value of a military tribunal here, other than trying to make political hay out of this case? Really, what`s the justice, anti-terrorist, counterterrorist value on this?
You really think this kid can`t be convicted? You really think we don`t have enough evidence beyond the — beyond the, I don`t know, 300 or so eyewitnesses who were on the plane? The fact that we have the weapon that he tried to use? The fact that he confessed? You think that`s not enough to get this kid convicted?
You have that little faith in our criminal justice system? That little faith in the rule of law? You don`t believe that a supermax federal American prison is capable of holding this kid? You think it might be cool, instead, to martyr this kid as some impressive soldier, instead of some idiot confused rich kid who couldn`t even handle blowing up his own junk with a bomb that was secreted in his own underpants?
We`re supposed to take national security advice from you guys? Really?
Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is still the captain of the team on this one, now raising money off of a terrorist attack on Americans, the attempted murder of 300 Americans — politicizing this issue by soliciting campaign donations for his run for governor of Michigan on the occasion of this terrorist attack.
We contacted Pete Hoekstra`s campaign today. They told us, we should expect to see more of this type of exploitive solicitation from them. They told us that Congressman Hoekstra himself personally signed of on the “using a terrorist attack on Americans to raise money” effort, proudly saying they think they`ve gotten a significant spike in donations as a result of it. Though it`s too early to tell, fingers crossed, maybe something else horrible will happen.
This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.
Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this. You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click “send,” call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context. Your choice. It`s your country.
Here’s a list of things you can investigate after you’re done crucifying ACORN for failing to recognize a fake pimp:
- Triple Canopy
- Lockheed Martin
- Federal Reserve
- Wall Street Bailout
- Goldman Sachs
- Bank of America
- CIA torture program
- Politicization of the Department of Justice
- Betsy McCaughey
- Karl Rove
- WMD in Iraq
- 9 billion dollars lost in Iraq
- Cheney’s Energy Task Force Meeting
Of course you aren’t going to investigate any of these things because you”re too busy destroying an organization that’s received 53 million dollars over 15 years and helps poor colored people.
Once upon a time, there was a President named Bill Clinton, who was, by most historical standards, a typical Centrist Republican, although by a fluke of geography and circumstances he ran for public office with a “(D)” after his name.
Under his Administration, many Conservative ideas which had long gathered dust on the shelf — ideas such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, debt reduction, a strict “Pay as You Go” fiscal regime, a boom in technology jobs, budget surpluses, NAFTA, GATT, official bans on gay marriage, etc. — were finally realized.
And for all of his good work on behalf of their ideology, Conservatives spent eight, long years treating Bill Clinton — a Southern, White, Christian man — as if he were a case of flesh eating nuclear syphilis.
Because he did not run for office with an “(R)” after his name.
And because he did not run for office with an “(R)” after his name, according to the leading voices in the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement, Bill Clinton was, in no particular order, Hitler, a Socialist, a rapist, a warmonger, a serial murderer, and a drug dealer, whose Presidency was somehow vaguely illegitimate.
And counterpointing the 24/7 slime campaign, there were those endless, endless hearings. Whitewater. Travel office. Christmas Card lists. Lincoln bedroom. Etc ad nauseum.
Or don’t you remember?
He was “Not my President!” (Ollie North: War criminal, terrorist arms dealer, GOP Senate Candidate  and FoxNews Contributor.)
He was warned “not to set foot in my state.” (Jesse Helms: Professional Bigot, Confederate Senator, 1820-2003)
His picture was used for target practice by G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate felon, would-be assassin, radio personality and Republican hero.
From “The American Prospect”:
…it’s worth remembering just how virulent the opposition to Clinton’s presidency was. Republicans began plotting to impeach Clinton long before anyone had ever heard the name “Lewinsky,” and many on the right simply refused to accept that he legitimately occupied the office he held. Then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, when talking to Democrats, used to refer to Clinton as “your president.”
It was a warped, hysterical campaign funded by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Richard Mellon Scaife
and propagated by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Rupert Murdoch who made sure the lies were jack-hammered into the headlines day after day, year after year.
And judging by its objectives, it was also a very successful campaign: it legitimized and metastasized Hate Radio; killed the credibility of the “objective” media once and for all; made the overt mass-slander of political opposition by the Right acceptable; moved radicals, militia nuts, bigots, Creationists and Limbaugh zombies to the center of the Republican Party; accelerated the exodus of reasonable moderates the hell out of the Republican Party; destroyed the possibility of public discourse; and kicked the door open to the use of Congressional hearings as instruments of political vendetta.
But as successful as it was, it was also an incredibly high-risk strategy, because of a thing called the “public record”.
The public record meant that each and every time a Republican stood up to, say, slam the Democrat Commander-in-Chief during a time of war (from The Poor Man Institute:)
“You can support the troops but not the president”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
“President…is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation’s armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy.”
-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
“American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy.”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
“If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy.”
-Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W. Bush
“I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning…I didn’t think we had done enough in the diplomatic area.”
-Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)
“Well, I just think it’s a bad idea. What’s going to happen is they’re going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years”
-Joe Scarborough (R-FL)
“I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
“Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?”
-Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99
“Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”
-Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)
“This is President Clinton’s war, and when he falls flat on his face, that’s his problem.”
-Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)
“Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly.”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
they left a documentary trail wide and bright enough to be visible from space.
Or from the next election cycle.
The public record meant that every frivolous Republican witch hunt and every syllable of hate and demagoguery gleefully poured out through public megaphones and megachurch pulpits to malign and demonize the Left could potentially represent a thick bar on the cage of any future Republican president’s imperial ambitions.
Because, after all, should the tables ever turn — should there ever be a Republican President whose election really was suspect, or who really did lie to the American public and flagrantly abuse his office, and did it in ways that cost the nation trillions of dollars and thousands of lives — after spending eight years establishing a public record in such clear and unambiguous language what the Hell could the Right possibly say?
After conspiring to bring about two of the most destructive events in modern American history — the impeachment of a US President over trivia, and the probable theft of the subsequent Presidential election — to what God could Republicans possibly pray that their eight years of insanity, venom and violence “might be wholly blotted out?”
On 09/11/01, their dark miracle came winging its way out of a clear, blue sky.
All of us, all together across all political, cultural and religious spectra watched the worst thing many of us had ever seen.
But in what now seems like less time than it took to wipe away our tears, the same depraved thugs who sponsored eight years of “Clinton Murdered Vince Foster!” hysteria began hijacking of our pain and patriotism to serve their partisan interests right before our eyes.
The minute the Bush Administration began trying to stretch the war they got into an excuse for the war they wanted, 9/11 stopped being merely a national tragedy and started being the Bush Administration’s bottomless political ATM machine.
The minute the Party of Personal Responsibility began using the mantra “9/11 changed everything” as the political equivalent of the Blood of Christ — as a means to absolve themselves of their personal responsibility for eight years of malice and derangement — for them September 11, 2001 stopped being a moment of shared, national anguish and started being a suit of cultural body-armor which magically deflected any criticism of their lies and their and hypocrisy.
An impervious sniper’s nest from which they could cynically escalate their war on the Left.
Or don’t you remember the day the Right robbed the graves of all those who perished on 9/11 to turn this
And the thing is, it worked.
By selling 9/11 for a mess of wingnut pottage, the Right bought itself an anti-Liberal free-fire zone and two Presidential terms-worth of blank checks. Two terms of an alternately supportive and supine media. Two terms of catastrophe, corruption and treason protected from scrutiny by an ablative shield made out of solid “Why do you hate America?”, and a promise that they could go on bareback fucking diseased monsters in the alley all night long, every night, forever and wake up each morning miraculously clean, virginal and still beloved in the eyes of God.
But they forgot that tempus just keeps fugiting along. And as time passed, the Right got so accustomed to butt-scooting their depravity all over the public square and never being called on it they simply stopped noticing that they were amassing a whole new post-9/11 public record so despicable and overflowing with Conservative atrocities that it positively dwarfed their antics during the Clinton Years.
And that brutal, meth-addict level of dependence on never being brought to book for anything they say or do left the Right completely unprepared for the one thing their leaders promised would never happen again.
And losing has driven them a special kind of crazy; that screaming-incoherently-and-lashing-out-in-every-direction kind of cold-turkey junkie withdrawal crazy.
In the few, short months since they lost, they have emptied out their entire store of raving invective and delusion.
Losing has left them insisting that that the legally elected President of the United States somehow isn’t really the President. That he is a secret enemy. A Communist. A Hitler. A Muslim sleeper cell. A Chicago gangster.
Has left them swearing that “their country” has been stolen and that somewhere hidden in secret code in a 1,000 health care bill is a plan to murder senior citizens.
To understand how deep and relentless their addiction goes, you need only consider the recent example of Mrs. Katy Abram, who leaped into microcelebrity and the wingnut pantheon a month ago with her Clown Hall rant of “I don’t want my county to become Russia!” speech.
Mrs. Katy Abram wants the world to believe that, like a wingnut Sleeping Beauty, she somehow slept through 9/11.
Slept through two wars and the two trillion dollar bill they racked up.
Slept through tax cuts for the wealthy that added another few trillion to our debt.
Slept through Katrina.
Slept through Terri Schiavo.
Slept through the screams of the Constitution as Bush Administration fed it an inch at a time through the wood chipper (the same Constitution she is now so deeply concerned about that she has somehow become, virtually overnight, an “original intent” quote-spewing expert) only to be awakened in a sudden, patriotic fury by the sound of a Black Democrat taking the oath of office.
I’m sure in Mrs. Abram’s mind – and in the tiny little minds of tens of millions of Americans just like her – she sees absolutely no contradiction between explaining that she never paid any attention to a single fucking thing prior to January of 2009….and saying that she started paying attention in 1991 “when we first went to the Gulf War” and that she has debated politics with friends at the opposite end of the political spectrum “a million times over”.
It is, in fact, a sign of the depth and effectiveness of their brainwashing that people like Mrs. Abram see no conflict between saying in one breath “I have never been interested in politics” and “I always seem to have faith in the government“ in the next.
Because during the Bush years, people like Mrs. Abram never saw their love of their Dear Leader and their fealty to his Administration as something “political”. They saw it normal. As the Universe being at its proper, wingnut default setting: White, male, fundamentalist Christian, Conservative, flight-suit clad and killing scary brown people. And as long as that remained true, all was right with the world and people like Mrs. Abram were absolved by their “Don’t Worry, Go Shopping” leaders of any responsibility for paying attention to anything their government was actually doing.
And once the Dear Leader’s reign ended, as far as people like Mrs. Abram were concerned, the natural order of mindless obedience in exchange for a smug and blissful ignorance collapsed. “Their country” was suddenly broke and fucked up for reasons that they dared not think about too much. “Their country” was suddenly awash in dirty fucking hippies, who for some reason were no longer satisfied with being cultural punching bags. “Their country”suddenly had politicians and activists who said mean things about the Dear Leader and the Republican Party…and got away with it!
And worst of all, “their country” suddenly had a Scary Black Man living in their Dear Leader’s pretty White House, probably having dirty, Muslim sex in the Dear Leader’s sacred, Christian bed and putting his filthy, Kenyan hands all over “their county’s” pure, white Constitution.
So, for example, when you hear the same people who fanatically supported President George W. Bush when he famously told Iraq war critics to fuck off –
“Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election.”
“…scrap the current grandiose plans and to start over.”
or when you see the mobs on the Right being whipped by talk of secession or revolution or spilling the “blood of tyrants” into a nearly-pornographic frenzy, understand that what you are witnessing are the echoes of political decisions made in the wake of September 11, 2001.
Political decisions that trained the Right to believe, on a visceral level, that a sufficiently bloody and horrifying disruption to the life of the country can — if properly exploited — wash away their eight otherwise-unforgivable years of sin and restore “their country” to its proper, wingnut default setting.
That if the right sacrifices are made to the right Gods in just the right way, then they can be virgins again.
How Bush chose stupidity.
The question I am most frequently asked about Bushisms is, “Do you really think the president of the United States is dumb?”
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is yes and no.
Quotations collected over the years in Slate may leave the impression that George W. Bush is a dimwit. Let’s face it: A man who cannot talk about education without making a humiliating grammatical mistake (“The illiteracy level of our children are appalling”); who cannot keep straight the three branches of government (“It’s the executive branch’s job to interpret law”); who coins ridiculous words (“Hispanos,” “arbolist,” “subliminable,” “resignate,” “transformationed”); who habitually says the opposite of what he intends (“the death tax is good for people from all walks of life!”) sounds like a grade-A imbecile.
And if you don’t care to pursue the matter any further, that view will suffice. George W. Bush has governed, for the most part, the way any airhead might, undermining the fiscal condition of the nation, squandering the goodwill of the world after Sept. 11, and allowing huge problems (global warming, entitlement spending, AIDS) to metastasize toward catastrophe through a combination of ideology, incomprehension, and indifference. If Bush isn’t exactly the moron he sounds, his synaptic misfirings offer a plausible proxy for the idiocy of his presidency.
In reality, however, there’s more to it. Bush’s assorted malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms tend to imply that his lack of fluency in English is tantamount to an absence of intelligence. But as we all know, the inarticulate can be shrewd, the fluent fatuous. In Bush’s case, the symptoms point to a specific malady—some kind of linguistic deficit akin to dyslexia—that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se.
Bush also compensates with his non-verbal acumen. As he notes, “Smart comes in all kinds of different ways.” The president’s way is an aptitude for connecting to people through banter and physicality. He has a powerful memory for names, details, and figures that truly matter to him, such as batting averages from the 1950s. Bush also has a keen political sense, sharpened under the tutelage of Karl Rove.
What’s more, calling the president a cretin absolves him of responsibility. Like Reagan, Bush avoids blame for all manner of contradictions, implausible assertions, and outright lies by appearing an amiable dunce. If he knows not what he does, blame goes to the three puppeteers, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld. It also breeds sympathy. We wouldn’t laugh at FDR because he couldn’t walk. Is it less cruel to laugh at GWB because he can’t talk? The soft bigotry of low expectations means Bush is seen to outperform by merely getting by. Finally, elitist condescension, however merited, helps cement Bush’s bond to the masses.
But if “numskull” is an imprecise description of the president, it is not altogether inaccurate. Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has achieved stupidity, and now he wears it as a badge of honor. What makes mocking this president fair as well as funny is that Bush is, or at least once was, capable of learning, reading, and thinking. We know he has discipline and can work hard (at least when the goal is reducing his time for a three-mile run). Instead he chose to coast, for most of his life, on name, charm, good looks, and the easy access to capital afforded by family connections.
The most obvious expression of Bush’s choice of ignorance is that, at the age of 57, he knows nothing about policy or history. After years of working as his dad’s spear-chucker in Washington, he didn’t understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, the second- and third-largest federal programs. Well into his plans for invading Iraq, Bush still couldn’t get down the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the key religious divide in a country he was about to occupy. Though he sometimes carries books for show, he either does not read them or doesn’t absorb anything from them. Bush’s ignorance is so transparent that many of his intimates do not bother to dispute it even in public. Consider the testimony of several who know him well.
Richard Perle, foreign policy adviser: “The first time I met Bush 43 … two things became clear. One, he didn’t know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.”
David Frum, former speechwriter: “Bush had a poor memory for facts and figures. … Fire a question at him about the specifics of his administration’s policies, and he often appeared uncertain. Nobody would ever enroll him in a quiz show.”
Laura Bush, spouse: “George is not an overly introspective person. He has good instincts, and he goes with them. He doesn’t need to evaluate and reevaluate a decision. He doesn’t try to overthink. He likes action.”
Paul O’Neill, former treasury secretary: “The only way I can describe it is that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection.”
A second, more damning aspect of Bush’s mind-set is that he doesn’t want to know anything in detail, however important. Since college, he has spilled with contempt for knowledge, equating learning with snobbery and making a joke of his own anti-intellectualism. (“[William F. Buckley] wrote a book at Yale; I read one,” he quipped at a black-tie event.) By O’Neill’s account, Bush could sit through an hourlong presentation about the state of the economy without asking a single question. (“I was bored as hell,” the president shot back, ostensibly in jest.)
Closely related to this aggressive ignorance is a third feature of Bush’s mentality: laziness. Again, this is a lifelong trait. Bush’s college grades were mostly Cs (including a 73 in Introduction to the American Political System). At the start of one term, the star of the Yale football team spotted him in the back row during the shopping period for courses. “Hey! George Bush is in this class!” Calvin Hill shouted to his teammates. “This is the one for us!” As governor of Texas, Bush would take a long break in the middle of his short workday for a run followed by a stretch of video golf or computer solitaire.
A fourth and final quality of Bush’s mind is that it does not think. The president can’t tolerate debate about issues. Offered an option, he makes up his mind quickly and never reconsiders. At an elementary school, a child once asked him whether it was hard to make decisions as president. “Most of the decisions come pretty easily for me, to be frank with you.” By leaping to conclusions based on what he “believes,” Bush avoids contemplating even the most obvious basic contradictions: between his policy of tax cuts and reducing the deficit; between his call for a humble foreign policy based on alliances and his unilateral assertion of American power; between his support for in-vitro fertilization (which destroys embryos) and his opposition to fetal stem-cell research (because it destroys embryos).
Why would someone capable of being smart choose to be stupid? To understand, you have to look at W.’s relationship with father. This filial bond involves more tension than meets the eye. Dad was away for much of his oldest son’s childhood. Little George grew up closer to his acid-tongued mother and acted out against the absent parent—through adolescent misbehavior, academic failure, dissipation, and basically not accomplishing anything at all until well into his 40s.
Dubya’s youthful screw-ups and smart-aleck attitude reflect some combination of protest, plea for attention, and flailing attempt to compete. Until a decade ago, his résumé read like a send-up of his dad’s. Bush senior was a star student at Andover and Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, where he was also captain of the baseball team; Junior struggled through with gentleman’s C’s and, though he loved baseball, couldn’t make the college lineup. Père was a bomber pilot in the Pacific; fils sat out ‘Nam in the Texas Air National Guard, where he lost flying privileges by not showing up. Dad drove to Texas in 1947 to get rich in the oil business and actually did; Son tried the same in 1975 and drilled dry holes for a decade. Bush the elder got elected to Congress in 1966; Shrub ran in 1978, didn’t know what he was talking about, and got clobbered.
Through all this incompetent emulation runs an undercurrent of hostility. In an oft-told anecdote circa 1973, GWB—after getting wasted at a party and driving over a neighbor’s trash can in Houston—challenged his dad. “I hear you’re lookin’ for me,” W. told the chairman of the Republican National Committee. “You want to go mano a mano right here?” Some years later at a state dinner, he told the Queen of England he was being seated far away because he was the black sheep of the family.
After half a lifetime of this kind of frustration, Bush decided to straighten up. Nursing a hangover at a 40th-birthday weekend, he gave up Wild Turkey, cold turkey. With the help of Billy Graham, he put himself in the hands of a higher power and began going to church. He became obsessed with punctuality and developed a rigid routine. Thus did Prince Hal molt into an evangelical King Henry. And it worked! Putting together a deal to buy the Texas Rangers, the ne’er-do-well finally tasted success. With success, he grew closer to his father, taking on the role of family avenger. This culminated in his 1994 challenge to Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who had twitted dad at the 1988 Democratic convention*.
Curiously, this late arrival at adulthood did not involve Bush becoming in any way thoughtful. Having chosen stupidity as rebellion, he stuck with it out of conformity. The promise-keeper, reformed-alkie path he chose not only drastically curtailed personal choices he no longer wanted, it also supplied an all-encompassing order, offered guidance on policy, and prevented the need for much actual information. Bush’s old answer to hard questions was, “I don’t know and, who cares.” His new answer was, “Wait a second while I check with Jesus.”
A remaining bit of poignancy was his unresolved struggle with his father. “All I ask,” he implored a reporter while running for governor in 1994, “is that for once you guys stop seeing me as the son of George Bush.” In his campaigns, W. has kept his dad offstage. (In an exceptional appearance on the eve of the 2000 New Hampshire primary, 41 came onstage and called his son “this boy.”) While some describe the second Bush presidency as a restoration, it is in at least equal measure a repudiation. The son’s harder-edged conservatism explicitly rejects the old man’s approach to such issues as abortion, taxes, and relations with Israel.
This Oedipally induced ignorance expresses itself most dangerously in Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. Dubya polished off his old man’s greatest enemy, Saddam, but only by lampooning 41′s accomplishment of coalition-building in the first Gulf War. Bush led the country to war on false pretenses and neglected to plan the occupation that would inevitably follow. A more knowledgeable and engaged president might have questioned the quality of the evidence about Iraq’s supposed weapons programs. One who preferred to be intelligent might have asked about the possibility of an unfriendly reception. Instead, Bush rolled the dice. His budget-busting tax cuts exemplify a similar phenomenon, driven by an alternate set of ideologues.
As the president says, we misunderestimate him. He was not born stupid. He chose stupidity. Bush may look like a well-meaning dolt. On consideration, he’s something far more dangerous: a dedicated fool
“When you have a majority of Americans, seventy-something percent, saying we shouldn’t torture, then I’m not sure it helps for the Vice President to go out and continue to espouse that position,” he said. “But look, he’s free to talk. He’s a former Vice President of the United States. I just don’t see where it helps.”
And then he got acerbic: Cheney, he says, “believes that waterboarding doesn’t fall under the Geneva Conventions and that it’s not a form of torture. But you know, it goes back to the Spanish Inquisition.”
Originally posted at The Atlantic