Is George W. Bush incredibly smart?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I'm beginning to think that "Dubya" might actually be a heck of a lot smarter than we think he is.
It all started when I read that a former White House staffer, David Kuo, recently published a book alleging that the White House was not really serious about the religious right. According to the book, the administration would cater to the religious right in order to win their support, but privately, Christian conservatives were described as "goofy" and "nuts". My first reaction was one of disbelief. How could a President who claimed that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ and who the media has reported as getting down on his knees every day and praying in the Oval Office be so indifferent to the religious right? It quickly occurred to me that all the reports and stories of Bush's religiosity have been based on his public displays: his speeches, his campaign statements, and his public actions. Even reports of what the President does in "private" come from members of his staff, who could very well have been told to tell such stories to the media (or perhaps what Bush does in "private" in the view of his liable-to-talk-to-the-media staff is different than what he does in private when consulting his trusted circle). This leaves open the possibility that Bush's much-publicized religiosity was really an elaborate façade and that he is saying things and pushing Congress to legislate things for the purpose of gaining the support of a certain large and powerful voting bloc. If this was the case, this certainly won't be the first time in human history that someone has exploited religion for political gain.
A couple of days after reading about Kuo's book controversy, I came across a comment on the Internet saying that Bush was not a poor speaker prior to the 2000 elections. This prompted me to search for old videos of Bush. I found two videos, and both of them seem to confirm this comment. The first video was from the 1994 gubernatorial race in Texas between Bush and Ann Richards. It was striking how natural he sounded in 1994: he spoke rapidly, without stumbling, and without grammatical gaffes. Although the person who compiled the video thinks that the change between 1994 and 2000 was due to a medical condition, I have a different theory. The second video, which appears to be a candid video from 1992, also featured a lucid Bush.
Could it be that Bush, who majored in history at Yale, has a much better understanding of American history than we give him credit for? Perhaps he was inspired by Andrew Jackson, whose presented himself as a more down-to-earth person, contrasting against the more bookish John Quincy Adams. The people who would criticize Bush for his grammatical gaffes are those who are well-educated and who are more likely to vote Democratic anyway. His folksy manners has appeal in a country with a long history of distrust of the educated élite. I suspect that he may have purposefully changed his speaking style and peppered his language with errors so that he would appeal to the average American and so that he could present himself as one of them instead of someone perched atop an ivory tower. Indeed, during the 2004 debates and recently during an interview, Bush acknowledged that his English was poor, but he phrased that acknowledgment in a way that had struck me personally as carrying a tone of "look at how these people talk; they do not represent your interests."
I realize that this is all speculation and that it's all a stretch, but if it is true, then it would seem that appearances are indeed deceiving. It would be diabolically brilliant to so completely and fully paint oneself as a religious everyman because that is the image that resonates with American's plebeian voter base.