If Bush is Dumb, Does It Matter?

I thought I'd jump in on the "is Bush a stupid president" debate, seeing that it is just as big, if not bigger, than the "is Kerry a douche" debate. This question is getting a lot of play over at the blog belonging to my colleague and embattled Bush supporter, Oren Cass, who seems to think that not only is Bush not stupid, but that Kerry is actually stupider, and challenges Kerry supporters to prove otherwise.

Ok, a bunch of things need to be defined here, such as what is intelligence, and what is intelligence in the context of politics and political leadership, and is there a difference? First of all, political acumen is a great quality, but I don't think that's the relevant kind of intelligence we're talking about here. For instance, Hitler was politically very astute, and that's what allowed him to rise to power rapidly and completely, but that doesn't make him a desirable leader. Political shrewdness is good for the politician, not the country.

As Oren points out, one can mean a lot of different things by calling someone "stupid." Specifically, is Bush lacking verbal skills? Is he not able to comprehend the complex realities that make up the international scene and which should dictate any prudent policy decisions? Stupid can also mean imprudent, such as being short-sighted or reckless. Maybe a president, being the elected representative of the nation, is supposed to demonstrate adequacy in all recognized areas of intelligence. Bush may or may not be any of these things. But the kind of intelligence that really matters, I think, is the ability to effectively manage a government and to steer the country in the best direction, domestically and internationally.

But, in the case of the Bush administration, these matters are much less affected by Bush than the various members that make up the administration. Unless you're Clinton, who regularly brainstormed about policy with his appointed officials, the major input a president has in his administration's various policy agendas is who he appoints as advisers. No one claims it was Bush's inspired initiative to staunchly support Israel and back the Sharon plan. It was most probably a combination of the neo-conservative agenda which strongly influences Bush policy, and the calculation of his political strategist, Carl Rove (incidentally, this move demonstrates political intelligence of the highest order).

I'm not going to take sides and make an assertion to the effect that Bush is stupid or not; I'll save that for a later post. But assuming the worst judgments about him are true, that he is a complete idiot when it comes to understanding the salient policy issues of the day, you're still going to get, basically, what you've already seen. Cheney would still be bent on Iraq, Rumsfeld would be trying for more funding for a better, sleeker and more devastating military, Wolfowitz would also be harping on Iraq, except from the framework of visionary nation-building, Richard Perle would be pushing support for Israel. The members of Bush's administration seem to be the ones who run the show, not Bush. And realistically, I can't think of a circumstance where one stupid decision by Bush could doom the country to catastrophe. It seems more sensible to object to the Bush Administration because of its policies, not because Bush is dumb.

It's possible that when she objected to Bush being stupid, Oren's mom was expressing concern about the kind of example that is set when a leader is openly ignorant or doesn't value education. That's valid. It's also the same condemnation issued towards President Clinton when the country found out about his scandalous behavior and lying. This presupposes that the president is uniquely influential in setting the tone of the whole social fabric of society. There's something to be said for this argument. I'm not sure how much though.

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