by Jay Johansen | Jul 4, 2005
Liberals have been laughing at George W Bush's lack of intelligence since before the beginning of his first term. But exactly what is the basis for saying that Bush is a moron?
I picked a "Bush is Moron" site at random -- the first one that came up when I did a Google search on "george bush dumb". The search engine came up with //irregulartimes.com/stupid2.html. I think it's fairly typical of the sort of criticisms that have been made of Mr Bush. Let's go through them one by one.
This one is a little puzzling. Bush has given many press conferences at which he answers questions from reporters. And the very next criticism that the author makes is that Bush makes grammatical errors when he gives unscripted answers. So ... he never makes unscripted appearances, and when he does, he messes them up? You'll have to make up your mind just what the criticism is before we can reply to it.
So Mr Bush occasionally makes a grammatical error when he speaks off the cuff. Well, suppose that someone followed you around all day with a video camera and recorded everything you said. Do you think they would ever catch you making a grammar error or mispronouncing a word? I like to think I'm an intelligent person, and I catch myself at least once a day making a grammar error in a verbal statement, and I wouldn't be surprised if I made many such mistakes that I don't catch. (For the record, for those who want to start a campaign that I'm stupid too, Mensa says I have an IQ of 142, okay?) Surely we all routinely have the experience of stumbling over our words when we try to put together a sentence off the cuff.
For example, in an appearance on CNN during the 2004 campaign, John Kerry -- widely lauded by liberals as a genius -- made a reference to "Muslim-speaking troops" in Iraq. "Muslim" refers to a religion, not a language. Surely if Mr Bush had said that, it would have been included in this article as another proof that he is a moron. But for all my dislike of Mr Kerry, I wouldn't seriously use this as ammunition to prove he's a moron who doesn't know the difference between a religion and a language. My guess is that he started out intending to say "Muslim-believing troops" or something of the sort, and then decided that he didn't want to sound like he was attacking their religion and changed his mind to say "Arabic-speaking troops", and it just came out a little twisted up. Of course there are many Muslims who are not Arabs and some Arabs who are not Muslim, so if George Bush had made that mistake and I had offered this defense, I'm sure that liberals would say that proves he's even more stupid, because then it's not just a slip of the tongue but a fundamental ignorance of important global demographics.
And I just can't help but point out that in the very article attacking Bush for his language errors, in the very paragraph in which he makes this attack, the writer makes the statement -- and I quote letter for letter: "The most famous example is Bush's embarrasing campaign question, 'Is our children learning?'" Note that the writer misspells the word "embarrassing". If you can't even spell words correctly when one would think you are most on guard -- when you are specifically discussing proper language -- how can you then fault someone else for slips of the tongue when he's talking about important policy decisions, and precise grammar is not the first thing on his mind?
(Note: If you find any spelling or grammar errors in this article, I'm happy to hear about them so I can correct them, but don't bother to celebrate finding them. I'm not claiming that an occasional grammar error proves you're an idiot.)
The first example is most likely a slip of the tongue, in the category of #2 above: He surely meant to say "half a century".
As to the second, is it really an important qualification for president to be able to name the leaders of every country in the world? Quick: How many foreign leaders can you name? Personally, I don't want a president who wastes his time memorizing a bunch of names. National leaders come and go. Even if he memorized the complete list of world leaders today, within a few days the list would be out of date. I'm sure that if the president needs to know the name of the agriculture minister of Tanzania or the mayor of Tripoli, he calls an aide who looks it up in a book or on the Internet. The president's job is to create policy, not being a walking almanac.
Bush has freely admitted that he was not particularly responsible in his youth, but that he believes he has straightened up since then. Every now and then you hear jokes about the classic teacher's threat to a high school student that some misbehavior will "go on his permanent record", where 20 years later the student is applying for a job and the interviewer says, "Well, Mr Jones, you have successfully performed over 200 brain surgeries, that's very impressive, but I see here on your PERMANENT RECORD that when you were in high school you once skipped art class. I'm sorry, but we just can't have someone like that on the staff of our hospital ..."
It's interesting to note that since the election, Mr Kerry's school records have been released. Bush and Kerry attended the same college (Yale) at approximately the same time. Mr Bush's grade point average was 77; Mr Kerry's was 76. Mr Bush got one D, in astronomy. Mr Kerry got four D's, one in geology, two in history, and one in political science. Which is more relevant to the job of president, astronomy or history and political science? So if college grades tell us all about a person's intellectual abilities, and Mr Kerry is a genius, and Mr Bush got better grades in college than Kerry ... doesn't that prove that Bush is an ultra-genius?
In any case, Albert Einstein did poorly in school, too. How well someone did in school no doubt tells us something about his intelligence, but it is hardly conclusive -- especially when that schooling was 30 years ago.
My first response is, So what? Do you expect the president to be an expert on every conceivable subject? Surely it is unlikely that the differences between Methodist and Episcopal religious doctrine will often be relevant to questions of national policy. And in any case it's not even clear from the quote that Mr Bush really was completely ignorant of the subject. He had just finished discussing differences in forms of worship, so he apparently knows something about both denominations. Perhaps he was simply being cautious, not wanting to go out on a limb about a subject that he had not recently checked up on. (Especially considering the delight of his opponents in jumping on any mistake he makes.) Perhaps he wanted to move on to the next subject and so gave a quick wrap up. Indeed, it's possible that he knows a great deal about it, but didn't want to sound like he was attacking someone else's religion by harping on their differences from his own beliefs.
I wonder how many of Mr Bush's critics could give a coherent analysis of the theological differences between Episcopals and Methodists. Indeed, how many of his critics could give a coherent description of the differences between Christians and Moslems? That's a difference that might actually matter in international politics. I'm continually amused to hear the media talk about the dangers of "religious fundamentalism" and glibly lump Moslems and fundamentalist Christians together, like the two have anything in common besides the fact that they both believe in some sort of God and liberals call them both "fundamentalist".
But the president explained his theory, that in the long run, tax cuts would boost economic growth, thus resulting in greater revenues! As he said in an address to Congress, "Our practical choice is not between a tax-cut deficit and budgetary surplus. It is between two kinds of deficits: a chronic deficit of inertia, as the unwanted result of inadequate revenues and a restricted economy; or a temporary deficit of transition, resulting from a tax cut designed to boost the economy, increase tax revenues, and achieve--and I believe this can be done--a budget surplus."
But the president who said that wasn't George Bush. The above paragraph is a quote from John F Kennedy, arguing in favor of his tax cut plan in 1964. Liberals do not generally call JFK a moron for adopting this policy.
I don't know just what part this particular man played in Enron's troubles. But even if we accept that this fellow was a poor appointment, at most that proves that Bush was not an infallible judge of character. There's a big difference between, "he was fooled about a person's job qualifications" and "he's a moron". Another liberal icon, Bill Clinton, had numerous ties with Enron. The Clinton administration helped Enron get contracts with Mozambique, Croatia, India, Indonesia, and numerous other countries.
The writer doesn't explain just how Bush is wrong on any of these issues. The argument is that Bush is ignorant of science, so including stem cell research and cloning in the discussion makes no sense. The argument between supporters and opponents of stem cell research and cloning are not primarily about science, but about ethics. The key question is not about what can be done, but about what should be done. And by the way, the writer may be revealing his own scientific ignorance when he fails to distinguish between embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research. Bush has clearly said that he has no objection to adult stem cell research.
There are reputable scientists on both side of the creation-evolution debate. It's a little odd to say that Bush is a moron because he agrees with the scientific arguments of Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, and thousands of scientists in numerous fields living and working today. Global warming is even more hotly debated (no pun intended) among scientists. Even if it is ultimately proven that Bush is on the wrong side here, he is in excellent company.
In short, the writer is saying that Bush is a moron because he disagrees with the writer on controversial issues. Surely we can disagree with someone without concluding that the other person is a moron. I think that many people who disagree with me are nevertheless rational, intelligent people. I just think they're mistaken on this or that point.
This is the complete list of the arguments the author raises. I didn't skip over the tough ones to attack the easy ones.
Surely the most puzzling thing about the "Bush is a moron" campaign is why liberals are pushing it so hard. Let's think about this for a moment: George Bush defeated his liberal opponents in what is clearly a battle of wits: a political campaign. So if he's a moron, and he outsmarted you ... what does that say about you?
© 2005 by Jay Johansen