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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Back when Randall Tobias was just a hypocritical ideologue, and not yet a casualty of scandal, a congressman accused the former corporate executive of "tycoonitis." The next name to drop may be a case of think-tank-itis—one implausible fantasy leading to another.

The Bush administration and the Palfrey scandal share the same moral: Be careful what you wish for. Neoconservatism was a thriving, vibrant, ideological movement until Bush actually did what they dreamed of. The supply-side theory that cutting taxes would boost revenues and shrink government was such a perfect fantasy that conservatives can't stand the inconvenient reality that it doesn't work.

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Republicans' biggest problem is not that Washington is mired in one scandal after another, or that the Bush administration has become one long letter of resignation. The real problem is that GOP-primary voters keep demanding that candidates indulge the same economic and international fantasies, when Americans have had enough of politics as a fantasy business.

In the clash of civilizations between ideology and thought, reality was destined to emerge the loser. As the ivory towers of politics, think tanks play an unlikely role. Politics is the art of the possible; ivory towers are monuments to the impossible. Mainstream think tanks bridge that gap because the arcane, inertial business of government doesn't lend itself easily to castles in the air.

But if think tanks require a certain suspension of disbelief, ideological think tanks require something more miraculous: the suspension of reality whenever it's at odds with belief. The dreamer looks at the world as it might be and asks, "Why not?" The ideologue looks at the world as it is and says, "No, it's not."

As we've now seen far too often, the result is scandalous. It's bad enough when ideology is a substitute for thought. But when the pressures of reality are too great, ideology becomes something worse: thought's masseuse. ... 2:28 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Apr. 23, 2007

Misfire: George H.W. Bush is famous for saying, "Read my lips," but the three words that best captured the way America felt during the first Bush administration were a catch phrase from Dana Carvey—"not gonna happen." The country faced a host of daunting social and economic problems, from rising crime rates to shrinking incomes to deep divisions that burst into view in South Central Los Angeles. But what troubled people most was that no matter how urgent the problem, the answer from Washington was always the same: "not gonna happen."

One Bush later, we find ourselves in the same grim mood today. We face a series of monumental challenges—Iraq, climate change, a vanishing social contract. Such problems would be breathtakingly difficult in any era but seem virtually impossible in this one. Glaciers move faster than our politics, and both are receding.

We have good reason to feel this way. Nothing happened after Hurricane Katrina. Nothing new ever seems to happen in Iraq. Even when something appears to happen, such as last week's decision on abortion, we know better: Nothing's happening when the same issues never go away.

But last week's response to the Virginia Tech tragedy made it official: Not-Gonna-Happen Days are here again. Across the political spectrum, commentators reached the same conclusion. Whatever they think ought to be done to prevent future tragedies, they're unanimous on one point: We're not going to do it.

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