A Little Bit More on Bush's Brain

Yesterday's post about Bush's intelligence drew some interesting comments. (There were also several comments on the version that later appeared at The Smirking Chimp.) I thought I might address some of them in this follow-up post. There were some good insights offered among the comments, so this is in no way a "counterblast," simply a further elucidation of some points I was trying to make in the original post.

One comment ran: "WTF happen to you! Did you get hit on the head by a 2x4? Bush is the figurehead of Bush Co. He no more runs the policies of Bush Co. than Aunt Jemima makes pancakes."

Another, noting my previous description of Bush as a "gibbering goon," notes: "Chris, my man, I'm not sure if you can have your cake and eat it, too. Are we saddled with an evil dimwit puppet or with a self-aware megalomaniac? Is it possible to be both? ... It is important, I suppose, to correctly size him up. But I'm not sure one can do an about-face based on one quote from David Frum."

Other commenters added considerably to what I was trying to say, such as "Liquified Viscera's" point: "It is hard to conceive for many Americans, but the truth is that both Cheney and Bush see themselves as above the law, above culpability, and of a different specie of human than those of us who are middle class or lower, those of us who get sent off to death or partial dismemberment in the Middle East so that Halliburton and Big Oil may profit mightily and establish a long-term presence. They are more sinister than Reagan's Contras/guns/drugs scamming."

While "Paul" adds: "[Bush's] state of mind during the mayhem he's been creating, the deep delusions he is so obviously suffering from (he thinks he's doing good! He's like Churchill!): in the end it's all of minor importance. We know them by their deeds, don't we?"

Yes, that is the bottom line, of course. It is their actions, not their intentions, that matter. But I think the misconstrual of Bush's role, and his awareness of what's going on, is also important, if only because this misconstrual could lead to a mitigation of his guilt. And so, to my reply:

I don't think yesterday's post is an "about-face"; it's simply another facet of the portrait of Bush. Obviously, the premises he acts upon, the policies he pushes, the worldview he embraces are all devoid of any intellectual rigor. But that is chiefly because they are devoid of any genuine humanity, any interest in moving beyond the confines of our very limited selves and engaging actively and constructively with other minds, other mores, other points of view.

The examination of this facet is not based on one quote from David Frum. Almost everyone who has ever met Bush -- including people virulently opposed to him -- has testified that on those subjects in which he is interested -- oil, money, war, torture, politics, baseball and his own sweet self -- he is indeed intelligent, aware, keen and articulate. Almost all of his famous verbal gaffes have come when he is discussing some aspect of domestic policy, or trying to appear to care about anyone below his exalted station (as LV notes); then we get "make the pie higher" and other such gibberish -- because he simply cannot make himself care enough to articulate these concerns.

As for "gibbering goon" -- that's a description of his public persona, and also of his moral nullity. To me, one can be a "goon" and still be very aware of what he is doing. This is the main point I'm trying to make. Yes, I too often rage against Bush and his people as "stupid," because their policies are stupid -- if one cares about the genuine interests of the United States, and the project of human civilization in general, and the fate of individual human beings everywhere. And yes, I call them "third-rate intellects" for that is what they are, because their ideas lack all human dimension, without which there is no genuine intellectual content, merely cheap justifications of our baser instincts: greed and domination and fear, etc. I will no doubt call them "stupid" again in various contexts. The word is an insult, and intended as one, an explosion of outrage at some new crime or vast hypocrisy. I think such anger is legitimate under the circumstances, and I'm not too concerned about parsing every expression of it to a fare-thee-well.

At the same time, I would like to try harder to avoid falling into the trap of taking the Bush gang -- not at their word, exactly, but at face value. For that's what we do when we rail against their policies as "stupid"; i.e., "You invaded Iraq with a stripped-down army and an occupation regime of talentless, ignorant Republican hacks? How could you be so stupid?" And yes, as noted above, such a policy was extremely stupid -- from the viewpoint of genuine concern for the interests of the American people, the stability of the geopolitical situation, and human life in general. But as I have tried to point out, over and over, for years now, the Bush Regime is not operating on such terms. Again, as I said yesterday, as I've been saying all along, they are doing exactly what they have always intended to do: plant military bases in Iraq (and Central Asia and Africa), dominate the world's oil supplies (and increase the profits of their colleagues and contributors in the oil industry), vastly expand the already gargantuan American military establishment, gut any possible encroachments on rapacious corporate power, and establish an "executive dictatorship" above the law. (I wrote my first column about this latter policy in November 2001.)

They are -- as they have proven -- quite willing to accept the very obvious risks of pursuing such policies. Why? Because, as I pointed out yesterday (for the nth time), even if their actions are not entirely successful -- or even if they turn into unmitigated disasters, like Iraq -- the Bush gangsters still reap enormous benefits. Whatever happens now, their cronies have been unimaginably enriched. Their fringe political views have been brought into the very center of national life. The military establishment has been vastly expanded. They have acted with the arbitrary power of dictators for years, setting up a gulag of secret prisons, detaining thousands of people without charge for indefinite detention, violating with impunity laws to protect the privacy and liberty of the American people, and on and on. And they themselves will pay none of the costs for all this. They live -- and will continue to live -- in luxury and safety, protected against any of the horrific blowback from their policies.

And almost all of these polices were spelled out, in plain sight, before this gang ever seized power. Yet sometimes we still fall into that trap -- "You say you want to liberate Iraq, but you've plunged it into hell! How stupid! You say you want to liberate Afghanistan, but you turned it over to warlords, drug lords and Islamic extremists! How stupid! You say you are fighting terrorism, but your policies are increasing it! How stupid are you?" and so on. The point, of course, is that every single public statement they make regarding the goals of their policies is an outright, goddamned lie. And it is a knowing lie. They know they are lying, because they know what they really want, they know what they are really doing. And they think that all these things -- increased terrorism, indescribable suffering in Iraq, chaos and war in Afghanistan, etc. etc. -- are very acceptable prices to pay for what they want. They are knowing liars -- and George W. Bush is one of the knowers.

I want to have no more truck with the idea that Bush is somehow a dupe, or simply a dope, or nothing more than a front man. Yes, he is willfully ignorant about anything outside his narrow, selfish, unexamined prejudices and concerns. Yes, he is lazy, simply adopting the plans and ideas of others, as long as these plans and ideas advance his prejudices and concerns. Yes, the hard work of actually instituting the sinister policies of his clique is left up to others, such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. But none of this means that Bush is not fully cognizant of what his administration is really doing, and why it is doing it, and the true costs of these policies. He does know. He just doesn't care.

How is that an about-face from anything I've ever written about this hideous gang of moral cretins? And why would anyone want to adopt a stance that in any way mitigates the guilt of this man -- the "amiable doofus" defense, the "puppet" ploy, the "clueless front man" pose? Let him stand convicted in the fullness of his crimes. In those fell words from Shakespeare: "Let it come down."