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
Bush Administration Pushed Torture In Attempt To Find Iraq-al Qaida Links
This story is almost unimaginably repulsive.
McClatchy reports that one of the prime pressures that led to using torture as an “interrogation technique” was the prewar effort to find “links” between al Qaida and Iraq — links which the intelligence community already were confident did not exist:
A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document. [...]
“Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”
Senior administration officials, however, “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information,” he said.
According to another source, from the Senate Armed Services report:
“While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
I sat myself down to write a long essay about this, but I could not.
We have here the foul nexus between the Bush administration pushing “enhanced” interrogation techniques, and the ginned up case for the Iraq War. As early as 2002, torture was being used not to break “resistant” subjects, but in an effort to gain information that would be primarily politically useful.
Two points are critical. First, that both the approval for which “enhanced” techniques would be used and the political pressure to use them came directly from members of the Bush administration.
And second, that the torture was used in spite of the intelligence services involved knowing that the torture was extremely unlikely to produce any useful information, because they already knew — despite the pressure from “Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people” — that there were no such links. And yet they tortured prisoners in an attempt to find them.
They ordered torture; they approved the specific methods to be used, including “waterboarding”, a long-recognized method of torture; they did it in an attempt to extract politically expedient information from prisoners; they did it in spite of knowing that the prisoners would almost certainly not be able to provide any such information.
I cannot come up with any rationale for why this would not be, unambiguously, a war crime.
Originally posted at Daily Kos
Naomi Wolf: John Yoo’s Legal Groundwork for the Possible Subversion of Liberty that US Citizens Narrowly Averted
If history gets this recent era right, future textbooks will have to show that the US narrowly averted a carefully planned but thorough and unmistakable conspiracy to subvert the rule of law and the process of democracy from 2001-2008. For three years, since writing End of America, I have been arguing inferentially that the Bush team sought to possibly subvert liberty. Fortunately, this appalling and conceivably irrevocable subversion of the tenets of freedom was narrowly averted by citizens at every level — from the grassroots to the courts — resisting in time. But the release this week by the Justice Department of the “secret memos” sought valiantly by the ACLU confirms that Bush’s legal architects were building up the framework for something even scarier than our most anguished projections.
You can see the documents themselves online — but, as usual, there is a gap between the cautious journalistic interpretation of the event and the dense legalese in which they are written, and no one yet has really explained to citizens who are not attorneys what these memos claimed to give Bush the right to do. This is my initial reading of these documents:
Most dramatically, one memo asserts that Bush can deploy the military within the United States — all of the military if he so wishes — overriding Posse Comitatus, which has kept us safe from military policing for over a century. As many heard me warn in October and November of last year, when the first troops were sent to US streets, history shows that once the military is deployed domestically to “keep order” in a civil society, it is over. This memo is especially galling, since last fall’s red alert from us was met with alarm by citizens but by ridicule by mainstream media outlets. Turns out we were right. This `deployment’ memo proves that Bush indeed, as we feared, wanted the power to deploy military for domestic policing purposes, a mission that Northcom spokesmen denied — apparently falsely — when a few critics from non-mainstream platforms raised the alarm last November about the deployment of the First Brigade from Iraq to the US. This memo shows that Bush sought the power to deploy any number of U.S. military into the U.S. itself for any reason he chose; direct them to rip through your home without a warrant, even if you have not been charged with anything; seize material and documents; and even gave Bush the power to use deadly force against you — yes, you, innocent US citizen — “in self-defense.” In your homes and streets — not on a faraway battlefield. Major David Antoon confirmed that this power — to send US military to control, arrest and even shoot US civilians in self-defense — was in Bush’s hands last fall when I asked Antoon about it. Turns out this memo shows Bush indeed wanted to have that power.
Another memo would give the power to Bush — at his discretion — to close down or censor newspapers, radio and the Internet – override the First Amendment in the interest of “national security.” So if he had deployed, say, ten brigades — 37,000 warriors — in key cities (he deployed three before the election and 20,000 are due to be deployed domestically by 2012 unless we stop it), you would not be able to hear about it through the news media if he invoked this power to suspend free speech. And if you protested — if you dared — well, his actions would have been — thanks to John Yoo and others, who will go down in history along with the criminal Nuremberg lawyers as one of Satan’s willing attorneys — perfectly legal.
Yet another memo gives Bush not only the right to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant” and hold him or her indefinitely – a danger we knew about, and one that we have tried hard to alert citizens to, a warning that has seemingly penetrated collective consciousness. The newly released memo demonstrates that was the very surface of the powers over US citizens Bush claimed. For three years when I have cautioned citizens about this power Bush invoked to seize US citizens as “enemy combatants” I reassured them that he did not yet have the power to torture US citizens, “only” drive them mad through prolonged isolation in a navy brig. Well, this memo asserts Bush’s right to do whatever he wants to innocent US citizens in this kind of custody, and rejects the notion that Congress would have any role in how US citizens are held or treated — say, by the hypothetically deployed military – on US soil. It seems also to claim the right to hold innocent US citizens in domestic military custody while Bush has the right to do anything he wants to them. Anything he wants. Remember this is an administration in which Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Cheney have now been proven by Jameel Jaffer’s revelations in Administration of Torture to have known about and okay’d not just waterboarding as a policy but ok’d the discretion for interrogators to use tactics such as electrodes attached to genitals, sexual assault, threats against family members, suffocation, the beating of prisoners’ legs to “pulp,” and in some cases the covering up of their murders. This memo gives Bush the authority to do those things if he wants to innocent US citizens.
Still another memo gives Bush the right to ignore any international treaties — to take over any country, say, or render and citizen anywhere, and do whatever he wants to the citizens of any country against any law, without consent of Congress.
The Washington Post called these memos “legal errors.” We need to stare them in the face and understand them: they are evidence that the groundwork was laid out that gave the president the legal power effectively subvert the Republic. We need to understand the full darkness of what we narrowly escaped — for now, our work is hardly begun. We need to build these lessons into our history and to use the terror they represent to dismantle the last of Bush’s evil legacy — a legacy that could have been activated by any US president in the future, including Obama or McCain — and see these memos for what they are: the revealed architecture of an intended edifice of what amounts to treason again our republic and against all of us, regardless of belief, station of life, or political party.
Many of us come to W-Anon, a group dedicated to helping you get over the George W. Bush years, filled with despair and hopelessness. And many of us would not have voluntarily walked through the doors if we were not in some sort of crisis or pain that forced us to seek help. Though we may not have labeled it this way, we come to W-Anon because our lives have become unmanageable — and we come seeking relief. W-Anon’s 12 Steps to Recovery (based on the tenets of Nixon Anonymous) are listed below:
1. We are not alone. Millions suffered silently along with you, though some, like Bill Maher, suffered not so silently.
2. Accept and admit to ourselves that we voted Bush into office. Twice.
3. Understand that, first and foremost, Bush is a politician. One symptom of this vocation is an uncontrollable desire for power; and the longer Bush continued to rule, his desire for power increased.
4. Being a Bush is a family disease. If one member is afflicted, then the whole family suffers.
5. Put your needs first. Because when we don’t we allow the president to put his needs first–namely, going into Iraq so he could kill the man who tried to kill his father.
6. We tried to condone Bush’s behavior and now are trying to make up for it or excuse it. But we know only have ourselves to blame and feel emotionally disturbed ourselves.
7. Humbly ask the world to forgive us for our shortsightedness, selfishness and isolationism.
8. Make a list of all the people (Muslims) we allowed to be detained without due process, and ask for their forgiveness.
9. Agree it’s a good idea to have direct talks with the Middle East, except when to do so would be unwise.
10. Learn to accept the things we could not change (Bush) and focus on the things we can (ourselves).
11. Know that electing Democrats into office is the only way to restore to this democracy some sort of sanity.
12. Have a cultural awakening as the result of these steps, and try to carry this message to the rest of country by supporting the policies of Obama and the Democrats.
Members share Experience, Strength and Hope
Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary:
“When I came into W-Anon, I was involved in a special relationship with Bush, whose temper often erupted unexpectedly and inappropriately. I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about. I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold. It took a long time to understand I had no power over Bush. Only Cheney did. And as my days in W-Anon turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months–I realized things would never improve. And with W-Anon’s help, I was finally able to quit and write a tell-all book about my experiences for a very large advance. And my life has drastically improved.”