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Carl Cannon: Why Presidents Lie
January 26, 2007 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Carl Cannon on why Presidents lie, including a lengthy discussion of George W. Bush. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt on honesty, why doesn't the nation's first-ever M.B.A. president demonstrate a better command of the facts?
posted by russilwvong (44 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
why doesn't the nation's first-ever M.B.A. president demonstrate a better command of the facts?

Because Bush's presidency has never been based on "facts."
posted by amyms at 11:06 PM on January 26, 2007


I'd say Bush gave MBAs a bad name, but sadly, every MBA I've known has been a moron.

(You may all attack now, if you can spell.)
posted by rokusan at 11:14 PM on January 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


Perhaps more collegially, I notice that Michael Shaw did a nice dissection of the cover for this story on his visual lit-crit blog.
posted by rokusan at 11:18 PM on January 26, 2007


Even giving him the benefit of the doubt on honesty, why doesn’t the nation’s first-ever M.B.A. president demonstrate a better command of the facts?
here are three popular theories about Bush’s behavior: that the president is an intellectually incurious man who doesn’t have or want enough information to make informed decisions; that his late-life embrace of religion has given him inner peace, but also a near-absolute level of certitude; and that his demand for total loyalty discourages the give-and-take a leader needs, because aides who proffer advice or information that doesn’t jibe with administration policy are not viewed as team players.


How about, "he's a fucking idiot who has an M.B.A because his rich dad had connections".

Yeah, the guy has an M.B.A (with god-awful grades, I might add), and he's run every company he was in charge of either into the ground or damn close to it--he wasn't even a good owner of a Major League Baseball team. Calling him "intellectually incurious," while a nice turn of phrase, doesn't really cut to the point, you know?
posted by The God Complex at 11:18 PM on January 26, 2007


intellectually incurious = moran
posted by brundlefly at 11:23 PM on January 26, 2007


No, I don't really know, and neither does anyone else on the outside. From what I can tell, which is as good as anyone else here, the man doesn't seem to be "a fucking idiot". "Intellectually incurious" seems spot on- it actually has a meaning, it's not just a turn of phrase, you know.

"God awful grades"? Is that really your proof? Correlation doesn't prove causation. Maybe he only got the MBA because of his connections, or maybe he was capable of better but didn't give a fuck because his dad was connected and he was set anyway. He still got the damn thing, Supposedly he had a drug and drinking problem, maybe that hurt his grades. Doesn't mean the man is stupid. His undergrad grades were only a little worse than Kerry's.

He's a bad speaker. So was his father. Bush is only helped by underestimating him.
posted by spaltavian at 11:30 PM on January 26, 2007


I have a friend who has an MBA from BYU. I'd say he's definitely not a moron, although he occasionally does moronic things. When working on a project for one of his classes, he told his classmates "It's okay to spew bullshit when presenting an analysis, but never make the mistake of believing your own bullshit." I think that sums up the issues with this administration.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:30 PM on January 26, 2007


Oh for fuck's sake - speaking of ethics, how about linking to the original, non-copyright infringing version of the article...
posted by twsf at 11:33 PM on January 26, 2007


I actually tend to agree with you, spaltavian. I don't think he's a moron (or moran). He is an awful speaker and an ideologue (and intellectually incurious).

As far as the speaking thing... has anyone listened to Bush's speeches from when he was Gov. of Texas? He's totally gone down hill since then. It makes me wonder if there's some sort of degenerative thing going on.
posted by brundlefly at 11:37 PM on January 26, 2007


non-copyright infringing? no, thank you.
posted by dminor at 11:37 PM on January 26, 2007


How about, "he's a fucking idiot who has an M.B.A because his rich dad had connections".

Exactly. A degree is never indicative of intellectual worth, it's only indicative of whether someone could afford to finance a higher education.
posted by amyms at 11:38 PM on January 26, 2007


the man doesn't seem to be "a fucking idiot"

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...
posted by Ynoxas at 12:00 AM on January 27, 2007


intellectually incurious = moran

What is a "moran"? I'm unfamiliar with that term.
posted by milnak at 12:18 AM on January 27, 2007


moran
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:55 AM on January 27, 2007


also,

Asked for President Reagan’s reaction after winning a hard-fought 1981 vote in Congress authorizing the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia, the White House aide Michael Deaver told reporters the president exclaimed, “Thank God!” What Reagan actually said, according to someone in the room, was, “I feel like I’ve just crapped a pineapple.”

is awesome. i am too young to have strong feelings about reagan one way or another, but my opinion of him just went up a notch.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:58 AM on January 27, 2007


It makes me wonder if there's some sort of degenerative thing going on.

It'd take me all morning to find it, but over the last four or five years there's been speculation here in the blue and elsewhere online that he's getting medicated for some sort of problem and/or that he's got some serious psychological issues.
posted by pax digita at 2:49 AM on January 27, 2007


Moran

Moran

Moran

Moran

Moran

Moran (NSFW)

Moran
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:26 AM on January 27, 2007


Seriously, 6 years and 2 wars later, we're still debating whether or not Bush is a fucking idiot?

True or false, it's largely beside the point.
posted by psmealey at 4:24 AM on January 27, 2007


I agree. Whether he's actually stupid, or drunk, or fundied, or whatever, is less important than what he's done.

Same for Cheney being evil. After enough truly horrendous results, the debate becomes a distraction.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:48 AM on January 27, 2007


The long and short of it, according to the article, is that Bush lies to himself.

Bush isn't stupid per se. But he IS isolated and makes no effort to get beyond, which makes him lazy and hardly worthy of respect.

The article also makes the point that how people react to President's lying is often based on results. If Iraq HAD gone well, Bush would riding pretty obviously.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:14 AM on January 27, 2007


"He is unfettered by broad knowledge, and unmotivated to research an opposing argument’s merits. He possesses an unflappable ability to ignore reality in favor of reassuring illusions. And he has the genuine affability of a true simpleton.

He’s not evil. He’s just stupid."

I do not recall where I lifted this quote but it sums up our POTUS
posted by OXYMORON at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


A degree is never indicative of intellectual worth, it's only indicative of whether someone could afford to finance a higher education.

I don't know about this. I have had to work pretty hard for my grades, both intellectually and financially. Don't lump me in with that fucking bozo just because I can put initials at the end of my name.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:10 AM on January 27, 2007


i've said this myself here a few times -

"all presidents lie for the simple reason that if they didn’t, we wouldn’t elect them. “So the problem is not them, it’s us,” Hopkins told me recently. “We should look in the mirror.”

but resume your bickering over grades and intelligence and ignore me ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:38 AM on January 27, 2007


There should be a Federal law mandated that Reagan's little quip should be attatched to all buildings and institution's bearing his name:

Welcome to Ronald Reagan Airport!
You'll Feel Like You Crapped A Pineapple!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2007


A degree is never indicative of intellectual worth

Oh please.
posted by aaronetc at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2007


Oxymoron: Google is your friend.

Buffalo Beast would be your source--said of Tony Snow, nominated as new WH Secretary.

Snow further confirms his confusion by adding inexplicably that “Evolutionary theory…isn’t verifiable or testable,” and that “it’s pure hypothesis.” These assertions are creationist fantasy, and yet they surely improved his candidacy to speak for the White House. You just know Scott McClellan is a closet Darwinist.

Again, Snow displays here the traits necessary for a good professional liar. He is unfettered by broad knowledge, and unmotivated to research an opposing argument’s merits. He possesses an unflappable ability to ignore reality in favor of reassuring illusions. And he has the genuine affability of a true simpleton.

He’s not evil. He’s just stupid. And he’s perfect for his new job.


Clearly Snow is working for someone who shares these alleged traits. Back to lurking.
posted by palancik at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2007


Blazecock, amyms wasn't trying to lump you. I've met people with PhDs in various fields who were imbeciles and I'm not counting the people I know who never deserved whatever post-graduate degree they were conferred.

A degree is only indicative that someone had the financial means and the tenacity/favours to get conferred a piece of paper.

It's simple reductionism. A piece of paper doesn't necessarily mean someone worked hard or isn't a fucking bozo. The percentage of people who have higher degrees who are hardworking and intelligent may be higher than if you sampled the entire population but it doesn't mean all of them are hardworking and intelligent.
posted by porpoise at 10:01 AM on January 27, 2007


Did anyone get a feel for what Cannon's take on presidential lying was? If I had to summarize it I'd say that his opinion is that all presidents lie, have to lie, and the only thing that really matters are the results of the president's actions. But I'm not entirely sure that's what he meant.
posted by Kattullus at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2007


Carl Cannon: Why Presidents Lie

YoBananaBoy: Because their lips are moving.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2007


Wow, JFK could read twenty words per second?! Was he bionic?
posted by inoculatedcities at 12:21 PM on January 27, 2007


I've been thinking on this very topic on and off for a while over the last 6 or so years. There's no doubt Bush is a liar, but there isn't anything particularly special about that trait given all his other negative traits - his undeniable stupidity, his complete lack of integrity, and in fact his complete lack of posessing even one of any trait that one would wish for in a president: diplomacy, leadership, reserve, the ability to articulate a difficult position - that's the short list.

Let's ponder the Oath of Office that he has taken twice: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Now, he hasn't even held up that rather succinct pledge. If it was appended with a promise not to lie, it's unlikely he would have followed through on that one, either.

George Bush is notable in that he got the job he currently holds purely through personal and family connections. He has no political talent, nor has he ever had any. I don't believe he has even been politically ambitious enough to cover his weaknesses with a whole lot of charisma and desire. I think he has been handed opportunities and others have cleared the way neatly for him. The Yale & Harvard educations he received -- assuming he got anything at all intellectual out of them, which I also doubt - were just steps #1 and #2 in the overall plan. Perhaps he has only been able to justify being given so much that he really, truly doesn't deserve by the telling remarks about God having chosen him to these positions, because how else can somebody so out of touch with reality justify it?
posted by brain cloud at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2007


Did anyone get a feel for what Cannon's take on presidential lying was? If I had to summarize it I'd say that his opinion is that all presidents lie, have to lie, and the only thing that really matters are the results of the president's actions. But I'm not entirely sure that's what he meant.

I think you have it. For Cannon the key factor is not honesty but good judgment. All presidents lie; the good ones know when, and how, and most importantly, why to do it.

Of course the idea that our leaders operate on a different moral plane - and therefore that their virtue(s) must be judged differently - is not a new one:

Some may wonder how it can happen that Agathocles, and his like, after infinite treacheries and cruelties, should not be conspired against by their own citizens. I believe that this follows from cruelty being well or badly used. Cruelty is well used, if one can say 'well' of such evil, when it is applied at one blow when necessary to one's security, and not persisted in afterwards. Cruelty is badly employed when it commences in a small way, to then multiply with time.
Injuries ought to be done all at once, so that, being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.

Machiavelli, the Prince, Chap. VIII

posted by Urban Hermit at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2007


good article, but doesn't go far enough, i don't think.

Very very related: Why we don't like him
posted by amberglow at 2:49 PM on January 27, 2007


Thanks Palancik. My laziness is obvious. I copied the quote to forward to blogger joe powell and forgot the source.

Loved the Beast's profile of 50 most loathesome people

http://buffalobeast.com/113/50_most_loathsome_2006.htm
posted by OXYMORON at 3:35 PM on January 27, 2007


Spalt: small point, but President Bush's grades were actually a little better than Senator Kerry's.

Surprised to see so many hate-Bush posts on here right now. Did the convocation let out early?
posted by Slap Factory at 3:37 PM on January 27, 2007


why are you surprised? do you understand this?
posted by sergeant sandwich at 4:39 PM on January 27, 2007


Wow, JFK could read twenty words per second?! Was he bionic?

no, just a metafilter regular
posted by pyramid termite at 5:19 PM on January 27, 2007


Correlation doesn't prove causation.

I really wish people would stop saying this all the time unless they're actually referring to a study like "Purple Pants Cause Cancer!" The phrase doesn't mean that no one can ever make a deduction or comparison or observation ever again.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:23 PM on January 27, 2007


"Purple Pants Cause Cancer!"

Wish I would have known that three years ago.
posted by flarbuse at 6:07 PM on January 27, 2007


"He is unfettered by broad knowledge..."

I am SO saving that for bitchy cocktail party use.
posted by rokusan at 9:36 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Blazecock, amyms wasn't trying to lump you. I've met people with PhDs in various fields who were imbeciles and I'm not counting the people I know who never deserved whatever post-graduate degree they were conferred.

Statements like this come from a basic misconception. PhDs aren't geniuses, but they are all bright - they have to be, just to function within the world of research. But they only have to be bright within an extremely limited area. So a biochemist needs to understand the complex forces of life itself, but they could be like a kindergardener when it comes to military or international policy. Just I have met more than one brilliant historian who struggled to manage their own computer (even when running a Mac).

To be honest, being interested in a large variety of things can be a detriment to doing well in the academic world - it makes it harder to focus on what you need to (which is always very narrow). There are a very few rare individuals who are able to balance being well-informed on a wide variety of subjects, especially across the sciences/social sciences/humanities divides, and the few I've met have been actual geniuses.

So in other worlds - just because someone has a PhD, it doesn't mean they will have any more understanding of anything outside of their field than you do, but that doesn't mean they are stupid.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Back on topic:

I'm not American, and I'm too young to remember him serving, but Jimmy Carter is just about the most inspirational American president of the twentieth century.

A little while ago, I listened to the whole of his so-called "Malaise" speech, and what I heard was remarkable and unknown in my lifetime: a serving politician speaking frankly and honestly to his constiuents, and treating them like intelligent people. He didn't pass the buck, far from blaming the American people, he took on responsibility in a way I have never before witnessed. It left me with a feeling of awe, and dread. I knew that this man, being so upright and honest, would be eviscerated for it. Actually, immediately after that speech, his approval rating shot way up (a friend of mine did his PhD on presidential speeches and I heard a short paper analysing the effects of this one).

But his honesty was used against him by his opponents, because voters don't really want politicians to be honest. They say they want honesty, but it is a deathknoll for a politician to be willing to say that they have made mistakes. We expect small children to master these most basic principles of honesty and responsibility -- but we will not tolerate them in leaders. It isn't pessimism -- it's truth.

So the voters have gotten what they have voted for: they have voted for glib optimism over complicated truth. They have the incompetent and untrustworthy officers of state that they have chosen.
posted by jb at 2:10 AM on January 29, 2007


Very very related: Why we don't like him

Playing the victim seems to be the new talking point:
"There is a lot of politics in Washington -- in my judgment, needless politics. And it's almost like, 'If George Bush is for it, we're against it,' and 'If he's against it, we're for it.' And the American people don't like that," Bush said.
posted by peeedro at 6:16 PM on January 29, 2007


a serving politician speaking frankly and honestly to his constiuents, and treating them like intelligent people. He didn't pass the buck, far from blaming the American people, he took on responsibility in a way I have never before witnessed.

And he was crucified for it, politically at least. Jimmy Carter's Presidency died that we may have all been born again.

All kidding aside, I do think historians will point to the malaise speech as the turning point in American history. We had just crossed over into being a debtor nation (1974, I think), and terrible troubles with regard to resource issues were already popping up on the horizon. We had an opportunity at the point to try and fix what was wrong, and provide something of a sustainable future for your children and children's children. Instead, we chose to reject Carter, got on board with "morning in America" and got hooked on debt and deficit spending.
posted by psmealey at 8:00 AM on January 30, 2007


jb: I picked up Hendrik Hertzberg's Politics the other day, and discovered that Hertzberg had been one of Carter's speechwriters. He discusses Carter--sympathetically but analytically--and the malaise speech in particular.

On Carter's honesty:
Carter's disdain for artifice served him well as long as things were going his way, but when things weren't going his way it created problems for him, because it essentially deprived him of the full use of one of the basic tools of statecraft. He didn't like to perform--in the sense of giving a performance. He hated to pretend to be feeling emotions he wasn't actually feeling at that moment. And of course that kind of pretending is essential to making an effective political speech, which is a theatrical turn. You have to act like you're feeling pride or sorrow or the swell of patriotic feeling, even if at that particular moment, the moment the speech is scheduled for, what you really want is to be home in bed....
On the "malaise" speech:
The received version of what happened is simple. It goes like this: in the summer of 1979, President Carter was overwhelmed by energy and economic crises. In desperation, he made a disastrous speech blaming the American people and a national "malaise" for his own manifest failures of policy and leadership. The American people, horrified, turned him out of office at the first opportunity. ...

It goes almost without saying that the historical reality and the political caricature do not comport with one another. ... 1. Carter himself never mentioned the word "malaise." 2. The speech itself was an enormous popular success. It generated a record amount of positive mail to the White House, and Carter's approval rating in the polls zoomed up by eleven points literally overnight. 3. The sudden political damage came not from the speech but from the cabinet firings a few days later. 4. Although Carter has been flayed for blaming others, the first third of the speech is devoted to the most excoriating self-criticism ever heard from any American president. As these details suggest, the "malaise" episode has become encrusted in myth. ...

The speech engendered a mixed reaction among the elites, although it did get mostly favorable editorial comment in its immediate aftermath. But three days later, Carter asked for the resignations of the whole of his cabinet and senior staff, telling them he would decide which ones to accept. He hoped that this would be the beginning of a regeneration of his administration--an infusion of new blood and new ideas, and a signal that even those whom he would decide to keep on would be starting anew. Instead, the mass resignations created an unanticipated and unwelcome global sensation; many foreign newspapers and governments, whose grasp of the intricacies of the American political system was imperface, actually believed that the United States government had "fallen." It was at this point, I think, that the elites decided that Carter was finished. Within a few weeks this view had trickled down to the public, and Carter's popularity ratings dropped back down to the abysmal level where they had been at the outset. ...

... The speech was a truthful and prescient diagnosis of what was wrong with the country and what in many ways continues to be wrong with the country. But a president who sets out to diagnose a problem had better be able to offer a plausible solution to it. The Carter of the "malaise" episode was a prophet. But he was not a savior.
posted by russilwvong at 9:46 PM on February 6, 2007


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