After today's column, posted below, an anonymous reader wrote this:
What I willn't believe is that you gave George Bush credit for anything. You wrote a column (not sure how to look up) at the end of his Presidency saying exactly that there was nothing good from it. You would not even give him credit for addressing AIDS in Africa. This is standard oppositional crap. The new guy is terrible (fascist, communist, child beater) the previous standard bearer was much better and believable. You can's stand Trump I get it. But don't pretend to make yourself better by pretending 8 years later you ever gave Bush credit.Sigh. Part of what makes dumb people dumb is they don't get the whole past-is-accessible-to-us-today-and-can-be-checked thing. Normally, I tell people I'm busy enough reacting to what I actually write without also addressing whatever you imagine I wrote. But since this wanker is so completely wrong, I couldn't resist illustrating one of the many examples of how I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt that his ilk always denied Obama. People just assume others are as unfair and doctrinaire as they are. We're not. At least I'm not. This ran before Bush even took office.
Those Jay Leno jokes practically write themselves.
I was reading a news account of how scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have just produced the highest density matter ever created experimentally.
"Scientists," begins my imaginary Leno, expectantly rubbing his hands together, bouncing on the balls of his feet and surveying the audience, "at the Brookhaven National Laboratory . . . have smashed the nuclei of gold atoms together . . . creating the densest material known to man . . . outside of George Bush's brain."
OK, I didn't say it was a good Jay Leno joke.
But the fact is, Bush will be president in a few days, and we can expect a constant stream of ridicule based on the perception that the 43rd president is not the sharpest tack in the box.
Even NBC's hushed, reverent, presidential, image-building interview with Tom Brokaw had to include Bush's reaction to a snippet of Leno bashing Bush (a better joke than mine: basically that the president-elect and his dog have begun playing catch with a Frisbee since Bush "was tired of losing at Scrabble.") Bush replied, quite cleverly, that he goes to bed at 9:45, though first-lady-to-be Laura, who seems to suffer from candor, said that, yes, indeed it does hurt.
The perception of Bush as dumb persists, despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, he has not uttered anything particularly stupid. Unlike with Dan Quayle, there is no enormous body of gaffes and spoonerisms supporting this perception. Bush hasn't said anything famously dumb.
Oh, there was that pop quiz of 1999, when a Boston TV reporter (TV reporters being famous for their vast sweep of knowledge) asked Bush to name the leaders of Chechnya, India, Taiwan and Pakistan.
Bush punted all four, and while the story lingered, it did not particularly damage him among the electorate, perhaps because Americans are famously self-absorbed, and not one in a hundred could name any of those leaders, never mind all four. I certainly couldn't and neither could you.
What has damaged Bush's reputation, I believe, is not his calling Kosovars "Kosovarians" or his C average at Yale, but his facial expression. He just looks dumb, paradoxically, because of a certain intensity, as if he is listening hard, trying to decipher a language he only barely understands. It was that lost, cross-eyed expression, punctuated by his hey-I-got-that-one-right smirk, that almost handed the election to Al Gore, whose robotic, facts-on-file demeanor has practically made being smart into a liability.
Frankly, being smart is a liability, in the sense that being smart often blinds you to factors that frequently trump intelligence (why do you think they call it "dumb luck"?)
Being smart certainly was Bill Clinton's undoing — it emboldened him into striding toward the mistakes and misdeeds of his presidency, under the false impression that a bright boy like himself could always bluff his way out, as he had in the past. (He did, in a way, but at what greater cost?)
When I polled my colleagues over exactly why George Bush is seen as dumb, one blurted out: "I don't want a drinking buddy, I want a leader who is smarter than me."
I don't. God save us from smart people. I am never so optimistic about Bush's prospects as when people are calling him an idiot. I still freshly remember an earlier president whom the chattering classes — myself among them — worked themselves into a sweat dismissing as a simpleton and a fool, filling little gift books with his mistaken statements about trees causing pollution and such. That president was Ronald Reagan, and history has been kind to him. Maybe George Bush will surprise us.
I mean, how dumb could he really be? He got himself elected president.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 11, 2001