Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hiring Bush

I thought this was an interesting set of notes on the qualifications for president. Sadly, with every political office I can think of, the skills and requirements to get elected have only some overlap with the qualifications necessary to lead successfully... but that's, apparently, human nature (popularity contests writ large).

The article: Hiring a President. This was obviously written before November 2004, but is still interesting. (Software engineers might be interested in checking out some of the rest of the site, BTW.) Some excerpts:
Bush's campaign is centered around denying reality and choosing actions despite reality.
This campaign ideology of igorance has sustained throughout his presidency; to the shame of the American people, it was present in spades even during his first term.
Bush highlights his "resolve", while Kerry combats charges that he "waffles". It was only in the first debate that Kerry raised the obvious point that "you can be certain and be wrong." Bush, it seems, prefers to be certain, because he can not believe he could be wrong. This is the opposite of adaptive capacity, and it is a dangerous thing to have in a leader at any level, but especially in the president.
Bush's behavior and rhetoric (if it can be called that) will reflect badly on the GOP for some time; however bad a candidate Kerry was, the GOP deserves its shame for having regurgitated forth such a specimen as Bush Jr.
... Bruce Bartlett says that Bush "dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts" because "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."
No wonder Bush is the darling of the religious right; clearly, examining the positions of the die-hard red states in economic and educational statistics, God continues to bless them with ignorance. To quote Katha Pollitt: "... fundamentalism is exactly the thing to manage decline: It schools the downwardly mobile in making the best of their lot while teaching them to be grateful for the food pantry and daycare over at the church."
In a CNN interview, Bush supporter Pat Robertson described his meeting with Bush on the eve of the Iraq war: "I warned him about the war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, `Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.'" Robertson said that Bush told him "Oh no, we're not going to have any casualties."
Not that I trust Robertson any farther than I can throw Venezuela at him, but this quote isn't difficult to believe.
Similarly (according to the Suskind article), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) warned Bush about growing problems of winning the peace a few months before the war, but Bush was unconcerned. Biden finally said "How can you be so sure when you don't know the facts?" and Bush replied "My instincts." Suskind describes a White House senior advisor explaining all this by pointing out that relying on facts and an analysis of the world is for the "reality-based community", which the president has gone beyond. He is part of a new reality-creating community: if he doesn't like the facts, he can ignore them, change them, or create a new reality. This is an astonishing way to do politics, but a disastrous approach to leading the world.
Nothing incorrect here; this administration truly has gone "beyond reality." If only that were a good thing.

Now, the cause of all this:
On a wide variety of issues, his supporters hold incorrect views, either because they believe what Bush has told them, or because they would have to give up their support for Bush if they didn't believe them.
This [the table of statistics in the article] shows that Bush supporters are extremely ill-informed, or that Bush has successfully mislead them on these issues.

In each case, Bush supporters tend to agree with Kerry's viewpoint (numbers not shown here) but falsely believe that Bush agrees with them. In each case Kerry supporters are accurate in assessing Kerry.
Some quotes from an American Conservative magazine endorsement of Kerry:
Bush has behaved like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be, and his continuation in office will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations. ... few have paid attention to how much the Bush presidency has degraded the image of the United States in the world. Of course there has always been anti-Americanism. ... But Bush has somehow managed to take all these sentiments and turbo-charge them...

The hatred Bush has generated has helped immeasurably those trying to recruit anti-American terrorists - indeed his policies are the gift to terrorism that keeps on giving, as the sons and brothers of slain Iraqis think how they may eventually take their own revenge. ... Making yourself into the world's most hated country is not an obvious way to secure that help. ... George W. Bush has come to embody a politics that is antithetical to almost any kind of thoughtful conservatism.
Then again, Bush isn't a conservative. He's not even typically right-wing. Just as he's gone "beyond reality," he's well beyond conservatism. And again, if only that were a good thing. I have disagreements with conservatism, but I have conservative friends whose opinions I respect. Bush isn't conservative - he's a radical of an ilk that defies conventional definitions, even in political spectra richer than the shallow and deceiving liberal-conservative line:
  • Conservatives tend towards isolationism or at least multilateral policy, as H. W. Bush in the first Gulf War - hardly the sort to institute and act on policies of preemptive war sans allies.
  • How would you characterize a president who introduced the largest new entitlement program in U.S. history?
  • How about creating the largest new department ever in the federal government (Homeland Security, a shambling bureaucracy)?
  • Spending like a gambler, refusing to cut spending while incurring massive deficits and pressing for progressive tax cuts, rather than regressive ones which would benefit the working class.
Nothing conservative there, other than perhaps invoking Jesus periodically for some credibility among some circles.
The astounding thing is how well Bush's "reality-creating" approach has stood up to this criticism. With any president in my lifetime (with the possible exception of Reagan), any one of these thoughtful criticisms would be enough to cause serious questioning of the president's competency. But Bush seems to be skilled at deflecting the criticism by pretending it doesn't exist.
So certainly Bush wouldn't care about any of this, even if he heard it. He would perhaps label it as "criticism," acknowledging existence but none of its particular content. My hope is that we, as a voting body, learn how to identify similar creatures in the future, and send them back to the dustbin of history to which they belong. Sadly, Bush's legacy will be part of our history forever.

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