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All those verbal gaffes were just strategery.
April 25, 2013 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Keith Hennessey is a former economic aide to George W. Bush. And he wants you to know that George W. Bush is smarter than you.
posted by zardoz (196 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
If he's so smart, why was he so dumb?
posted by zippy at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [38 favorites]


Well... he clearly wasn't smart enough to avoid a profession where he consistently seemed like an idiot.
posted by emmet at 2:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


President Bush is extremely smart by any traditional standard.

Is 'making atrocious decisions time and again' not a traditional standard?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2013 [37 favorites]


All he tells us is that George W. Bush is smarter than Keith Hennessey.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [91 favorites]


Yes, why wasn't I smart enough to be the son of the President of the United States? He's got me there.
posted by Zonker at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2013 [22 favorites]


Well this makes me feel WAY better about 2001-08 now that I know it was a smart person who fucked so many things up.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [42 favorites]


It's fun to watch 'em try to get all their ducks in a row for Jeb '16.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [22 favorites]


Hennessey doesn't say that Bush isn't a self-centered, morally bankrupt coward with the blood of innocent thousands on his hands, so even if his evaluation of his intelligence is totally honest and objective, he's practically not even trying to change my opinion.
posted by incomple at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [31 favorites]


I mean, maybe all of this is true: maybe Bush is great at cutting to the heart of a matter, picking out the precise question that he needs to ask, predicting the reactions of people he knows. That doesn't mean he didn't do incredibly stupid things many, many, many times as president. The ability to speed up a briefing does not translate especially well to the problem of not destroying an economy.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


I want to believe that GWB was some kind of Tyrion Lannister style political genius who hoodwinked the public with spectacular displays of cunning and ruthlessness. I really want to believe that that he tricked most of the country, not that we were stupid enough to vote him in twice on our own, but "we told him stuff and he understood" isn't really great evidence.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. It's a really interesting read.
posted by cribcage at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


you can be a fool, a liar, and a criminal without being an idiot.

All those verbal gaffes were just strategery

basically, yup... modulo the background Bush family dyslexia, Rove milked every "gaffe" as much as he could. you are going to line up to cheer the same institutions which gave us Iraq and Afghanistan in Syria (and then necessarily Iran) because for all the Bush-hatred you never held the US political elite for it's failure in New York, D.C., Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This isn't a surprise. He lost his first few elections by appearing too intellectual.

A new persona was quickly followed by elective office.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]




Yeah, pretty sure the only Lannister he resembles is [spoiler alert?] Joffrey.
posted by elizardbits at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some of the rock-fucking-dumbest people I've met went to Harvard and/or Yale.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


You're doin' a heck of a job, Hennie.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Was he smart enough not to read that? I was. Who's smarter now?
posted by joelf at 2:42 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT

Would a smart person group Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil'?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:42 PM on April 25, 2013


> smarter than

Smarter than me? Like that would be hard?

Why hang around with anybody who isn't? That's what I say.
posted by hank at 2:42 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Were he a student here today, he would consistently get “HP” (High Pass) grades without having to work hard, and he’d get an “H” (High, the top grade) in any class where he wanted to put in the effort.

And yet when he was actually in school he came away with a C+ average.

I mean, yes, real life is considerably different than college, but I'm not the one who brought in the analogy.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


The knock against Bush wasn't his lack of brains. It was his lack of curiosity about the world.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [18 favorites]


Interesting factoid: Bill Clinton, who everybody agrees is pretty damn smart (but still did dumb things BTW), has become a good friend of George W. Bush. I'm sure it's 50 percent good-old-boy palling around, but Clinton wouldn't go there unless the other 50 percent were an intellectual connection. The difference between them is that Clinton is totally in his element in public settings, while Bush gets flustered — which is probably why he has led such a private life since leaving the White House.

There are plenty of stories around besides Hennessey's about how Bush acts in private settings, and how surprisingly perceptive he can be. Take the time to read just this one: "How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal With Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood."
posted by beagle at 2:45 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can we at least all agree he was terrible?
posted by mazola at 2:45 PM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


Keith ole buddy, no matter how much you try polishing that turd it's still gonna stink.
posted by localroger at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I went and watched a bit of him talking about economic policy and the financial crisis, and stopped when he started smooth-talking about a muddy-the-waters "third way" of seeing the financial crisis as a whole lot o complicated stuff but surely not anything to be solved by more regulation of corrupt crony capitalism.

This man is a right-wing hack, plain and simple. What he means by "intelligence" and what amount of that attribute he and George W. Bush have I don't much care. Neither of them seem to have fuck all of any character.
posted by crayz at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Smarter than "you" or smarter than someone in business school?
posted by dstryrk at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can easily believe that Bush is highly intelligent. I'd have to conclude that he's evil, because I look at his decisions and the only two explanations I can see are evil and stupidity. But it is plausible to me that Bush is a highly intelligent evil man who chose to appear stupid in order to position himself as anti-intellectual and thereby cultivate the anti-intellectual vote.

What I can't believe is the repeated claim here that he's the victim of a biased press. He chose his public image, and it worked for him.
posted by baf at 2:48 PM on April 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


Ugh, the media bias argument.

Honestly, while redneck idiot is a go to caricature for U.S. media, can we agree that if the entire basis of your argument is the media didn't treat us fairly, you probably don't have that strong of an argument?

The "dumb" label stuck because Bush did so little to dissuade that impression.

It's not like the Obama's an idiot meme hasn't found any purchase on the right.
posted by Maugrim at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's fascinating that we are seeing the reconstruction of his legacy in realtime, unfolding right before our eyes, as if he had a brother with presidential ambitions or something.
posted by Think_Long at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


Bush was plenty smart. But he was not wise.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have no trouble believing that George W. Bush is smarter than me. I would have made a much worse President than he did. But man, that is setting the bar pretty darn low.
posted by Longtime Listener at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Every prominent politician has a public caricature, one drawn initially by late-night comedy joke writers and shaped heavily by the press and one’s political opponents. The caricature of President Bush is that of a good ol’ boy from Texas who is principled and tough, but just not that bright.

Does Hennessey just not remember the late-night caricature of Clinton? Yet no one seems to recall Clinton only as a dumb fat redneck.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, pretty sure the only Lannister he resembles is [spoiler alert?] Joffrey.

I feel like he's closer to Cersei. Whip-smart at securing and brandishing power, no idea whatsoever what to use it for besides that. Cheney is Joffrey of course.
posted by furiousthought at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


I suppose it's possible that Bush is just a bad speaker. I don't know if I'm totally convinced by this guy's arguments, but I will admit that presidents are usually pretty smart, even if they don't always seems that way.

Well, except Reagan.
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on April 25, 2013


Keith Hennessey Youngman. That is all.
posted by davejay at 2:52 PM on April 25, 2013


He sure fooled all of those pencil-dicked history professors, too, who think that he was the worst President since Warren G. Harding.
posted by goethean at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's fascinating that we are seeing the reconstruction of his legacy in realtime, unfolding right before our eyes, as if he had a brother with presidential ambitions or something.

"We’ve had enough Bushes."—Barbara Bush
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I ask you simply to consider the possibility that I’m right, that he is smarter than you.

He sounds like Uri Gellar, asking you to consider the possibility that he can bend spoons with the power of his mind.

But to be fair to Keith Hennessey, it is true that George W. Bush has one more library than hundreds of millions of Americans. I guess you have to be pretty smart to get one of those.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Cheney is anybody he'd be Tywin.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:55 PM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


But to be fair to Keith Hennessey, it is true that George W. Bush has one more library than hundreds of millions of Americans. I guess you have to be pretty smart to get one of those.

There's a reason we have the expression 'dumb luck.'
posted by shakespeherian at 2:55 PM on April 25, 2013


Smart people make bad decisions all the time. "Good" people make "evil" choices all the time. I have exactly zero problems believing that W is, in person, an intelligent, empathetic man who treats his friends and colleagues well.

It doesn't mean that he was a competent president, of course, but that's a completely different question.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:55 PM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Honestly I can believe that Bush was smarter than a roomfull of 60 MBA's. I've met a lot of MBA's in my life, and every single one of them was just plain stupid. Hell, it isn't like an MBA is a real degree anyway, it's just what rich people get when they go to college.

Less snarkily, I can actually believe that the man might have had a high IQ. What he lacked (from a smarts standpoint, let's ignore moral failings for now) was any sort of intellectual curiosity, any ability or desire to understand viewpoints other than his own on the issues, and a complete lack of capacity for realizing when he was wrong and changing his mind.

The description he gives of Bush at briefings exactly fits with those problems. Bush appears to have had a kneejerk reaction to issues, took that immediate reaction and made it his unwavering policy, and completely ignored anything that went against his initial uninformed opinion. Of course he rushed through briefings and jumped ahead of people, he already knew what his decision was and that nothing they could say would change his mind, why should he waste his time listening to them talk?
posted by sotonohito at 2:56 PM on April 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


Oh, and yes, Bush is absolutely Cersei. Very smart in some ways, very not-smart in some other ways. Too complicated to be described as being just one or the other, but a bad leader either way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:56 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


He stood was carried on the shoulders of giants people even worse than he is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


All he tells us is that George W. Bush is smarter than Keith Hennessey.

RTFA.
posted by averageamateur at 2:58 PM on April 25, 2013


Yeah but Cersei is hot.
posted by goethean at 2:58 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Mr. Cheney liked that Bush would go press flesh and stand in front of banners while the important job of transferring really massive stacks of money to thier friends and coworkers went on uninterrupted by that awful public interest stuff.
posted by The Whelk at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maugrim: "It's not like the Obama's an idiot meme hasn't found any purchase on the right."

Although in Obama's case in comes packaged with some not at all racist "affirmative action" comments.
posted by brundlefly at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well that would be the thing about this Bush admin/ Lannister analogy, each person would be one Lannister but think they are another.

Bush: Cersei, thinks he's Jaime
Cheney: Joffrey, thinks he's Tywin
Rove: Tywin, thinks he's Joffrey
Powell: Jaime, thinks he's Tyrion

... and I think I am running up against the limits of this silly analogy.
posted by furiousthought at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who gets to be Littlefinger then?
posted by elizardbits at 3:01 PM on April 25, 2013




I'm sure it's 50 percent good-old-boy palling around, but Clinton wouldn't go there unless the other 50 percent were an intellectual connection.

Nonsense. Let's apply Occam's Razor: What's the answer with fewer assumptions? Your hypothesis that W. and Clinton have an intellectual connection or my hypothesis that Clinton has exhausted the pool of attractive women who hang out in Democrat circles and those who hang around Bush are easily wooed. I mean come on.
posted by The World Famous at 3:03 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


From TFA:
Do you discount your estimate of his intellect because he’s from Texas or because of his accent?
I believe in the author's thesis because of these two points. First, he's from Connecticut, yet made every one think he's from Texas. Second, the accent is fake. Listen to W pronounce 'rather', and you'll hear the New Englander yet.
posted by hwyengr at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


Excellent deconstruction of this argument here by Daniel Larison:

As I’ve said on other occasions, intelligence is no guarantee of good judgment, relevant specialized knowledge, or executive competence. A politician can have above-average intelligence and still support disastrous and ill-conceived policies.
posted by sapere aude at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just finished writing that I cannot believe GWB was ever flagged as a low intelligence person. But when you tally his most important work, what comes up is a person who was plagued with making monumentally dumb decisions, and is going to be judged, for better or worse, as plenty dumb. Daniel Larison is charitable enough to put a fine point on it: Intelligence Is No Guarantee of Good Judgment.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


RTFA.

Of course, and I hope you did too. Did we come to different conclusions from it, or are you just at a loss for words?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think having the low-cunning of a predator is equivalent to being 'intelligent'. Hennessey seems to misunderstand what he's looking at here, and if he was an economic adviser to Bush then that's really not a surprising state of affairs.

Of course, how else do you answer a question like that? I was the lackey of a moron for eight years and never managed to steer him in the right direction?
posted by codacorolla at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't think that W and Clinton have an intellectual connection, rather, they share a unique life experience that bonds them, they are close in age, and they are from similar cultural backgrounds. I'm friends with people for similar reasons where there is a large difference in our intelligence.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


He was and is a simpering cretin. An incurious jackanape lacking in any degree of empathy, emotional maturity, or basic goodwill toward his fellow human beings. Worst President of the 20th century, if not in the history of the union.
posted by stenseng at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I always thought those who called Bush stupid were gracious people trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Then I realized that wasn't fair to stupid people.
posted by 4ster at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2013


If Cheney is anybody he'd be Tywin.

Tywin fought his goddam wars. Cheney took the maximum five student draft deferments to stay out of Viet Nam and then, with conveniently suspicious timing, became a father when his turn finally came. And during the Gulf War, he made a nuisance of himself by repeatedly pitching Gen. Schwarkopf with what Stormin' Norman described in his memoirs a "plan as bad as it could possibly be" for invading Iraq, which came from Cheney's desire to "out-general the generals".

Cheney, down to his penchant for "enhanced interrogation", is what Joffrey would be if he were kept out from wielding executive power until his sixties.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:14 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, he was incredibly brilliant.

For a puppet.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:14 PM on April 25, 2013


they are from similar cultural backgrounds

Old New England money is similar to poor southerner? Huh.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:15 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Your hypothesis that W. and Clinton have an intellectual connection or my hypothesis that Clinton has exhausted the pool of attractive women who hang out in Democrat circles and those who hang around Bush are easily wooed.

Far more importantly the women in Democratic circles all talk to one another and things are guaranteed to get back to Hillary. No Republican woman is going to 'fess up about her time with Bill.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:16 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although in Obama's case in comes packaged with some not at all racist "affirmative action" comments.

Well, yeah. I've never really understood what that fuss was all about. It's not the flashpoint in Canada that it is in The States.



(Can somebody tell me how to do that name/comment link-y thing?)
posted by Maugrim at 3:19 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


He will be introducing Jeb in 2016 at the RNC. The Bush family is a machine.
posted by humanfont at 3:19 PM on April 25, 2013


re: the friendship

It's not just the Bush makes Clinton look smarter, wittier and generally better in every way by comparison?

Bush is like Clinton's ideal wing-man, they have enough in common by virtue of their job histories and current social strata for them to have stuff to talk about and commiserate over while Clinton gets to be the Frank Sinatra to Bush's Peter Lawford.
posted by oddman at 3:24 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who gets to be Littlefinger then?

Joe Lieberman.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:24 PM on April 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think it would be better for Bush's long-term legacy for his rehabilitators to further the portrayal of him as a well-meaning and principled bumbler than someone who knowingly, even cunningly foisted terrible policies on the country. It would also set up Jeb (or George P.) as an interesting foil.

But honestly, I think the best thing he has going for him right now is the current state of the Republican Party, which is almost uniformly more belligerent, more radically anti-public sector, and more hostile to science, minorities, and the poor. I'd gladly take Bush over Rand Paul or Paul Ryan any day.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:26 PM on April 25, 2013


Strategery also happens to be one of my all-time fave apps on the iPhone - - an oldy-but-goody simple single player strategy game.
posted by fairmettle at 3:27 PM on April 25, 2013


I posit, based on Mr. Hennessey's article and its content, that Mr. Hennessey is a) a complete idiot, b) a complete sell-out, c) someone who got their university teaching job through status, rather than from merit, and d) an excellent argument for why I should not give any particular reverence to people with a Stanford degree. I've known a lot of people like Hennessy - a few of whom were also officials in the Bush administration, interestingly enough. Idiots. All of them.

From the article:
For more than six years it was my job to help educate President Bush about complex economic policy issues and to get decisions from him on impossibly hard policy choices. In meetings and in the briefing materials we gave him in advance we covered issues in far more depth than I have been discussing with you this quarter because we needed to do so for him to make decisions.
Yet it is well-known and undisputed that Bush did not read briefing materials. Hennessey has only revealed that his job was to educate the President on complicated issues and that Hennessey did a crappy job, just like he's doing a crappy job now teaching at Stanford.
It was occasionally a little embarrassing when he would jump ahead of one of his Cabinet secretaries in a policy discussion and the advisor would struggle to catch up.
It was a little embarrassing to the rest of the country to have a President who jumped to conclusions without having or analyzing relevant information, as well. It's not a sign of intelligence.
He would sometimes force us to accelerate through policy presentations because he so quickly grasped what we were presenting.


Look, the fact that he told you he didn't want to hear your presentation didn't mean he grasped it. He clearly did not grasp it, based on the decisions he made. And if he actually did grasp what you were trying to present, then you're a terrible presenter and a complete idiot, Hennessey. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?
I use words like briefing and presentation to describe our policy meetings with him, but those are inaccurate. Every meeting was a dialogue, and you had to be ready at all times to be grilled by him and to defend both your analysis and your recommendation. That was scary.
But you just said that he made you skip the presentation and wouldn't let you talk. Which is it? A dialogue, or a meeting where super intelligent smart man didn't let his teachers get a word in? Idiots, both of you.
You think that me cold-calling you is nerve-wracking? Try defending a sentence you inserted into a draft speech, with President Bush pouncing on the slightest weakness in your argument or your word choice.
Yes, I imagine having the most powerful person in the world act like an asshole to you is no fun, particularly when he's a complete idiot who got the job through family connections and didn't let you talk when you were trying to teach him the material. But it's not an argument in favor of his being intelligent, and you'd know that if you weren't an idiot yourself, Hennessey.
In addition to his analytical speed, what most impressed me were his memory and his substantive breadth. We would sometimes have to brief him on an issue that we had last discussed with him weeks or even months before. He would remember small facts and arguments from the prior briefing and get impatient with us when we were rehashing things we had told him long ago.
Things you had told him in the meetings where he wouldn't let you finish? Yeah, I guess when you don't let people tell you anything, it's easy to remember the few things you let them say. And even easier when you shut them down and substitute your judgment for theirs. Here's the thing, Hennessey: The ability to remember something someone said a few weeks ago is not impressive unless you're being surprised by that ability being manifest in someone you already know is a complete idiot.
Being able to handle such substantive breadth and depth, on such huge decisions, in parallel, requires not just enormous strength of character but tremendous intellectual power.
And if Bush actually had been able to handle it, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Being able to simply make decisions is not difficult - any idiot can do it. Being able to make good decisions is what requires intellectual power. Bush was unable to do so.

Seriously, Hennessy, you're an idiot and you and your old boss hurt the country. You sat in meetings with a guy who shut you down, wouldn't let you talk, told you your ideas and speechwriting were dumb and rejected your arguments, then made economic decisions unsupported even by your own conservative economic theory, and now you're standing in some Stanford classroom defending the guy not because he's actually smart, but because admitting he was stupid will make you look bad.
posted by The World Famous at 3:27 PM on April 25, 2013 [88 favorites]


The problem with Bush wasn't his intelligence, it was his convictions.

In several senses of the word.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:29 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regardless of how smart he is, how did he not get the memo about starting a land war in Asia?
posted by foodgeek at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


From NPR this morning:
BUSH: That's right. There's Decision Points Theater, where you can go in and every person has a screen in front of them. And there are four decisions that are discussed: entering Iraq, the surge in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the economic downturn at the end of the administration. If you come to one of these screens you get the information that the president had, you get the advice that came from a number of different sources, the types of briefings that the president would get. And then people can vote and decide what decision they would've made, and then George comes on the screen and talks about the decision he made and why he made it.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2013


That would be his lack of convictions I think.

Specifically the lack of being convicted.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do you discount your estimate of his intellect because he’s from Texas or because of his accent?

I'm from Texas and I have plenty of accent (especially when annoyed) and Bush still didn't strike me as that smart, sorry. I believe plenty of people get a raw deal for being dumb because they're Texans--that's been me in the past--but I'm not at all convinced that's the main reason people think Bush isn't smart.

The problem with Bush wasn't his intelligence, it was his convictions.

Or lack thereof, in at least two senses of the word.
posted by immlass at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually thought it was Clinton and George H.W. Bush who are famously close friends now? No reason why Clinton and W can't also be friends, but I haven't heard that they were.
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Second, the accent is fake. Listen to W pronounce 'rather', and you'll hear the New Englander yet.

Sorry, but this argument has never held water with me. It's true that Bush was born and schooled in the Northeast, but he lived most of his life in Texas, including his early schooling (George Sr. moved the family there in the late 40s). Of course it would make sense that his accent would not be 100% pure Texan or 100% pure Andover or 100% pure anything. (Is any accent, really?)
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, let's go ahead and use the same criteria that dick foisted on us with No Child Left Behind: standards based testing. The results aren't looking so great on that front either.
posted by codacorolla at 3:34 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


But to be fair to Keith Hennessey, it is true that George W. Bush has one more library than hundreds of millions of Americans. I guess you have to be pretty smart to get one of those.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 22:54 on April 25 [+] [!]


I am naming my top bookshelf the Blazecock Pileon Library. You're in the intellectual elite!
posted by jaduncan at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


But to be fair to Keith Hennessey, it is true that George W. Bush has one more library than hundreds of millions of Americans. I guess you have to be pretty smart to get one of those.

What I want to know is, who is going to be the first patron to stop by the GWB presidential library and casually leave copies of "My Pet Goat" on all the tables? If I lived anywhere nearby, I'd totally do it myself.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:36 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


dhens: ""Russia is big and so is China." -- George W. Bush, July 17, 2006"

Are you saying Russia and China aren't big?
posted by chavenet at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think he is just asking you to consider thst smarter people usually have more nuanced ways of describing the world.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's a heckuva painter, too.
posted by ducky l'orange at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2013


It's interesting how the headline is "George W. Bush Is Smarter Than You," but the whole crux of the article is that George W. Bush is a giant asshole who steamrolls his advisers, won't listen to briefings, contradicts what his best people say, and makes difficult decisions without regard to the advice of the very person making the argument. Maybe it's a backhanded complement - George W. Bush rejects the intelligence of others.

The story starts off:
One of my students asked “How involved was President Bush with what was going on?” I smiled and responded, “What you really mean is, ‘Was President Bush smart enough to understand what was going on,’ right?”
And then the rest of the story is answering that question by explaining that, not only was Bush smart enough to understand what was going on, but he was so smart that he wouldn't let his advisers finish their presentations, rejected their arguments when they finally got to make them, chastised them for repeating things they had already talked about weeks earlier but about which he had not made any decision, and made very smart people feel bad by constantly berating and ambushing them with dismissiveness. The answer to the question "how involved was President Bush with what was going on" is that he was so involved that he wouldn't even let the people he hired to help make good decisions do their job. He was so involved that nobody else could really be involved. He was so involved that the bad decisions he made must be laid only on his own doorstep, and not that of the advisers who told Bush to do something else.
posted by The World Famous at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [38 favorites]


There's quite a contrast between Bush and current President. Obama's often stated desire for consensus suggests that he's a man who thinks through all the different interpretations of a situation and sees things from different points of view before weighing the evidence and making a decision. Bush seems like a guy who wants to know the "right" answer as quickly as possible.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The whole article reads like a college rec letter written by an overreaching high school teacher on the behalf of a B student trying to get into an Ivy League school.
posted by Groundhog Week at 3:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


People don't understand the way the Presidency really works: the power is not so much inherent in the office itself, it's in the ability to make appointments to other offices. George Bush's ability to understand issues is secondary to his ability to pick people to head departments that would handle problems before they got to the President.

Katrina got botched because Michael Brown had no ability to manage his job and should never have been in charge of FEMA since he had no training in any of the areas that FEMA manages. Iraq was a clusterfuck because Rumsfield did not have realistic well thought out plans on how to deal with a post-Saddam Iraq, because he looked at the war through the prism of his ideology, rather than looking at it practically. The economy collapsed under Bush's watch in large part because Henry Paulson thought like a lot of Wall Street types did, specifically Goldman Sachs types, and that line of thinking was revealed to be patently incorrect.

George Bush's failure was not necessarily that he didn't understand the problems. It's that he appointed people to manage problems out of personal loyalty, cronyism, ideological purity or other factors that were separate from their ability to understand the problem. And at the end of the day, if the people in charge of the problem don't get it, it doesn't much help if the person in charge of them does get it.
posted by Kiablokirk at 3:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [33 favorites]


As a minor point, he's not at Stanford like being on the faculty, he's a research fellow at the Hoover institute (according to Wikipedia). It's more proof of his ideology than of his intellect.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:55 PM on April 25, 2013


Would a smart person group Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil'?

Two of the three, sure. There's a pretty solid candidate for the third, but since they're an "important" "strategic" "ally," we tended not to talk about things like that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:55 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Bush's failure was not necessarily that he didn't understand the problems. It's that he appointed people to manage problems out of personal loyalty, cronyism, ideological purity or other factors that were separate from their ability to understand the problem. And at the end of the day, if the people in charge of the problem don't get it, it doesn't much help if the person in charge of them does get it.

Exactly, and Hennessey is only underscoring the problem by telling stories of how Bush was so smart that he knew all his advisers and appointees were completely wrong about everything all the time.
posted by The World Famous at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting concept. Queensland once had a premier (like a US governor, I think) who's language was nearly impenetrable, until he left office. Then, suddenly, all his strange linguistic diversions disappeared, and he went on the speaking circuit. I met him once and he gave me $50 for writing the only essay in a Queensland day competition. He was very different to the person who appeared in the media. I wonder who comes up with these strategies to be incomprehensible and why the fuck they are successful.
posted by b33j at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


He must be smart to get away with stealing the election and murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, right?
posted by jamjam at 3:59 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Intelligence is orthogonal to inerrancy, my criticisms of Bush have had more to do with his lack of intellectual rigor.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:01 PM on April 25, 2013


Saying Bush is smarter than average just gives him an nominal IQ of 101. Big deal.

Do I believe that he dumbed down his speech at times. Yup. I'm pretty sure Obama does, too. I don't believe when he's in conference with his advisors that he drops his 'g's as often as he does in public.

As someone else above noted, his lack of curiosity and subsequent unwillingness to dig for facts and challenge perceived wisdom was a big problem. He had a publicly stated preference for being "the Decider". In other words, he wanted life to be a multiple choice test; give him a bunch of options and he'll pick one. But he'd never investigate the underlying assuptions of any of the choices.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:01 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course he's going to say Bush is smart. Because if he isn't what does that say about Keith Hennesey as an adviser?
posted by triggerfinger at 4:02 PM on April 25, 2013


It's amazing how much that essay just proves that he's a bully.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:02 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course he's going to say Bush is smart. Because if he isn't what does that say about Keith Hennesey as an adviser?

And the essay itself just says over and over again that Bush wouldn't listen to Hennessey and disagreed with Hennessey's arguments and ideas without even listening to or reading them first.
posted by The World Famous at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2013


Ron Fournier: Go Ahead, Admit It: George W. Bush Is a Good Man
For as much time as we spend understanding our presidents’ policies and politics, relatively little effort is spent trying to understand them as people. We mythologize them as candidates and demonize them as presidents, denying our leaders the balm that soothes mere mortals: benefit of the doubt.

Disclosure: I am the worst offender. I get paid to hold leaders accountable, not to walk in their shoes. Conversely, I am also a bit biased. Presidents Bush and Clinton agreed last year to meet privately with my autistic son for a project on the presidency. But that is the point: Neither man had anything to gain by agreeing to meet Tyler. They’re not running for office. I don’t cover them anymore.
Paul Burka: The Legacy Of George W. Bush
Bush was an extremely popular governor, and as someone who thought he was a very good one, I never expected that his presidency would take the turn that it did. He started his political career as "a uniter, not a divider," and to my dismay, ended it as one of the most divisive presidents in American history. By the halfway point of his presidency, 2004, the person I knew as Governor Bush had morphed into President Bush, a politician whom I did not recognize. It was sad, but self-inflicted.
Nate Silver, 538: Presidents Are Viewed More Fondly in the Rear-View Mirror
These historical patterns, obviously, are not destiny. It is possible that George W. Bush will become more or less popular over time, depending on events like the Arab Spring and on the details that eventually emerge about his tenure. But it isn’t surprising that Mr. Bush has become more popular as a former president than he was as president. It would be news if he were not
The Rude Pundit: The George W. Bush Library: A Place to Contemplate One's Existential Worthlessness:
The whole thing seems designed not just to cover-up for every horrible thing done to the United States under Bush. Actually, it reflects the essential emptiness of the man who led the country as an incurious figurehead, a meat puppet with Dick Cheney's and Karl Rove's hands up his ass at different times. In recent interviews, you can hear the reporters trying to get Bush to have a scintilla of self-awareness, a moment when he says he regrets something or made a wrong decision. He doesn't, though, because he can't. He can't because he was never secure in anything but his rightness, no matter how much of a failure he was.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bush may perhaps be intelligent in a narrowly-defined and cunning way that is a trait all too common to businessmen and politicians, but he is not a man who is curious about the world. Having learned habits and grown up in an environment that allowed him to operate impulsively, carelessly, in spite of many complexities, he has never really had to face the true and full consequences of his actions. He has shown time and time again that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is indeed preferable to be lucky than smart.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know, you guys. I am pretty smart.
posted by penduluum at 4:10 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how much that essay just proves that he's a bully.

Exactly. George W. Bush might be smarter than me by Keith Hennessey's definition of "smart", but I'm not sure that's the accepted general definition.

Who gets to be Littlefinger then?

Joe Lieberman.

I was blown away by how much I agreed with this. Then I thought about it some more and thought it wasn't fair. To Littlefinger.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:10 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, after seeing the Bush interview with Diane Sawyer, where Bush says in one breath he thinks the Iraq war was the right thing to do and in the next breath how holding his new grandchild was one of the best and more powerful experiences of his life; and I'm kind of thinking about all the innocent dead Iraqi people and American soldiers who probably would have also loved to hold new babies etc. And it makes me think that he has what I call the Mitt Romney Effect, which is based on the fact that Mitt Romney was so genuinely surprised and shocked that he lost the election. Despite the fact that there was an abundance of readily available information at the time showing that it was far from a sure thing and even that Obama had a better chance of winning. So why was Mitt so surprised? Because he was totally surrounded by yes men who either only looked for or only gave him information he wanted to hear. Do you think that any of his close circle really told Bush about all the dead Iraqi children or showed him pictures of the suffering and sadness and tragedy caused by his decisions? He has made pretty clear that he doesn't read anything in the news about himself and I have to believe that he is only getting information that paints him and his actions in a positive light. And that's what he accepts. Because he seems to genuinely believe that he was on the side of good. Which makes me think that this is just another one of many good examples of the sheltered, sheltered life that George W. Bush leads.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:16 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


He might be, I never met the guy, but this sums it all up nicely for me:


Max's Theorem and James McMurtry's commentary: “…'A good old boy can become an intellectual but an intellectual cannot become a good ol’ boy'…So how is it that the son of a couple of blue-blooded erudite Connecticut Yankees gets to stand behind the presidential podium and talk about ‘nuke-u-lar’ weapons? I mean, Jeb Bush doesn’t say ‘nuke-u-lar’. You know good and damn well Barbara doesn’t say ‘nuke-u-lar’…”
posted by PuppyCat at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I've heard this argument before:
...but what people don't realize, is that there's a genius behind the stupidity...
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:29 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm friends with a person who worked as a domestic policy adviser to both Bush and Romney during all of their presidential campaigns. He had just finished working on Romney's primary campaign in 2008 when I asked him to compare the two. This was the example he gave me.

"When I would do a policy memo for Bush, he would take it from me, flip through the first 1 or 2 pages, then hand it back to me and say 'Great job.' When I handed the same type of memo to Romney, he would take it from me and disappear. The next day, he'd search me out and have the memo marked up, asking me all sorts of follow up questions."

I found that pretty compelling.
posted by shen1138 at 4:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


I thought that Patton Oswalt nailed it pretty well.
posted by edheil at 4:32 PM on April 25, 2013


I met one of the people who did IT for Air Force One during the W Era. He said that W was very personable, but he was also seriously addicted to playing backgammon online. Many late night work sessions existed for the express purpose of helping POTUS play backgammon.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:39 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Smart, successful, curious and humane. Who am I to judge?
posted by Chuffy at 4:44 PM on April 25, 2013


There is a bias in much of the mainstream press and commentariat that people from outside of NY-BOS-WAS-CHI-SEA-SF-LA are less intelligent, or at least well educated. Many public commenters harbor an anti-Texas (and anti-Southern, and anti-Midwestern) intellectual bias. They mistakenly treat John Kerry as smarter than George Bush because John Kerry talks like an Ivy League professor while George Bush talks like a Texan.

What nonsense. If this were true, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton would be subject to the same bias, which they're clearly not. With Bush (and other good examples include Louie Gohmert and Paul Braun) it was the fact that the southern accent was the delivery system for some profoundly dumb statements.

Also, Bush's Texas accent seemed really pandering to me. If you watch tape of the 2000 RNC, it's a slight affectation, but by the time he left office he was vocalizing a full-time twang. Either eight years of living in DC will have that effect on a person, or (like his Crawford ranch) it was a political move to appeal to everyday Joes. My money is on the latter.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 4:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


There is a bias in much of the mainstream press and commentariat that people from outside of NY-BOS-WAS-CHI-SEA-SF-LA are less intelligent, or at least well educated. Many public commenters harbor an anti-Texas (and anti-Southern, and anti-Midwestern) intellectual bias. They mistakenly treat John Kerry as smarter than George Bush because John Kerry talks like an Ivy League professor while George Bush talks like a Texan.

...born in New Haven, CT, schooled in the good ol' boyz schools of Yale and Harvard...you know, places where an upstanding cheerleader can escape National Guard duty and still sound intelligent.
posted by Chuffy at 4:51 PM on April 25, 2013


Well, the article makes Hennessey look incredibly stupid, for what that is worth
posted by mumimor at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Many people pick up the local accent during extended vacations.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:53 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's see

Second worst attack on America (Pearl Harbor first).
Started two wars and didn't finish either. (First place)
One of the wars was unjustified and criminal. (Arguably other presidents started criminal wars, e.g., Indian wars, etc.)
Second worst financial crash behind Hoover.
Presided over the second worst disaster to an American city in New Orleans (San Francisco earthquake was arguably the worst). Made a disaster out of the disaster relief.
There was his brilliant after invasion plan in Iraq.
Took essentially a balanced budget and gave us trillion dollars a year deficits. (I would argue he did the worst with the budget ever).
Abu Grhaib.
Guantamano.
But maybe he could ask a pointed question in a cabinet meeting. I have the word of some who says he was smart as evidence.

He ain't more intelligent than me (or my Chihuahua).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]




The surest sign that you aren't actually as smart as you think you are is feeling the need to assert how smart you are. Same for asserting the intelligence of others.

If you really are the smartest person in the room, everyone will (more than likely) reach that conclusion on their own.
posted by oddman at 5:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting how the headline is "George W. Bush Is Smarter Than You," but the whole crux of the article is that George W. Bush is a giant asshole who steamrolls his advisers, won't listen to briefings, contradicts what his best people say, and makes difficult decisions without regard to the advice of the very person making the argument.

It feels like this article should be subtitled "A Sycophant Speaks."
posted by COBRA! at 5:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]




Bush = Hodor
Cheney = Varys
posted by Chuffy at 5:12 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hitler, Stalin and Mao were smart, too. So?
posted by Vibrissae at 5:16 PM on April 25, 2013


There is only one book in the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

The Pet Goat

This is the book he was reading, to a group of schoolchildren, when he was informed of the 9/11 attacks. Famously, he continued reading the book for seven more minutes.

How many of you have read The Pet Goat? It must be pretty compelling to absorb the mind of such a smart President during a time of national crisis. Here's the plot (I quote Wikipedia)
"The Pet Goat" is the story of a girl's pet goat that eats everything in its path. The girl's parents want to get rid of the goat, but she defends it. In the end, the goat becomes a hero when it butts a car thief into submission.
I think this pretty much sums up the rest of Bush's presidency, with the war in Iraq being the major action of either a head-butt or a butt-head.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:34 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: It's interesting how the headline is "George W. Bush Is Smarter Than You," but the whole crux of the article is that George W. Bush is a giant asshole who steamrolls his advisers, won't listen to briefings, contradicts what his best people say, and makes difficult decisions without regard to the advice of the very person making the argument. Maybe it's a backhanded complement - George W. Bush rejects the intelligence of others.

One of the "points" Hennessey uses to bolster his argument is jocular everyday values and character:
He never talked about graduating from Yale and Harvard Business School, and he liked to lower expectations by pretending he was just an average guy. Example: “My National Security Advisor Condi Rice is a Stanford professor, while I’m a C student. And look who’s President.
I can't be the only one who read it in the opposite way: as a particularly snide and nasty personal dig, at Rice's expense, which says "it doesn't matter how many graduate degrees you have, how well you can play the piano, or how sharp your international relations negotiating skills are, because when it comes down to it, even though I'm a C student, I'm a rich white guy from old money, and that's why I'm President and you, an educated and accomplished black woman, are my subordinate."
posted by Len at 5:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


Exactly, Len. The article can be summarized thus:

Student asked question: "How involved was President Bush with what was going on?"

Hennessey refuses to answer that question, instead putting another in the student's mouth: "Was President Bush smart enough to understand what was going on?"

Hennessey then answers the question thus: You probably think President Bush was dumb, but really he was just a huge dick to everybody all the time.
posted by The World Famous at 5:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I use words like briefing and presentation to describe our policy meetings with him, but those are inaccurate. Every meeting was a dialogue, and you had to be ready at all times to be grilled by him and to defend both your analysis and your recommendation. That was scary.

If this is the new standard of intelligence, this confirms my theory that RuPaul is a genius.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:47 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


What struck me was the complete absence of specific examples. "He followed a lot of hard topics, he asked a lot of smart questions" .... okay, like what?
posted by selfmedicating at 5:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well why not post the BEST ONION ARTICLE ever right here? This thing is a masterpiece and sort of relevant (?) to the discussion of Bush: Dumb or Smart?

Bush Regales Dinner Guests With Impromptu Oratory On Virgil's Minor Works

posted by peep at 5:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can a mod please embed this video and set it to autoplay?
posted by EmGeeJay at 6:03 PM on April 25, 2013


George W. Bush is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


My "favorite" part of the latest phase of the George W. Bush rehabilitation project has been the effort to show that he was better than President Obama at "keeping us safe." The primary evidence cited to support this assertion is that, according to Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, "unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." Charles Pierce pointed out the lunacy of this in his excellent post yesterday entitled The Great Mulligan, but even he missed a few layers of the obfuscation and deception behind this claim.

The "other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" aspect alone would be enough to give this assertion first ballot Hacktacular Bullshit Hall of Fame status, but even if America did give Dubya a mulligan on 9/11, the claim still falls apart, as noted by the estimable Steve M:
You may have seen this yesterday:
An odd argument that President George W. Bush kept America safe from terrorism "except for 9/11" made its way to the House floor Wednesday, coming from Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

The claim resurfaced on the right immediately after the Boston bombings, and made its way back into conservative punditry in the days that followed, Steve Benen reported.

As Benen and others have noted, it's hard to ignore the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11 and the hundreds who have been killed since in tallying Bush's terrorism record. But the "since 9/11" count also leaves out the 2002 shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport [and] the anthrax attacks after 9/11....
It also leaves out a 2006 incident in North Carolina:
In March 2006, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove an SUV into an area of campus, striking nine pedestrians. According to reports, Taheri-azar said he acted because he wanted to "avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world." Taheri-azar also reportedly stated in a letter: "I was aiming to follow in the footsteps of one of my role models, Mohammad Atta, one of the 9/11/01 hijackers, who obtained a doctorate degree."
...
So no terrorists "reached their targets" after 9/11 under Bush. The underwear bomber was on a plane with a bomb under Obama, and that counts as "reaching the target" -- but the shoe bomber, who was also on a plane with a bomb under Bush, didn't "reach the target." And the folks who actually committed terrorist acts post-9/11 under Bush didn't "reach their targets."
I get it, wingnut hacks -- we just had a deadly attack in Boston, and the Bush "lie bury" is opening up, so I'm sure the urge to cook the books to make Bush look successful on preventing terrorism compared to his successor must have been overwhelming. But it's just making you look silly and desperate to anyone who hasn't drunk your Kool-Aid, not to mention insensitive to those who died during that one attack you're asking for a mulligan on.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's hard to claim that one person is more intelligent than another, because really intelligence is something that takes many dimensions. There's verbal intelligence, math intelligence, spatial intelligence, logic-problem-solving, not-being-a-war-criminal, social intelligence, and so on. And on some dimensions, Bush is definitely smarter than me -- social intelligence, for instance -- and there are probably other dimensions where I have him beat.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


American kids born today will be taught this interpretation of Bush in their history class, and in their civics class they will learn about how torture is okay under certain circumstances when the government says it has a good reason.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rove thinks he's Lord Varys, but is actually The Hound.



Bush = Hodor
Cheney = Varys


That's a terrible slur against Hodor. He was at least loyal and kind.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


While it's still on Hulu: President Reagan Mastermind
posted by dhartung at 6:57 PM on April 25, 2013


Like fuck he is.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:11 PM on April 25, 2013




I'm not sure if anyone thinks Bush is dumb, and I certainly don't think he was incurious. Bush was a smart, driven man with a radical agenda, and he succeeded brilliantly at achieving his aims. The entire "Bush is dumb" meme really obscures the fact that Bush made conscious, radical decisions to affect massive change.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:27 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if anyone thinks Bush is dumb

*raises hand*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:27 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's a terrible slur against Hodor. He was at least loyal and kind.

Bush is a gigantic dick, wheras Hodor merely has a gigantic dick. It's different.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:28 PM on April 25, 2013


HODOR!
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:31 PM on April 25, 2013


I'm sorry. I just can't seem to leave this alone, mostly because I knew people who were sucked into the vortex of stupid and evil that was the Bush administration.

Hennessey writes:
During one class session while explaining the events of September 2008, I kept referring to the efforts of the threesome of Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, who were joined at the hip in dealing with firm-specific problems as they arose.

One of my students asked “How involved was President Bush with what was going on?”
Based on the rest of Hennessey's article, it appears that the answer to the student's question is that Bush was not even a little bit involved in what was going on in that particular situation - that Hennessey's explanation makes absolutely clear that Bush did not have the patience or willingness to ever engage in anything that detailed and that, if there were complicated meetings where Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner were joined at the hip dealing with firm-specific problems as they arose, then Bush was absolutely not involved in those meetings, would not have had patience for them, would not have let those three guys even tell him what they thought about anything, and would have shot them down if he had let them talk in the first place.

Implicit in Hennessey's refusal to answer the question asked and the manner in which he converted it to a question he assumed was coming next is Hennessey's tacit admission that, whether he was dumb or not, Bush simply was not involved in decisions that required deep, detailed analysis or where there would have to be a meeting with three smart guys to deal with really granular detail questions.

And what's really interesting about it - beyond Hennessey's admission that Bush was not involved - is that Hennessey is treating his class to the same sort of dismissive bullying that he describes as Bush's management style. Don't like the question that's being asked? Ignore it. Decide that you are "able to discern the core question" and answer that instead. And take advantage of the power imbalance in the room, obviously. What a jerk.
posted by The World Famous at 7:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


I have to believe that Bush was dumb, because the alternative is too awful.

The alternative is that the president of the United States knowingly, and with malice aforethought, baldfacedly and repeatedly lied to us, telling us that Saddam Hussein had attacked the United States, that he was mobilizing weapons of mass destruction, and that he was such a clear and present threat to our safety that we had to remove him from power at all costs. The alternative is that the president of the United States knowingly abandoned the war with Al Qaeda after 9/11, abandoned Afghanistan, and forgot about Osama bin Laden in order to shift the was to Iraq, and lied to the entire world in order to do it.

I could believe that Cheney and Rumsfeld were capable of that. I have a hard time believing that Bush was. I prefer to believe that Bush was dumb, and that he took the most vacation time of any president every because he knew he was a figurehead and didn't really care. As far as I can tell the high point of his presidency was when we went to that NY mosque six days after 9/11 and gave a great speech speaking against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims.

But, as Keith Hennesey is pointing out, I could be wrong. Bush could be smarter than me. He could have known that no matter what he did he would never be held to account, and that if he cultivated his "folksy" image and cleared brush every other weekend, then people like me would never believe he was really capable of that level of deceit.
posted by memophage at 7:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have to believe that Bush was dumb, because the alternative is too awful.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but dumb and evil are not mutually exclusive.
posted by The World Famous at 7:40 PM on April 25, 2013


Here's the thing, though.

Given what is in the public record about George W Bush, we have thousands of reasons to criticize the man. Regardless of what part of the political spectrum someone lives in, ideologically, the facts are the facts, and they do not paint a flattering picture.

But if we choose to limit ourselves (in a simpleminded way) to 'dumb' and 'evil' as epithets we might direct towards him, we have the options of

1) dumb but not evil
2) evil but not dumb
3) dumb and evil
4) neither dumb nor evil

And, of course, we need to define what we mean by 'dumb' and think about what the differences between 'doing evil', 'doing acts that have evil consequences', and 'being evil' might be, as well as thinking about what we mean by 'evil' in the first place.

I personally think that Bush is and was a deeply stupid man, completely out of his depth in anything but the populist gladhanding aspects of politics, born into privilege and coached and handled and propped up by people both smarter and more evil than he, who genuinely thought he was doing good, but was utterly unequipped with enough intelligence and insight to understand the havoc he was wreaking.

So, by my lights, a man who is dumb as a post (relatively speaking, of course), who, by being given power and letting himself be led by others with fewer scruples or downright malevolence, allowed evil to happen.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bush was Cersei - cruel, shortsighted, interested entirely in holding power at the expense of actual thoughtful ruling, mortally offended by anyone who would refuse to be a yes man, incapable of understanding why allies were deserting, and absolutely self-certain of almost divine correctness every step of the way.

Oh and, of course, not nearly as clever as s/he thought.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:54 PM on April 25, 2013




Bush was Cersei...

The implications for this for George and Jeb's relationship are horrifying.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:01 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


The portrayal of Bush behind the scenes as a domineering asshole matches my experiences dealing with occupants of the C-Suite. Despite their public personas, I'm reasonably certain Clinton and Obama are the same way.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The idea that Bush's reputation might be salvaged even a scintilla by this garbage essay depresses me. It gives no evidence whatsoever, except as a sort of object lesson in how to impress gullible underlings by dismissing and mocking everything they say. It reads like a recommendation letter written on autopilot -- by someone who secretly or perhaps even subconsciously dislikes their student -- until the end, where he himself adopts the Bush belittling technique, by preemptively attacking his readers and accusing them of anti-Texas bias for judging Bush stupid. No, I judged Bush stupid because I was forced to watch him very closely for 8 goddamn years, and he did a myriad of stupid things, both in debates and extemporaneous speech, and in actions which were highly destructive to his own goals and ideals. I judge intelligence, or more properly its lack, by dull eyes and an incurious mind and a preference for stupid stuff and stupid bullying and an utter absence of any recreational intellectual activities. I watched this idiot for eight years, and he is clearly one of the stupidest public figures I've seen. If you showed me a high IQ score, I'd say that was great evidence for why IQ doesn't measure intelligence; but I don't expect such evidence any time soon. Yes, he was also evil. But that doesn't change the fact that he was evilly idiotic, and idiotically evil. Cliches about "strength of character and tremendous intellectual power" should only serve to tarnish the reputation of the writer and the MBA money-machine that hired him. (And I shudder to think what those poor students are being taught about "Financial Crises.") Let's keep Bush's reputation where it belongs -- the gutter of the spirit and the mind.
posted by chortly at 8:10 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stupid is as stupid does.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:25 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like that they have an exhibit at the library called "Decision Points Theater."

It's like they accidentally came up with the perfect description of the Bush II presidency.
posted by Dr. Zira at 8:26 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Would a smart person group Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil'?

Oh, no, they're just lovely.

Keep in mind, he was talking about Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
posted by John Cohen at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2013


It's not an Axis of Evil, it's a Triumvirate of Terror.

Actually, David Frum, who coined the phrase, has turned into a thoughtful moderate, as long as he doesn't talk about foreign policy. Too bad he couldn't have used his powers for good when he had the chance, but I suppose war is sexy.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 PM on April 25, 2013


You can be smart and thoughtless at the same time. Bush's failures were exactly the sort of failures I'd expect from someone who is quick on the uptake, but fails to delve deeply into any kind of decision. Unfortunately his family's wealth isolated him so much from the consequences of his bad decisions that he lost the ability to comprehend that he could make them. Kind of the smart anti-intellectual version of the Dunning-Kreuger effect.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:50 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of my good friends described him best as "thinking like a dry drunk".
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:51 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've managed to come away thus far without being considered 'worst President ever' so I'd say I've got him there.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:19 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The primary evidence cited to support this assertion is that, according to Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, 'unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.'

Rebutted by the man himself:
As all Americans know, recent weeks have brought a second wave of terrorist attacks upon our country.
I'm sure that's thoroughly covered in the library.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:04 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want to have a beer with Monica Lewinsky and Dick Cheney. I will buy.
posted by breadbox at 10:23 PM on April 25, 2013


Would a smart person group Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil'?

Oh, no, they're just lovely.

Keep in mind, he was talking about Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
posted by John Cohen at 8:37 PM on April 25


It's not that those countries were/are bastions of peace and puppy dogs and hugs, it's that it was the epitome of post-9/11 fearmongering to imply that those three countries represented a coordinated threat against the U.S. Listing three countries as an Axis kind of, you know, has a historical precedent.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 10:23 PM on April 25, 2013


I wonder who comes up with these strategies to be incomprehensible and why the fuck they are successful.

A couple of years ago I worked with a woman who was apparently the stupidest human being I have ever encountered. Sh would forget things that were said to her within five minutes - frequently while still in the same discussion. She didn't actually ever remember which of her employees did what job despite having been the one to assign them. She couldn't do simple math, or write a single sentence that didn't look like it was generated by a fourth grader without spellcheck, or speak without rambling like a drunk for fifteen minutes before she got to the point.

I will never be sure if she was actually mentally deficient, terminally stoned, or just playing the longest con in the history of the world. Because while she made seventy or eighty grand a year doing absolutely nothing but sitting in her office, I did all her work for half what she made and none of the credit. If there was a stupid person in that situation it was me, not her. She was stupid like a fox.

George Bush is just like that woman.
posted by winna at 10:49 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sh would forget things that were said to her within five minutes

Rachel Maddow: Bush revisionists count on short American memories
posted by homunculus at 10:59 PM on April 25, 2013




I think that Pres. Bush & his aides were some of the craftiest people to ever occupy the White House. So yes IMO I don't think he's a dimwit.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 4:23 AM on April 26, 2013


How smart is W? How much did he understand about the 2008 crisis and bailout?

Hey W thanks for helping out post presidency, crystallizing the argument to get any sort of regulation on the TBTF Wall Street casino.
posted by surplus at 5:02 AM on April 26, 2013


Also
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:37 AM on April 26, 2013


Would a smart person group Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil'?

Oh, no, they're just lovely.

Keep in mind, he was talking about Iraq under Saddam Hussein.


But if you think Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are teamed up like the Axis Powers then you are probably a dumb president.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are youtube videos of Bush's debates with Ann Richards for the TX Governor job. He's quick, accurate, makes solid points.

Either the cronyism network of Reagan/Bush (1) era republicans thought it'd be easier to motivate a large voting block with a good-ole boy act, or he actually got a lot dumber from '95 to '00
posted by DigDoug at 6:46 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bush was so bad that Obama won the Nobel prize just for not being Bush.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:16 AM on April 26, 2013 [26 favorites]


That sir, dances, is a top quality burn.
posted by oddman at 8:03 AM on April 26, 2013


It's fun to watch 'em try to get all their ducks in a row for Jeb '16.

Fun is not the word I would choose.
posted by Glinn at 8:13 AM on April 26, 2013


He was smart enough to keep his Nihilism private and his pretend Christianity public.

Until now. I'm pretty sure that's the whole purpose of his library's Decision Point Theater: the futility of pondering decisions.
posted by surplus at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Armchair generals study strategery. Real generals study logistamatics.
posted by BeeDo at 9:26 AM on April 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that's the whole purpose of his library's Decision Point Theater: the futility of pondering decisions.

I very much doubt that. The goal is to convince people that his decisions were right. If you choose differently that he did, a video of the ex-President comes up and explains why you were wrong.

his pretend Christianity

I'd hate to instigate a game of "who's a true Christian", but I'd bet that he sincerely believes that Jesus helped him stop drinking and that the strong hand behind all the workings of the Universe put him in office just when he was there so he could make the important decisions at those critical moments. That's a fairly wide-spread form of Christian belief in America.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2013


a video of the ex-President comes up and explains why you were wrong.

Exactly. Which means ALL the choices were wrong, including the choice HE picked.

I think really he's been depressed his entire life. Couldn't drink it away. Couldn't drug it away. Couldn't religion it away. Just a huge dark cloud over him. Hopeless.

Same with her. Ever since she killed her ex boyfriend she's been zonked on painkillers.

They've proceeded like zombies and let life make decisions for them. Uncle Turdblossom. Uncle Cheney. He's only pretending that he actually made decisions.

That's why Hope resonated. We all diagnosed it.
posted by surplus at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think really he's been depressed his entire life. Couldn't drink it away. Couldn't drug it away. Couldn't religion it away. Just a huge dark cloud over him. Hopeless.

Same with her. Ever since she killed her ex boyfriend she's been zonked on painkillers.


I think this is a more interesting conversation, rather than how Bush's "intelligence" matches up to a bunch of bloodsucking MBA students.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Deciding against equal rights for gays and women isn't intelligent. You can be smart, but discrimination is always idiotic, and I have problem saying so. And that, unfortunately, is the least of his misdeeds.
posted by agregoli at 12:06 PM on April 26, 2013


(No problem)
posted by agregoli at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only thing about the W era that I am grateful for is now people will stop hating on Hoover so hard. Quakers are awesome and all but they seem to make bad presidents.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2013


A More Realistic Bush Museum
posted by homunculus at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2013




Listing three countries as an Axis kind of, you know, has a historical precedent.

It's OK, Bush was a History major at Yale.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2013


This is... the most predictable MeFi thread of all time.
RTFA did we?
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:53 PM on April 26, 2013


RTFA did we?

Are you asking, or are you just tagging that on so as to keep the thread predictable?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2013


Not only did we RTFA, we responded to each of TFA's points in turn using block quotes. RTFComments, did we?
posted by The World Famous at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


herbplarfengen: RTFA did we?

Not only that, some people even went as far as to QTFA*

*Quote The Fucking Article. Although technically speaking, given that Q precedes R in the alphabet, maybe it would be more accurate to say that some went as far back as to QTFA.
posted by Len at 2:19 PM on April 26, 2013


WRT Bush's intelligence, or lack of same: there are, after all, different forms of intelligence, measurable in different ways. One of the things that I've read about W is that he had/has an ability to ingratiate himself with people and to manipulate them to an extraordinary and probably underappreciated degree. There's a scene in Oliver Stone's film W (which I haven't seen, but have read about) in which the young W is pledging at Skull and Bones, and has memorized the names of everyone present. He was also supposed to be the press "enforcer" during his father's presidential campaign, remembering who had treated his dad deferentially in the press and who hadn't, and doling out or cutting off access accordingly. He also performed this function for his own campaign, in one incident deliberately leaving a reporter on the tarmac as the campaign plane took off. His interactions with his staff seem to combine teasing with some measure of genuine affection; ditto for favored reporters, as linked above.

And maybe he is a genuinely affectionate man... but there seems to be a certain amount of manipulation embedded in it, as witness this article from the same reporter that wrote the article in the previous link. There's a certain amount of the dry drunk in that manipulation, and he's also like the politician that he's often compared to, Sarah Palin, in that he's solicitous and flattering to people that can do him favors of one sort or another. (One of the things that his 2004 victory was attributed to was a single picture; the girl was the orphan of a 9/11 victim. I've wondered more than once if she's grown up to wonder about W's inattentiveness to a particular memo.) It's a limited ability, just as being able to remember little bits of info weeks later (an "ability" that is really only remarkable if the person is being compared to, say, Reagan) doesn't mean that you have or can synthesize that information. But within those limits, Bush and Palin prospered more than many people believed that they could, or should.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:05 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]




The Guantánamo Stain
posted by homunculus at 10:56 PM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Paul Krugman: The Great Degrader
But I think there was something even bigger, in some ways, than his policy failures: Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.

Think about his two main “achievements”, if you want to call them that: the tax cuts and the Iraq war, both of which continue to cast long shadows over our nation’s destiny. The key thing to remember is that both were sold with lies.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:36 PM on April 27, 2013 [7 favorites]














Charles Pierce: The Great Mulligan

Dick Cheney Takes The Great Mulligan
posted by homunculus at 6:53 PM on May 8, 2013


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