Friday, August 25

Speaking of Idiots Speaking of Idiots Speaking

Kathleen Parker, "Intellectually Curious George", Townhall, August 23

AFTERTHOUGHT: John Hinderacker, "Hail to the Chief"

Like clear cola, it's difficult to say who had the idea first here, but it is clear who's got the bigger psychological problem:
But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues--freedom, most of all.

By contrast, Parker is a paragon of rationality:
Bush-bashing for sport has never lacked fans in the blogosphere, but questioning the president's intelligence lately has gone mainstream.

Okay, wait up. By "going mainstream" she means "was mentioned on Joe Scarborough's show." Is it too late to reconsider who's more delusional? No? Okay, it's still Assrocket.
Scarborough wasn't calling Bush an idiot, mind you. He was just quoting that renowned American intellectual, Linda Ronstadt. Recently, Ronstadt had commented on the president's performance while attending an international summit of heads of state.

Man, that must have stung. Especially coming from Kathleen Parker, who is invited to every important international summit, and so would know.

We might take a moment or two to ponder exactly who Kathleen Parker is to be ridiculing someone else's intellectual standing, but as W.V. Quine once said, "Who?"

Instead let us note that Ronstadt made news for calling Bush an idiot over two years ago, so perhaps a better question is, "Far-right mouthpieces bring this up in an election year just as Republicans are trying to distance themselves from The Idiot? Just how big an idiot do you imagine everyone else is?"

Now then, Ms Parker, the rest of us have been at this for awhile, and we've pretty much caught up with all three possible explanations for Bush's idiocy. And yours' is...?

Language barrier.

This theory occurred to me not long ago at an off-the-record luncheon with Bush and a hundred or so of his supporters. I was the guest of a guest, and welcomed the opportunity to observe the president in his natural habitat.

What I witnessed was revealing. Not only was the man fluent in the English language and intellectually agile, he was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects raised during a 90-minute Q&A. Someone apparently had been slipping intellectual-curiosity tablets into Bush's cola.

Toward the end, one of the guests said, ``Mr. President, I think if Americans could hear you speak the way you have today, you'd have a 95 percent approval rating.''

And then he got back behind the wheel of his cab.
I think that's almost true. Not 95 percent, obviously, but he'd surely have a higher than 30 percent approval rating were he better able to explain what he's thinking. Bush does know; he just can't seem to say.

The question is why?

My theory dovetails with something one of his most acerbic critics, columnist Molly Ivins, once wrote: ``George W. Bush sounds like English is his second language.'' That's because it's true. ``Washington English'' (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) a second language for Bush; ``Texas English'' is his first.

When he tries to speak Washington English, which is the way Bush thinks presidents are supposed to speak -- over-enunciating and sprinkling his comments with awkward aphorisms -- he fumbles. He forgets what he's saying because the thoughts and words are not his own.

This is also when his annoying sibilance kicks in. The ``terroristsssssss," he says when ``terrorists" would do. My guess is he over-enunciates to cover his prairie accent, but the effect is, well, sssssstrange.

Y'know, when I first read this I thought it would be the focus of my response. "Texas English is Bush's first language" is in fact more ridiculous than the image of him as a brush-clearin' cowpoke. He's an effete, cosseted, Eastern prep school party boy who moved to Texas to spend other people's money on the chance that might make him rich. His "Texas" has never been authentic. That's not to say it's put on--he's too much of an idiot for that--but it's the adoption of a generic accentualizing which comes in part from being submerged in a culture with a pervasive and seductive ear--Yanks don't have to live in Britain long before they flatten their "a"s--and in part as the argot of the Texas Rich Guy Club, a sort of aural fraternity handshake.

But fuck that. The comment is too absurd to waste time on. Just as an American must pick up the energy and raise the voicing an octave to do an effective generic British accent, so too does the Easterner or Midwesterner simply lapse into a species of laziness to achieve that drawl. It doesn't mean there isn't some attendant laziness behind it.


Let's have a brief review of the Republican responses to seven years of "Bush is an idiot", shall we?

1. "No he's not."

2. "Yeah, he's an idiot, all right. An idiot like a fox."

3. "Okay, he sounds like an idiot, he exhibits none of the intellectual curiosity or competent grasp of the issues we'd like in a President, but he WON!"

4. "Wow, that was the most inspiring speech I've ever heard a politician give."

They're all delusional, it's just that some are more delusional than others (guess who?). Bush is an idiot. He's not an idiot in the old sense of IQ deficiency, and he's not an idiot just in the sense of doing something stupid based on a faulty grasp of reality, the way we can say, "What an idiot" when someone trips over an obstacle the rest of us categorized as "in plain sight," the way all of us are idiots sometimes.

For far too long, and at far too great a cost, his supporters were able to hide the real meaning of "Bush is an idiot" behind those two strawmen. But, damn, unless you get all your news from what the Right still seems to insist are unvarnished sources, you have to be aware that that game has been lost for some time. 9/11 and the attendant incessant public cheerleading gave George W. Bush a pass long after the public had written him off as a thinker. It eventually found the courage to write him off as a match for the office. That is simply how things are.

Now, a lot of people don't want to believe it, even people who've felt, or come to believe, that George W. Bush's values don't match their own, that he's less than honest and less than truthful. Some of them may have accepted the idea that the President is simply not a good public speaker, the Texas-sized line of codswallop you expect us to swallow this week. But it's not the case. Any native speaker of English knows that what's going on when George W. Bush speaks in public is not simple stagefright, ADD, regional speech variation, dyslexia, or a tendency towards Malapropisms. Speech is not merely words conveyed by sound, or we'd all be driving Ford Pintos. Bush communicates a lot of things when he speaks; among those is a lack of intellectual curiosity, an intolerance for difference of opinion, a sizeable inferiority complex and the concomitant rich boy's mean streak in response. "Bush is an idiot" means a lot of things, many of them things which come straight out of his mouth.

It's not surprising to hear that George W. does better when he's surrounded by a group of sycophants. It's to be expected. He's the living embodiment of the Gentleman's C. It's bad enough that it's taken you this long to even acknowledge the problem. Don't make it worse by claiming it's next to groundless.


The Hinderrocker piece was not only too delusional to take seriously enough to make fun of, it was also to similar to his "George W. Bush, Smartest Man in the World" thingie from a while back. I'm not sure what it means when you're willing to do that twice. I am sure what this means, though:
I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history. And he sees himself as anything but a lame duck, which is why he is stumping for Republican candidates around the country.

It means that before you went completely around the bend you somehow managed to avoid even a cursory familiarity with your own history and your own times.

10 comments:

D. Sidhe said...

Preach it, Brother Riley.

You know, the fact that Dubya doesn't see himself as a lame duck, which he pretty much definitionally is aside from the perfect willingness to break the law, seems like a decent place to start in the Let's Review The Facts parade.

He's an idiot. He's not the sort of idiot I am, where I spent five minutes this morning trying to figure out why my TV wasn't working before realizing I had hit the input button accidentally. That's a garden-variety idiocy, as you said, that we all are sometimes.

He's not an idiot in that he has a really low IQ. Presumably he wouldn't have made it this far with an actual idiot-range IQ. Well, we can hope, anyway.

You have pretty much exactly nailed why he's an idiot, though I sincerely think the biggest part of it is that he genuinely believes that things are how he understands them to be, even in the face of evidence that he just doesn't understand how things *are*. It's not even that he can't admit he's wrong--it's that he doesn't get that that would be a possibility.

That probably contributes to why his supporters think he's brilliant--as far as they're concerned, things *are* as he understand them to be.

The lack of intellectual curiosity is by comparison merely a national disgrace.

The funny thing is, this whole "Well, he's really bright, he just doesn't speak well" thing is pretty much what I have always believed to be his father's problem.

This in no way correlates to a wise or even decent man. But he was damned smart. He doesn't seem to have ever really given a damn about people he hadn't met, even the ones he was allegedly in charge of helping, but that seems to be something of a family tradition. They don't see poor people, or people who are in any way different. He also seems to have expected loyalty from those who he'd given no reason to be loyal, but that's apparently a family trait, too.

He was, on the other hand, a string-puller and a backroom manipulator. I know people will disagree, but I seriously think he got away with a lot of shit that nobody ever managed to pin on him, but we're entering tinfoil hat territory. He got misunderestimated, too. He seemed like a genial establishment WASPy twit, and unlike his son, he genuinely doesn't seem to have minded people assuming he wasn't too smart.

Dubya can go on about his delight in being underestimated, but it's clear enough that he hates the implication that he's dumb. It's a challenge, and he loathes it. From some of the stories about him in college, it's pretty clear he always has.

But where a lot of people would have gone out and tried to learn enough things that people wouldn't call them stupid anymore, he seems to have gotten belligerant and defiant: They say I'm stupid, I'll show them. I'm gonna go the rest of my life and prove I don't have to know what they think I should know.

Sulking isn't uncommon. But it's probably something we have a right to expect our president to not engage in.

His entire term of office has been a prolonged, middle-finger-extended, sneering-at-the-teacher, I-know-I'm-special, you-and-whose-army sulk.

And the people who voted for him still see it as Marlon Brando doing "Whaddaya got?"* They think it's cool, man. That'll show all those eggheads. We never won a spelling bee, either, and we're doing okay. Now get out the doctor bills, and let's try to balance the checkbook before O'Reilly comes on.

* Yeah, I know what Lileks said, but, hell, Lileks is his own kind of idiot.

Michael Dietz said...

D. Sidhe: I sincerely think the biggest part of it is that he genuinely believes that things are how he understands them to be, even in the face of evidence that he just doesn't understand how things *are*. It's not even that he can't admit he's wrong--it's that he doesn't get that that would be a possibility.

But it's instructive here to compare Dubya's delusional mindset to Reagan's (the Real Father his entire Presidency is devoted to claiming for himself): think of the serene, above-it-all, "facts are stupid things" quality of Reagan's relationship to reality. By contrast, it's impossible to miss the edge of hysteria in Bush II's. I think Bush does, in fact, get that being wrong would be a possibility: I think he gets it all too well, and is terrified that the world would simply collapse around him if he ever were forced to believe he was wrong, or could be. He keeps a white-knuckle grip on his certainty that reality is what he says it is because the notion of an ungovernable reality--a really real reality--is intolerable to him. (It's barely tolerable to most of us, of course, but most of us aren't nearly so pathological about it.)

As I understand it (not from personal experience, thank God), it's a key part of the whole dry-drunk complex.

spaghetti happens said...

I'm uncomfortable with the notion that Bush-is-an-idiot doesn't necessarily imply that he has a low IQ.

I beg to differ, though who among us will ever see his test scores--except one, which as I recall was the AFOQT, the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. Bush scored in the 25th percentile, the lowest acceptible score. Three-fourths of his fellow applicants scored higher; that's not a good sign, although slacker that he is, Bush might not have given a shit about doing well on the test, and so showed up with his pencil, marked the questions at random and went home figuring Dad would take care of everything. In other words, the test would not have been a fair measure of his intelligence.

I doubt this, given his initial enthusiasm for flying and the good reports from his instructors. (Okay, give the guy 10 percentile points. That puts him all the way up to only two thirds of applicants doing better.)

I think that Bush really is a low-IQ idiot--a churlish and stupid man, whose stupidity is magnified and intensified by his inbred lack of character. Truly the American version of a "hereditary king".

KathyR said...

I also beg to differ. He doesn't seem that gentlemanly, either.

D. Sidhe said...

Well, my view of IQ tests is somewhat marred by the fact that I once scored an 89. God knows he could well be low-IQ, and you have a series of excellent points about the Air Force test. Though I seem to recall the nitwits and halfwits who make up his base gleefully explaining that he had a higher IQ than Kerry, which would fit nicely in with my own perceptions of IQ test scores. I like to hope, rather optimistically, I realize, that there was, I dunno, *some* basis for that claim.

And no, a gentleman he is not, and nor is his father. Molly Ivins, Ms Parker, also has made the exceptionally astute observation that the Bushes seem to regard politics as a dirty business with no honor or rules and behave accordingly. She also, funnily enough, is of the opinion that Dubya's lack of finesse with the language is the least of all the indications that he is not a bright guy.

She wasn't giving the man a *pass* when she said he spoke English like it was his second language. She was pointing out that he's also horribly, arrogantly disengaged from any sense that he owes any of us anything. That he is, to echo Doghouse, legacy lazy. He feels he's entitled to sound however he wants, and the rest of us should just damned well adapt.

I'm guessing Ms Parker feels that's something we owe him as our president. Oddly enough, I feel he owes *us* some sense that he cares about how he sounds. He's the leader, for God's sake. Leaders have to communicate effectively. If he didn't want to bother, he had no business taking the job.

And, michael, I've spotted the hysteria, too, and couldn't pin down what it was. You've got Reagan nailed down. He'd pretty much say how he thought things were once and the rest of us were supposed to make it so. It's certainly reasonable to suspect Dubya keeps repeating himself to convince himself. But seperate from the hysteria is also definite impatience, like "How could you possibly not understand this?"

It really bothers me that our nation has fallen far enough that we're expected to deal with, let alone attempt to figure out, this shallow, selfish, son of a bitch. As recently as twenty years ago, that would have been the job of a well-compensated therapist in a private but toney facility.

"Why are we wasting our time on this *nobody*?" I demanded the other day. My partner looked up. "He *is* the president." "He's still a nobody, and that just makes it worse."

jackd said...

The fact that Parker could make her "Texas English" comment after quoting Molly Ivins is just astonishing. Does she not know who Molly Ivins is, or does she assume her readers don't?

s.z. said...

I know that I am late in replying to this post, but can I just say that Mr. Riley is a genius, while Mr. Bush is a mediocrity promoted WAY beyong his level of incompetence.

D. Sidhe said...

Indeed. I know life ain't fair, but I feel there are limits to what we should have to put up with.

apocalipstick said...

Want a real twist? Kathleen Parker is part of the "faculty" of the Buckly School of Public Speaking, founded by Reid Buckley, Bill's younger brother. Shouldn't she be looking into a hardship admission for Dubya?

Chris Vosburg said...

d. sidhe, intelligence is, as you surely know, an artifact, so it's not an objective measure of anything but "what the test measures," as Binet said while nimbly dodging the question.

And you're the proof, "89." I'd give anything for your incisiveness, or agility with the language, and I've gone far too long without pointing it out, cookie.

Inicidentally, the Air Force test in question was an aptitude test, and a measure of ability to work with concepts germane to flying a very fast plane-- so is not really an "IQ" test per se, and the supporters who laud Bush's intellectual superiority over Kerry do so as a result of a higher aggregate grade point average in undergraduate years, not surprising given Dubya's doubtless gravitation toward the least challenging courses.

He's a dope, nevertheless.