Is Bush smarter than a fourth-grader?

Notes from the political sidelines.
May 17 2007 3:58 PM

Is Bush Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader?

Maybe he's failing on purpose, to help our young people make gains in civics and history.

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Instead of retracting his previous statement, the former prosecutor introduced a new loophole for his defense, explaining his comments as "academic." Giuliani wasn't endorsing a flat tax in reality; he was endorsing it in theory—which, serendipitously, is the only place a flat tax might work. The risk is that a rival campaign will launch a 10-second attack ad of Giuliani mouthing words that would strike fear in the hearts of conservatives everywhere: "I said something academic."

But Giuliani didn't stop there. His flip-flop then went where no Romney has gone before, into a parallel universe where political gravity does not apply. Lawyers call it "arguing in the alternative"—making a second and seemingly contradictory argument, in case judge and jury don't buy the first. As an example of this kind of reasoning, Wikipedia cites Bart Simpson: "I didn't do it, no one saw me do it, you can't prove anything!"

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Romney has learned the hard way that flip-flopping is a messy business, because the flip-flopper has to make up an excuse for changing his mind, when everyone knows the real reason is politics. Arguing in the alternative is flip-flopping without the flap. Giuliani claims he wasn't actually embracing a flat tax; he was saying that if there were no federal income tax, he might embrace it.

Giuliani uncorks a political genie: With his first wish, he would get rid of the income tax. His second wish would be for a flat tax. And since neither of those is feasible, his third wish is that we forget his first two.

A conventional flip-flopper is limited to two positions: his old one and his new one. Giuliani seems to be a political polytheist, who thinks a man can have as many positions as he wants. He even refers to them that way, as "my first position" and "my second position." Then there is his third and current position, which does not smile upon the other two.

Perhaps to distinguish himself from the other two Republican front-runners, Giuliani has found a third way between flip-flopping and straight talk. He calls it half-jocularity. That's not a bad description. He wasn't joking (which is why nobody else laughed), but he didn't mean it (which is why nobody believed him).

In a way, the episode sums up the apparent strategy of his campaign. When Giuliani pays lip service to supply-side economics but not social conservatism, he's trying to convince the right that half a joke is better than none. ... 4:35 P.M. (link)

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Friday, Mar. 30, 2007

Always Look on the Supply Side of Life: No matter what else comes out about Rudy Giuliani's three marriages, it's hard to imagine a stranger union than the one he announced this week, with multimillionaire conservative presidential wannabe Steve Forbes.

Giuliani has dressed in drag before—nothing wrong with that!—but this may be the most ill-fitting set of clothes he has donned in a long time. Giuliani grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island; Forbes is from the landed class in New Jersey. Forbes gave $37 million of his own money to his first campaign; Giuliani kept pocketing $100,000 speaking fees even after launching his exploratory committee. Giuliani married his third wife three years ago; Forbes has been married to the same woman for 35 years.

The two men are cut from different policy cloth as well. As mayor of New York, Giuliani built a reputation for trying ideas that worked, like cutting crime through better policing. As a magazine publisher and presidential candidate, Steve Forbes did the opposite—championing ideas that fail, like supply-side economics.

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