That great iconoclast H.L. Mencken used to argue that despite their
seeming zeal for
democracy, Americans were a gullible, timorous lot who would gladly swear fealty to a king.
Should they permit the manifestly unqualified George W. Bush to inherit the presidency
on Nov. 7, voters will have gone a long way toward proving Mencken right. For Americans
to elect Bush would be like the British making Prince Charles their prime minister, except
that the heir to the British throne isn't quite the dimwit satirists make him out to be.
The Texas dauphin's intellectual shortcomings, alas, are all too real.
We came to this opinion somewhat reluctantly. But
just because the Washington press
clique bills the race as The Dope vs. The Dissembler doesn't make Bush qualified to be
president. Even the proverbial blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. Virtually all of
Al Gore's "exaggerations" are media inventions, but they've actually underplayed Dubya's
ignorance. The GOP candidate's stunning incoherence during the presidential debates
Unfortunately, calling Republicans stupid has never
worked as a campaign strategy.
Democrats who thought Eisenhower dumb were kidding themselves. Even in grade school,
we wondered how such a simpleton managed to command the armies that defeated Hitler.
Mocking Reagan as an ignoramus never worked either. True, large parts of the visible world
were invisible to The Gipper, but the man did have a few strong convictions, a veteran actor's
stage presence and the willpower to clamber his way to the top.
Bush, on the other hand, was born there. He's achieved
little or nothing on his own,
coasting on Daddy's money and Daddy's connections all his life. Family pull got him into
Yale and smoothed his path away from Vietnam and into the Texas Air National Guard.
Although he never took a scheduled flight physical in 1973 and no record can be found that
he ever reported for duty in Alabama that year, Bush somehow emerged with an honorable
discharge. His business career consists of one false start after another.
Buoyed by the family name and other people's money, Dubya went bust
in three separate
ventures, escaping each time with a healthy profit, although other investors were not so lucky.
Not until fellow investors who owned the other 98.2
percent of the Texas Rangers gave
him the ceremonial role of "owner" did Bush participate in a successful business venture,
and then only by using his considerable charm to persuade Arlington, Texas, voters to tax
themselves to build the team a palatial new ballpark that greatly increased the team's value.
Grateful fellow investors presented Bush with shares worth $15 million, which he promptly
cashed in to begin his political career.
As Texas governor during the Clinton economic boom,
his amiable personality made him
a popular figure in a state whose citizens congratulate themselves on their rugged individualism,
although the ultimate source of their wealth is the same as Saudi Arabia's. The campaign funds
that bought him the GOP nomination were put up mainly by Daddy's oil-rich friends.
Indeed, the great irony of the 2000 presidential
race is that Americans have grown so fat
and happy due to the successful economic policies of Bill Clinton, a brainy striver up from
darkest Arkansas, that many appear to believe that almost anybody capable of knotting his
own necktie can handle the presidency. If Bush gets the job, it's fascinating to wonder
who'd actually do it.
The most puzzling thing about the Gore campaign to
date is how badly the vice president
has done at the simple storytelling aspect of running for president. Without Clinton's 1993
budget and Gore's tie-breaking vote to pass it over unanimous GOP opposition, there'd be
no argument over how to spend the budget surplus, because there wouldn't be any budget
surplus, only oceans of red ink.
It makes us crazy that the Gore campaign isn't running
TV ads showing one Republican
savant after another predicting fiscal doom and pointing out that Bush's tax cuts are based
upon precisely the same failed economic theories. The same geniuses who brought us savings
and loan reform under Ronald Reagan now promise to accomplish miracles for Social Security.
So why not say so?
See, it's not so much that Bush lacks the intellectual
equipment to do the job.
It's the combination of his formidable ignorance and the blinding prejudices of his class.
"The problem is probably laziness or complacence
rather than actual inability," Slate's
Michael Kinsley observes, "and journalists' reluctance to call someone who may well be
our next commander-in-chief a moron is understandable. But if George W. Bush isn't a
moron, he is a man of impressive intellectual dishonesty and/or confusion. His utterances
frequently make no sense on their own terms. His policy recommendations are often
internally inconsistent and mutually contradictory."
It hasn't helped that the media have lowered the
bar for Bush to a height an agile basset
hound could clear. It wasn't seen as a gaffe that for months he appeared not to grasp that
the $1 trillion he'd divert to "privatize" Social Security was already committed to pay seniors'
benefits. Nor was it a lie when he mocked Gore's "fuzzy math" in the first presidential debate,
then casually admitted his opponent's numbers were correct during the third.
Nor when he falsely said Gore's campaign outspent
his when the GOP's outspent the
Democrats almost 2-to-1. Even when Bush took credit for a patient's bill of rights he'd
first vetoed, then allowed to become law without his signature, only Clinton called his hand.
"One thing about insurance," Bush said. "That's a
Nobody laughed. Poor little princeling, he'd just gotten confused.
Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National
His column appears on Wednesdays.