Thursday, October 28, 2004

Is Bush Stupid?

It's not news that current political debate is becoming increasingly polarized. Blind opposition among theinterlocutors has come to displace communication, so much so that rarely will one side concede anything to the other. Thus when conservatives point out the liberal bias of the elite media outlets, liberals flatly deny the charge rather than doing what would make more sense, namely, conceding the bias but celebrating it, or else pointing out that conservatives have their own somewhat less elite outlets such as AM Talk Radio and Fox News Network to balance things out. But just try to get the N.Y. Times to admit reportorial (as opposed to editorial) bias!

Conservatives, however, make the same mistake. They blindly oppose when they ought to concede. Thus when a liberal says or implies that G. W. Bush is unintelligent, as Ralph Nader did on C-Span (5 January 2004), conservatives should simply concede the point. Isn’t it clear that Bush lacks the sort of verbal intelligence so prized by journalists, lawyers like Nader, and academicians? This is as clear to me, a conservative, as it is that the elite media outlets tilt to the Left. To flatly deny either of these propositions is to display a pigheaded partisanship that reflects poorly on one’s probity.

So there is a clear sense in which Bush is ‘stupid’: he is ‘stupid’ in the way that intellectuals are ‘smart.’ He lacks verbal facility, he doesn’t read (high-brow) books, his off-the-cuff analyses are painfully shallow and pedestrian: “Terrorists hate freedom.” Like most regular-guy types, his mind lacks subtlety. He is a bit like Reagan: he is rooted in sound principles and holds correct views, but he cannot defend them intellectually, at least not very well. Having made this concession, however, conservatives should go on to say that Bush displays attributes far more important to the job of president in an age of terrorism than verbal intelligence, namely, moral clarity, courage, perseverance, and decency, and perhaps most important, an unflinching grasp of present historical realities. He stands for something, and one knows what he stands for. Unlike his opponent, he doesn't adopt 'disjunctive' positions: I will either do X or not do X.

Conservatives could also point out that intelligence is not exhausted by the verbal variety. Sometimes what is needed is not an intellectual defense of views, but a physical defense of one’s very existence. Sometimes what is needed is a man of action rather than a thinker whose capacity for action is undermined by excessive reflection and subtle analysis.

After all, the job description includes Commander-in-chief, not Intellectual-in-chief.