July 28, 2003

GEORGE BUSH VS. THE WORLD, PART 2....By coincidence, South Knox Bubba points today to a Joe Klein column in Time on the same meme I mentioned last night: George Bush's lack of interest in actual facts. As Klein says, it's not that Bush lies, it's "weirder than that":

The President seems to believe that wishing will make it so — and he is so stupendously incurious that he rarely makes an effort to find the truth of the matter. He misleads not only the nation but himself. Every worst-case Saddam scenario just had to be true, as did every best-case post-Saddam scenario.

Bush's talent for self-deception extends to domestic and economic policy. He probably believes that he's a compassionate conservative, even though he has allowed every antipoverty program he favors to be eviscerated by Congress. This week's outrage is the crippling of AmeriCorps, which he had pledged to increase in size. He probably believes that his tax cuts for the wealthy will help reduce the mammoth $455 billion budget deficit (which doesn't include the cost of Iraq), even though Ronald Reagan found that the exact opposite was true and had to raise taxes twice to repair the damage done by his 1981 cuts.

Yes, I realize this kind of analysis is completely subjective, but Bush's ability to unblinkingly endorse policies that simply won't do what he (says he) wants them to do is hard to explain any other way.

What originally brought this to mind was a conversation I had a few days ago about my old company. It turns out they're shuffling their board of directors around and decided to add a financial analyst to the board, apparently because they remain convinced that their low stock price is a purely financial phenomenon. If they can only get better analyst coverage or repackage their story a bit, the stock price will go up.

It's a remarkable bit of self-deception, since even a nodding familiarity with the company (and the world at large) would convince you that their stock price will go up only when the actual performance of the company improves. But they just refuse to accept that.

And this reminded me of George Bush. He is incurious about the real world and surrounds himself with people like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes who feed his preconceptions and decline to challenge him. He famously decides whether he likes people within minutes of meeting them, and convinces himself that anyone who disagrees with him is not worth listening to. And he is stubborn to the point of bullheadedness, refusing to ever admit that a plan isn't working or that a different approach might be necessary.

If it were only tax cuts at stake here, I wouldn't be that worried. Tax cuts can always be repealed if things get out of hand. But it's more serious than that, and conducting the war on terror as if facts on the ground don't matter is not something that can simply be repealed in a few years by a more openminded administration. By then it might be too late and instead of a few thousand Americans dead, it might be a few hundred thousand or a few million.

We've been lucky in the past. FDR was able to moderate Churchill's stubborness and insist on opening a second front. JFK kept his advisors calm during the Cuban Missile crisis. In this administration Colin Powell appears to be the voice of reason, and I hope he's enough. The stakes are simply too high to keep ignoring the real world. Way too high.

UPDATE: A corollary to this is the Bush administration's well known dislike for scientific information that conflicts with its policy desires. Tapped has a good post about this today.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at July 28, 2003 10:24 AM | TrackBack


Comments

I'm not a psychologist, but how about this theory regarding W's arrogance. He feels guilty about 9/11, maybe because he felt he should've seen it coming or simply because it happened on his watch. This guilt and anger--at the enemy and himself--filters all his policy and personal judgments. He feels self-rightous because he feels he is defending and avenging the country for 9/11. This leads to the arrogance and bad decision making.

Posted by: Ken at July 28, 2003 10:32 AM

Tax cuts can be repealed, though it might be very hard with a Republican House and Senate. But one thing that can't (really) be repealed are judicial appointments. That's where the energy of Democrats in Congress should be focused - for the next 18 months or so.

Posted by: Quiddity at July 28, 2003 10:36 AM

Nah, the messianic theory seems more plausible: he never amounted to much in life, but there's no other explanation for how he could have become president at this critical moment (9/11) in American history besides having been personally chosen by Jesus himself. And since his power is the product of divine intervention, he can do no wrong.

Posted by: phil at July 28, 2003 10:36 AM

The various bubbles in recent years have taught corporations that stock can be inflated far beyond it's literal value if you have the right PR department. Apparently the dotcom startup CEOs made out like bandits.

Which isn't to say that it's a positive model for corporate success, but for lazy or greedy executives it's an easy, if temporary, way out of having to do any work.

Posted by: theperegrine at July 28, 2003 10:41 AM

I think Bush knowingly engages in perpetuating falsehoods. I'm not saying he's lying, however... ;-)

Posted by: David W. at July 28, 2003 10:41 AM

Instead of guilt or messianism, I'll go with fear. He's always done great as a glad-hander and front man (e.g., his job with the Rangers, his widely reputed 1-on-1 political skills), but when he's in a position where he has to make real decisions (e.g., with Harken, or when there's a conflict among his senior advisors), he's incompetent. And somewhere -- maybe deep down, maybe in the front of his mind all the time (y'almost feel sorry for him) -- he knows it. And so he overcompensates: he's overconfident, he demands loyalty to a fault, and he denies information that's out of sync with his world-view.

Speculating on the incapacitating psychological pathologies of our nation's chief executive: it would be funny if it weren't scary...

Posted by: bleh at July 28, 2003 10:49 AM

What is lethal about George Bush is the combination of his confidence in his own instincts and his lack of curiosity and knowledge about the world. It is one thing for a person to be confident in instincts that are honed by a great deal of knowledge and expertise. But Bush could never be bothered to acquire that kind of knowledge and expertise. Thus, he is just shooting from the hip, and sooner or later he is going to be spectacularly wrong, to the great detriment of the country. His chief of staff, who insulates him from contrary views (see todays WSJ) only compounds the problem. And with the House in the hands of equally ignorant but supremely confident ideologues, we would seem to be in grave danger.

Posted by: Mimikatz at July 28, 2003 10:50 AM

You also have to throw in the staggering capacity of this administration to shift justifications at will: the end is everything. Tax cuts were just the first manifestation; Iraq is a newer, more disturbing example. It's a rather juvenile attitude: like a screaming kid who wants something 'because!'

Posted by: nick sweeney at July 28, 2003 10:55 AM

When I look at myself with a critical eye, I have to admit that, if I were able to get away with failure, lies and BS as much as Bush has, I'd probably be the same.

His whole life is one in which failure was somebody else's problem.

Posted by: Barry at July 28, 2003 11:01 AM

My overriding theory is that Bush doesn't believe in public square arguments.

Since I think I'm right (of course!), a Bush likelier to be swayed by my speech is likelier to reach the right answer. If Bush were a progressive Christian instead of a conservative one, I probably would be less troubled by his religious conviction because it would be closer aligned to my ideas.
I still would be somewhat disturbed by a person whose decisions cannot be touched by reasoned argument. Bush wouldn't have to agree with me, but it feels like he wouldn't even bother to address my objections or do more than pat me on the head.

I'm very attached to the concept of arguments that are fit for the public square, i.e. ideas that do not rely on having a pre-existing religious or ideological conviction.
I am equally turned off by a radical feminist argument that requires me to believe all men are out to undermine all women, and a Christian argument that requires me to believe that if someone has prayed over a decision, it must be correct.

Too often, Bush's reasoning feels inaccessible to me. It's like he's starting from premises that I haven't heard.
So he convinces himself and those who already agree with his premises, but I am left confused and wondering what these people are smoking.
Perhaps if I understood the premises, I would find him to be logical, but as it stands he appears to be exceedingly inconsistent.

Posted by: PG at July 28, 2003 11:16 AM

I would not be able to BS, lie and "get away with" my mistakes if I were in Bush's shoes.

I have a rather strange inner pyscology. If I'm not the best person I can be then I'm riddled with a crippling self-loathing and I immediately turn to self-destructive behavior. I don't have to be perfect, but I do have to try with all I have to be a good person. All day, every day.

I realize it's just me. I guess a freak like Bush can kill our men over his lies and just not give a damn. I'd never be able to sleep again.

Mr. Drum, can we finally heave over the side the horrible crap that Collin Powell is some voice of reason and sanity?

It was either his job or lie along with all the rest of them to get us into this horrible Iraq war. Powell yipped into line and flung the bullshit as well as Cheney did.

Powell is a liar who threw out his own doctrine to wage this illegal war. He's a disgrace and no amount of wisdom or insight will ever come from that that brain, pickled in blood. Please.

Posted by: lithium_land at July 28, 2003 11:18 AM

Ken - guilty? "I hit the trifecta" guilty?

(Don't be fooled by the similar name. I'm not Quiddity, who has a blog worth reading.)

Posted by: squiddy at July 28, 2003 11:21 AM

lithium - I agree on Powell. I thought he was a guy I could trust. No more.

Posted by: squidd at July 28, 2003 11:23 AM

Kennedy ignored hundreds of reports of Soviet personnel, equipment and missiles, appearing in
Cuba, going back to August '62. He did this because it was necessary to avoid focusing on
issue too far away from the midterm elections;
which focused on the administration's short-comings from the Bay oF Pigs to the Berlin
standoff; Sen. Keating, being the lead figure
in this movement. The result, when the U-2s
were finally able to observe the site, was a
surprise that exposed us to the game of nuclear
chicken, that threatened to drive us into the
dystopian world of 'Resurrection Day. This crew
fumbled their way into the disaster; that was
Vietnam; with equal adroitness. No I'm not impressed by the Kennedy comparison. The tragic
events of September 11th, cannot be effectively
to attributed to an administration. which that
summer, was facing an opposition, whose crazed
hysteria, was only degrees removed from the
ultramontane obscurity of Al Queda. whose intelligence efforts had been hampered by the
combination of the efforts of Church, Turner,
Torricelli & Deutsch, by the FBI' s crime fighting
focus; no one really thought systematically at the
upper levels, not Graham, Torricelli, certainly
not Jeffords, Leahy, Levin, et al

Posted by: narciso at July 28, 2003 11:26 AM

Powell is the Bush administration's 'good cop' when it comes to foreign policy. He fullfills a role and little more as far as I'm concerned. Which isn't a bad thing really, but I don't think Powell is reading from a different page than the rest of the Bushies.

Posted by: David W. at July 28, 2003 11:36 AM

I have to agree with phil.
W is on a "mission from God", just like in The Blues Brothers movie, except this isn't funny.

Posted by: Curtis at July 28, 2003 11:48 AM

Nah, the messianic theory seems more plausible: he never amounted to much in life, but there's no other explanation for how he could have become president at this critical moment (9/11) in American history besides having been personally chosen by Jesus himself. And since his power is the product of divine intervention, he can do no wrong.

I'm with Curtis -- phil's comment above nails the lion's share of it. I think Barry gets another part of when he mentions Bush being "able to get away with failure, lies and BS" all his life. And what bleh says about fear? Yes, I think that's a big factor, too.

But let's get one thing straight. When George Bush is asked about whether he accepts responsibility for the falsehoods in the State of the Union, and he answers by saying he takes responsibility for removing Saddam, he knows he's evading the question -- that he's being dishonest. That he's lying. Joe Klein is the one who's deluding himself on that count.

P.S. Colin Powell is like the accountant in a mob movie who tells the cops that he's clean, because he never took any of the stolen money for himself.

Posted by: Swopa at July 28, 2003 12:17 PM

I believe Bush is simply a figure-head, a puppet of a President. The real people in charge are Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the Bush I gang. Unlike any of them, Bush II was electable, but has never really been that interested.

Posted by: Jeremy G at July 28, 2003 12:25 PM

I agree with Mimikatz. Sooner or later Bush is going to be spectacularly wrong. He'll make a catastrophic mistake -- a brutally lethal, disastrous miscalculation -- and we'll pay not with the loss of 3,000 lives but with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. That, to me, is the gravest danger of having a president who refuses to acknowledge that he could be wrong, refuses even to entertain doubts by dissenters.
And if Bush does indeed believe he is on a mission from God, he could lead us all into a fiery abyss. But who among his advisers will tell him this? No one. That's deeply troubling.

Posted by: Hunter at July 28, 2003 12:32 PM

This armchair psycho-analyzing is way too reminiscent of the 2000 election, when people on the right wondered what Gore's pathological problem was. While Bush's indiscretions are far more serious (not to mention occur when you actually read what he said rather than the RNC spin points as all too many of Gore's supposed lies were) I don't think we get anywhere.

Posted by: Adam at July 28, 2003 12:32 PM

When George Bush is asked about whether he accepts responsibility for the falsehoods in the State of the Union, and he answers by saying he takes responsibility for removing Saddam, he knows he's evading the question -- that he's being dishonest. That he's lying. Joe Klein is the one who's deluding himself on that count.

I don't know about that, Swopa. I think Bush honestly believes that anyone who questions anything at all about his entire Iraq policy--like whether or not he takes responsibility for the uranium business--is automatically anti-war, or at the very least questioning his ultimate decision to go to war. He really doesn't seem to be capable of admitting or realizing that anyone can honestly have a position in between 100% support of everything he did on the one hand, and an exceedingly naive anti-war stance on the other hand (not just that the war was a bad idea, but that Saddam posed no threat to anyone and wasn't really such a bad guy anyway). Of course, he's far from alone in thinking that, as we saw from the most widespread responses on the right to the uranium flap--denial, dissembling, questioning the the motives of anyone who brought it up.

Posted by: Haggai at July 28, 2003 12:52 PM

I have personally known enough fundamentalist "Christians" to know what W is all about.

He is delusional.

He feels he can do no wrong because God is on his side. If this all falls apart, (the world), it doesn't matter because he will end up in heaven sitting next to Jesus in a big purple chair.

Posted by: Curtis at July 28, 2003 01:04 PM

Sorry Kevin, but being 'open-minded' is wrought the African embassy attacks, the barracks attacks in Saudi Arabia, the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11.

'Open-minded' conjures up images of appeasement, bribes posing as policy, winks and nods, and tough talk about "bringing so and so to justice" without any follow through.

We're not dealing with open-minded people. They want to kill us. Period. What other way are we supposed to deal with people like that?

20+ years of a band aid approach wrought upon us the deadliest attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. We didn't react to that attack by calling for tough negotiations. We went out and crushed them. No questions asked.

We tried open minded. The killers saw it as a weakness and as a result, 3000+ people died needlessly.

On domestic issues, I can certainly see your point, but when it comes to terrorists and terrorism, I'd rather the guy who wants to kill me, be killed first.

Posted by: Jay Caruso at July 28, 2003 01:44 PM

"On domestic issues, I can certainly see your point, but when it comes to terrorists and terrorism, I'd rather the guy who wants to kill me, be killed first."

Or at least rendered unable to kill. However, a bit of discrimination is a Good Idea when it comes to that sort of thing. Invading and occupying an entire country in order to deal with the problem a few thousand at most are behind is a waste of resources as far as I'm concerned, given the dubious chances of creating the sort of government in Iraq that is being proposed by the Bush administration.

Posted by: David W. at July 28, 2003 02:08 PM

I don't think your story about your old company adding a financial analyst quite fits - I remember reading something recently about a new law saying that publicly traded companies (I don't know if it was certain ones or all or what, this is just a vauge memory from something I didn't expect to need to remember) having to have a financial analyst, and that many private companies were doing the same.

Then again, I might be remembering completely wrong and it was something other than a financial analyst.

Posted by: dolphinling at July 28, 2003 02:16 PM

"We went out and crushed them"

Yes, plenty of Afghans and Iraqis are now dead - several thousands - so I agree, somebody's been crushed. As to whether that somebody is the person who actually attacked you, or has the WMDs to do so again is another question altogether. Last time I checked, the number of Afghans and Iraqis in the planes on 9/11 totalled about zero. The Taliban top leadership, OBL and their ISI handlers are alive and well in Pakistan, I'm led to believe.

Posted by: Manish at July 28, 2003 02:19 PM

Jay, how many times does it need to be said that Iraq has nothing to do with terrorist attacks on America (at least, not yet)?

Bush isn't killing the guy who wants to kill you. He's killing other people entirely, and leaving the guy who does want to kill you (bin Laden) relatively unmolested.

Conflating a guerilla war with "finally fighting terrorists on our own terms" is supremely silly, not to mention dangerous. From all appearances, it looks like the guerillas can finally fight *us* on *their* terms (our air power is next to useless).

Meanwhile, we risk becoming so distracted that *real* terrorists could hit us not in Iraq but our own shores, thanks to all the money Bush won't spend on homeland security (big cities -- big targets -- are, after all, in blue states).

Kill the guy who wants to kill us? I'm all for it. I supported the action against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in fact I wish we'd *finish the job* there. But while I'm sure it made you feel good to see Bush blowing stuff up in Iraq, it didn't make you one whit safe. Sorry 'bout that.

Posted by: Gregory at July 28, 2003 02:29 PM

There are many ways to neutralize, disarm or discourage an enemy. Attacking a third country (or even their home base) is not the most efficacious. Bush has scarcely touched the real terrorists with his cowboy attacks, although the intelligence agencies have managed to locate and capture a few. What Bush is doing is likely to (1) create more terrorists and (2) weaken us by stretching our forces in too many places. Moreover, his people seem to lack the sophistication to really play this game. See Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on how Rumsfeld et al. with their clumsiness dstroyed Syria as a channel of information on Al Qaeda and the Saudis. Syria and the Saudis had worked together for years, so the Syrians knew a lot about their financing of terrorists, their agents etc. But Bashar Assad was willing to share intel with the US because he feared the Muslim Brotherhood. The Bush ideologues wanted help with Iraq not Al Qaeda. After the invasion of Syria in the aborted attempt to get what they thought was Saddam Syria closed the channel down.

Posted by: Mimikatrz at July 28, 2003 02:40 PM

"Every worst-case Saddam scenario just had to be true, as did every best-case post-Saddam scenario."
Fanatical Apathy has a superb set of Wolfowitz post-Saddam scenarios. He's very funny in general. Right now he has a zombie Uday and Qusay post.

Posted by: John Isbell at July 28, 2003 03:06 PM

I'll just add that I cited the Geneva Conventions in the comments.

Posted by: John Isbell at July 28, 2003 03:08 PM

Some historical notes at the end of your post, Kevin--my understanding is that Churchill managed to convince Roosevelt to delay the invasion of mainland Europe once America entered the war, when most of the top American military people wanted to go for an invasion no later than early '43. Roosevelt did overrule Churchill's objections to demanding "unconditional surrender" from Germany, although I'm not exactly sure what Churchill had in mind for the post-war scenario (he might have just objected to issuing that demand in public at that point in the war).

As for JFK and the Cuban missile crisis, my understanding of it is that many of his advisors were decidedly not calm during the whole thing, but that Kennedy overruled them anyway.

Posted by: Haggai at July 28, 2003 03:30 PM

Sorry Kevin, but being 'open-minded' is wrought the African embassy attacks, the barracks attacks in Saudi Arabia, the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11.

When I read "barracks" I thought you were going to mention Lebanon and Reagan.

...images of appeasement, bribes posing as policy, winks and nods, and tough talk about "bringing so and so to justice" without any follow through.

Now I'm sure that you meant to mention Lebanon, Reagan, Iran, and Central America (subconciously?)

To paraphrase DeLay, "Their single organizing philosophy is an irrational, all-encompassing, broiling hatred of William J. Clinton."

Posted by: Jello at July 28, 2003 05:12 PM

Duh, Jay never sticks around to have an actual debate. He likes to lob a completely unsubstantiated stink bomb and leave, never to return (until he can poison another thread). Sort of like Jane Galt, but more psycho and less snotty. They both have about the same amount of facts though-- zero.

Posted by: nate-dogg at July 28, 2003 06:21 PM

We're not dealing with open-minded people. They want to kill us. Period. What other way are we supposed to deal with people like that?

Throw away your absolutist prejudices, perhaps? Worked in Northern Ireland, where there were undoubtedly lots of people who valued violence over the cause (funded, of course, by hat-passing in the US north-east).

Posted by: nick sweeney at July 29, 2003 06:30 AM

Molly Ivins, who knows W, has this to say:

"No, he's not stupid. He is very limited, however.
It's not stupidity as much as ignorance, and his inability and unwillingness to learn.

He's not very curious. And it's not a first-rate mind. I mean, you get him to a certain point in a discussion, and if you ever hear him talk about "my instinct" or "my gut tells me," then you know we're in trouble.

Then you know we have left the realm of facts and logic and where we're going is something else altogether."

http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/03/07/10_ivins.html
BuzzFlash Interview with Molly Ivins

Posted by: Dave at July 29, 2003 11:08 AM

In this administration Colin Powell appears to be the voice of reason, and I hope he's enough.

I'd like to believe that Colin Powell is the voice of reason, but ever since he sat in front of the UN Security Council and told the Bush administration's lies for it, I've known that he's one of them.

Posted by: Keith Thompson at July 29, 2003 03:35 PM
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