Thursday, July 12, 2007


I am listening to the president's news conference spinning his interpretation of the interim report to Congress on Iraq. His words make it clear: this president is utterly incapable of speaking to our whole nation in any meaningful way that might help to create new solutions in government.

One reason why he cannot communicate in this way seems to be that he is unable to think outside of preconceived and for the most part timeworn, hackneyed categories of thought. If he were to talk about this skill he would probably say something like "I know it's important to think outside the box." But by categorizing this important habit of thought as just one more cliche of our dreary lives he would be demonstrating his lack of preparation to be president.

Really, to be president we need someone who has spent her or his lifetime preparing to think critically. The ability to do this requires a lifetime of hard intellectual work, an ethic lacking in and disdained by this president. He works hard enough when he rides his mountain bike or brushes at his ranch. But this isn't the kind of work we need in our president.

The consequence of Bush's intellectual laziness has been grave indeed. We are ruled by a fool who looks at the world and sees those who have a "dark vision" they want to impose on those who are "good people." Those with these dark visions need to be rubbed out. Of course, it is the president who decides whose vision is the dark one. Whoever becomes the next president, I have only one requirement: no ideologues need apply.

I have been reading David Halberstam's amazing book on the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest. The book is amazing because Halberstam depicts in compelling detail how the personal habits and personalities of the powerful can influence an entire national tragedy like the Vietnam War or, by extrapolation, the Iraq War. The Kennedy administration was ignorant when it came into power, but some in the administration, President Kennedy among them, were open to learning. And they did learn. Averill Harriman was the archetype of this kind of effective and useful public servant. Unfortunately, there are few Harrimans in the Bush administration.

One of the last things President Bush asserted at the end of today's press conference was his often expressed nostrum that he will act on principle and not on politics. Could we please have a president who believes in politics (real politics, not the debased Rovian version we have been infected with for too many years), who is willing and able to recognize that there are competing visions of the good life and that the role of politics in a democracy is to sort out those competing visions and use language to help make compromises among them? But we need someone who is not only smart (ok, Bush is probably smart enough) but who has taken the time to learn something well (I don't think it matters what field) and who can apply the rigor of whatever study to the complex task of being the president of all of us? Why should we be shocked that the Maliki government can't make compromises when our president disdains compromise?

He has become a truly frightening person--still in command of great power, but obviously unable to see or understand the world in any way that might help make a new peace. I pray that Congress grows enough backbone to act before the president is allowed to damage our nation and the world any further. Even the rhythm of his language is scary--one short, declarative, all-knowing sentence after the next.

I went to look at images illustrating this news conference. This is the photograph that National Public Radio chose to use to illustrate Bush's interpretation of a report that tells a story of failure. The soldiers are Iraqi cadets in training. It is the only one used to illustrate the news conference. What are they thinking, I wonder?