Bush’s leadership method capsulized
on the very revealing interview
he gave recently to the New York Times Magazine
, on an equally revealing interview in the September 6th Time
, and on four years of observation of him in office, are the three operational principles of George W. Bush’s leadership: (1) GUT INSTINCT to reach a decision; (2) FAITH AND PRAYER to give him the absolute, unwavering, unquestioning certainty that it’s the right decision; and (3) BOILERPLATE—simplistic, uninformative, endlessly repeated boilerplate—to explain and defend the decision.
Of course, that’s not the whole picture, but it does take in a lot of the way Bush operates. Another side of Bush worth noting here is his tendency toward radical and grandiose rhetorical pledges that bear little relationship to his subsequent actions. “You’re either with us, or you’re against us,” “Axis of Evil,” “We’ll spread democracy around the world,” “We won’t negotiate with the Palestinians as long as they support terrorism,” etc., etc. etc.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2004 04:07 PM | Send
Compare Bush’s leadership style to Clinton’s. Clinton had a tremendous capacity to absorb and process facts. And no “gut” at all! He couldn’t keep to any decisions he made and slid all over the place.
I don’t buy these articles’ thrust. There’s too much they leave out. Remember Bush’s careful correction of Rush Limbaugh’s throwaway attempt to say Kerry voted against AND for this latest Iraq War? Bush said, You mean the funding. It was the funding he voted for and against, not the war. This kind of honesty to a fault and mastery of many particulars and distinctions is characteristic of him. It happens over and over again.
Read descriptions of what Bush and his advisers did in deciding what to do about Iraq. Bush modified his decisions in favor of Powell, and continued moderating because of Blair.
Like a good manager he listens, asks critical questions and comes to a decision. That his decisions as well as that of many incontrovertibly “curious” and “brilliant” men, essentially come down to the “gut”, is no criticism of him at all.
Too much left OUT of these “examinations” of Bush’s character to make them much more than propaganda.
The examinations being referred to are two interviews of Bush and my discussion of them. I don’t see how a Bush interview can be anti-Bush propaganda. I also don’t see how my own view of Bush, no matter how critical it may be, can fairly be called propaganda. These interviews had a persuasive effect on me because they made sense in light of everything I already knew about him, mainly his staggering inability to explain his own positions, his lack of even a tiny effort to explain his positions beyond simplistic slogans. In the Time interview, he kept returning to the idea that the long-run solution to terrorism was spreading democracy, and that he was just absolutely certain that this was true. He didn’t present argument, he kept re-affirming his own sense of certainty. In the New York Times Magazine interview he talked more about his instincts and faith in helping him. So, these things “clicked” with me because of my prior perception of Bush’s inability to explain himself, to respond to criticism, and so on.
Of course gut instinct is indispensable. But it’s indispensable in ACTION, not in THOUGHT. Or rather, after you’ve done all the thinking, gut instinct is needed to determine, is this something that you’re ready to stand behind, that you’re ready to do. But what Bush said was that he used gut instincts to decide on his policies. Like, he decided to invade Iraq on the basis of gut instinct, not on the basis of a reasoning process? I find that both appalling and highly explanatory, and it fits with his almost total lack of ability to explain his decisions and policies beyond simplistic phrases used over and over and over again.
Fair enough. I didn’t mean to attack you.
But I cavil at your notion that there is no propaganda aspect to an interview. The questions asked make a great deal of difference to the tone of the whole. Just ask a good trial lawyer.
There was an article in the Atlantic not long ago contrasting Bush and Kerry’s debating styles which quoted several Bush intimates as saying that if you watched his early Texas debates, you saw a different George Bush—articulate, intelligent, etc. But he clued in at some point that that was ineffective and DANGEROUS was treating a political debate or a press conference as an intellectual exercise. The great thing is to REPEAT your basic point again and again and avoid saying anything that could get you in trouble. Another intimate said that when you see Bush in a forum where he is answering questions publicly, there is a little mannerism that he does with his mouth—recognizable to those who know him well—a short intake of breath and a pursing of the lips. This was something he practised, his way of holding himself back.
I wasn’t sure what to think of that notion—until I saw the second debate. There were a few slip ups, but a real keen intelligence able to think on its feet, as it were. Bush obviously saw that his normal plodding dumbo “repeat over and over” strategy had failed him…and trashed it! For those who thought that Bush was unitelligent or unthoughtful, the second debate had to come as a great shock. Read that Atlantic article!
And read David Frum’s The Right Man. Forget whatever you think about Frum. He has some examples of Bush’s own personal corrections of his (Frum’s) speeches which show a really keen mind. One that ASKS VERY GOOD QUESTIONS in an attempt to gather information. Those in his cabinet who HAVEN’T LEFT WITH A CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDERS say that Bush often asks questions out of left field, really good questions which sometimes embarrass them and force them to go back and recheck stuff they had already thought through.
I’ll take Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush any day over Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. And even over Johnson and Nixon.
Frankly, I don’t give a hang about reports from insiders who tell us that some politician, in private, is “really” very smart or very witty, or has an enormously searching intellect and astounds his associates with his insights and multiple grasp of the most abstruse issues. I couldn’t care less. It’s all spin. What I care about is what I can see about this politician from his own conduct of his office, what he says, and so on. And what I see about Bush is what I’ve already indicated, especially in regard to Iraq, where his statements are TOTALLY INADEQUATE and add up to little more than boilerplate. It is a failure of leadership of the first order, a betryal of the obligation he owes to us to give us an accounting of his leadership. A real leader explains what he’s about. If he changes direction, as Bush, for example, changed several times regarding the manner of transferring power and setting up a new Iraqi government, he informs the public and explains why. He doesn’t just say, “We’re going after the killers,” blah blah. He gives us an idea of exactly what our forces are doing over there and how their actions are in fact leading to the result that Bush says he’s seeking to achieve. The fact that you and so many others regard Bush’s public statements on Iraq as acceptable is, to me, the very problem. People praise this substandard leader who has led us into a hideous trap from which he cannot extricate us, and he cannot tell us any more about it other than that we’ve got to stay the course. And all the while they keep oohing and aahing about what a fine leader he is. Bush is deficient in intellect, and in accepting him and praising him, conservatives become deficient in intellect themselves. They become little Bushes.
Also note, since you feel I’m biased against him, that I praised him enthusiastically for his perforance in the second debate.
I think it’s propaganda. Bush’s propaganda that is! Ironically, the more “certainty” that Bush projects the more certain his critics become of him and subsequently impervious to facts that run counter to their perception. This can clearly be seen by those on the left that are stuck in the Twilight Zone that portrays Bush as both a mastermind and dunce. An impossible task unless conceived in advance. I think this is political calculation to a large extent.
On another tract, if knowing thy enemy is paramount in war then President Bush seems like a god-send. President Bush shares the kind of fundamentalism with Radical Islam , albiet at a far less threatening manner, that Mr. Auster looks at with suspicion in this post. Yet, it is this brand of fundamentalism that helps Bush define both his political and religious adversaries and thereby help the rest of us to decide which team we will reside on. If radical Islam is true to their fundamentalism then all we need to do is reason that Bush’s “gut” instincts are more resolute and persistent. Afterall, President Bush knows thy enemy more intimately than most if we are to believe in his “certainty.”
I don’t think you are biased, Mr. Auster, just wrong. And I think that very same 2d debate should give you pause. How could he do so well, if he were and idiot and unable to grapple with issues?
Insiders can be prejudiced, it’s true. They are sources that must be weighed carefully. But history doesn’t discount insider opinion. Because the insiders usually know something more about what a man is made of than the people who don’t know him.
I don’t think a leader who is being hounded by the media in search of some way, any way, to call him and his policy a failure, need get drawn into a debate on the details of policy. He can leave that to underlings. I think time will tell whether Iraq is as bad as you say. I don’t think it is. But we’ll just have to look back 2 or 3 years from now and see. It seems to me Bush has a clear strategy in Iraq and it is working well.
The NATO “protectorate” of Kurdistan was a mess for several years, infighting and civil war and all sorts of mess. Now everyone looks on it as “obviously” safe and secure and a model state. Three years after the Gulf War ended it looked much like parts of the rest of Iraq look today. And it was called a hopeless failure. The policy in Kurdistan WORKED. It just took a little while. There was nothing to “explain.” Just “don’t let the bad patch get you down. Things will right themselves.” And they did!
My impression that Bush is capable of explaining himself is supported in part by his IQ level, which is the average IQ level of Jewish people and is higher than about 90% of the population. In addition, he was a jet fighter pilot and obtained an MBA from an academically respectable university. Finally, my impression is that he does consider things carefully before making a decision.
However, I agree Mr. Bush does not explain himself well. He does tend to rely on slogans instead of taking the time to slow things down and to fully articulate and EMPHASIZE. He could have murdered Kerry on his record, but he just breezed over extremely important points. I would grade him only at the C level in debating performance based on the one presidential debate I saw, the second debate.
But Mr. Bush has a lot of company. I find other politicians debate similarly. For example, I thought Mr. Cheney, who is reputedly brilliant, also performed at only the C level and failed to explain and emphasize.
These debates are usually just crummy spectacles and should be abandoned in favor of friendly but firm cross-examiners asking probing questions, giving the candidate time to explain fully and even suggesting possible reasons to the candidate, and stopping the candidate when the candidate changes the subject. Time limits are stupid when picking a president.