Have Americans lost the ability to think during the Bush years?

Here’s a topic that’s right up VFR’s alley. John of Powerline writes:

This article by Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post has been getting quite a bit of attention; she claims that the United States is in the midst of an “epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism.” Her thesis, fairly summed up in the article’s sub-headline, is that we are a “nation of dunces.”

It’s not much of an article, really; more like a rant you might find on a mediocre blog. Jacoby bemoans the rise of video and takes a ritual pass at Bush bashing, but her heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Even Democrats don’t seriously believe that the President has made Americans stupid.

Democrats may not seriously believe it—but I believe it. A major theme of this website has been that Bush’s off-the-planet ideology of Muslim democratization, combined with fanatical loyalty to Bush on the center-right, combined with fanatical hatred of Bush on the anti-war left and anti-war right, have destroyed rational discussion in American politics. An example is Powerline itself, a site written by three rational men who nevertheless, when it comes to their support for the wacky Bush policy of defeating Islamic extremism by spreading democracy, have turned off their critical faculties as decisively as three hashish smokers in a hookah joint. Meanwhile the anti-Bush left, being irrational and anti-American, fail to use the rational and good-faith arguments against the Bush policy that are lying at their feet, and only use irrational and bad-faith arguments, which enables the Bush defenders to dismiss them out of hand. So no intelligent national debate ever takes place. On the most salient issue facing the country for the last six years, the country just keeps drifting along in a brainless state. Bush is not only witless in himself, but the cause of witlessness in others.

* * *

John of Powerline rejects Jacoby’s thesis that Americans have lost the ability to think, and no wonder. She writes:

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping “I’m the decider” may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio “fireside chat” so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, “they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin.”

The Powerline guys’ Prime Directive is to defend GW Bush from criticism. So, if the argument that Americans have become incapable of rational discussion involves a criticism of Bush, Powerline will automatically reject that argument.

As a typical example of the loss of reason under Bush, see the editorial in the February 17 New York Post arguing that there be a pause in the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Within narrow limits, the editorial is sensible: yes, of course, if the troops keep being withdrawn, the gains made by the surge will be lost and Iraq will turn south again. But in the larger picture the editorial is clueless and irrational: of course Iraq will turn south again if the troops are withdrawn, silly! The surge has not won any “victory,” nor has there ever been any prospect of victory, nor is there any prospect of victory. The surge has temporarily subdued an enemy who will return as soon as we let go our grip on the country. So there is no victory in sight, there is endless occupation in sight. Yet the editorial, and ALL pro-Bush writings, never admit this, but keep justifying the Bush policy on the basis that we must “win” in Iraq. It’s a lie, a transparent lie that has been tacitly and even explicitly admitted scores of times (e.g., John McCain’s recent remark that a century-long occupation of Iraq is fine by him). Yet, in the Orwellian state of Double-think and No-think that Bushism has imposed on us, no one in the mainstream ever exposes this gross lie that our aim is “victory.” The lie is not even exposed by Bush’s declared enemies on the left, because, having rejected rationality in favor of Bush hatred, they are incapable of a rational, pro-and-con discussion of the war and of the arguments about the war. For all practical purposes, the sum total of their position is: we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq; Bush lied, people died; let’s leave Iraq now. And anything done to defend America is immoral.

Nevertheless, despite the viciousness of the Democrats, we face a terrible truth: the only way for the country to free itself of the Bushism that has destroyed its ability to think is for the Democrats to defeat the Republicans for the presidency. If McCain wins, the Bushites with their lies and their suppression of critical thought will continue to dominate our national intellectual life. For the spell to be broken, the Republicans must be removed from power. If a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans will use their rational faculties against him; if McCain is in the White House, the Republicans will simply switch from smoking “Dubya” to smoking McCain.

Here is the Post editorial:


February 17, 2008—Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week brought some welcome clarity to America’s oft-politicized understanding of what, precisely, the troop surge in Iraq has accomplished.

His answer, in effect: We don’t know yet.

Thus, Gates on Monday backed Gen. David Petraeus’ plan to pause the draw-down of US forces in Iraq this summer, leaving around 130,000 troops in the country while security gains, it is hoped, jell.

Those gains, of course, have been indisputable: Al Qaeda in Iraq is a shell of its former self, having been completely run out of Baghdad. Thanks to the continued US presence afforded by the surge, more and more Baghdad neighborhoods and villages throughout central Iraq have returned to normalcy.

This, in turn, has brought renewed hope for some political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias—though not as quickly as some in Congress have demanded. Indeed, Thursday brought word of a rare accord in Iraq’s parliament on a host of contentious issues, from the 2008 federal budget to the extent of provincial authority.

American casualties, meanwhile, have held steady for more than four months—at their lowest levels since the war began.

But it remains to be seen how lasting these gains really are—and what might become of them.

The plain fact is that wars are full of surprises—especially in a political landscape as complex as Iraq’s. Recently commenced efforts to drive al Qaeda from its last remaining stronghold in Mosul might get tricky, for instance.

Or violence could flare up again in the Shia-dominated south, where the militias linked to firebrand anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have been keeping a low profile.

Or any number of tensions could boil to the surface in provincial elections now set for October—tensions a down-but-not-out al Qaeda would love to exploit.

Is it any wonder, then, that Gates and Petraeus want to make sure they have the resources to face whatever’s next? Otherwise, the stability US troops have fought so hard to establish could evaporate very quickly.

Contrast their prudence with the reckless promises of rapid drawdown hawked by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—who were predictably up in arms over Gates’ announcement.

“This means that we will have as many troops in Iraq in the summer of 2008 as we had at the beginning of 2007,” Clinton fulminated.

As if wars can be won on schedule.

Of course, they can always be lost on schedule—a prospect that neither Democrat seems to want to talk about.

Indeed, it’s one of the great ironies of the campaign that the very success of the surge—which many Dems continue to label a failure—has enabled Clinton and Obama to ignore the still-disastrous consequences of any premature withdrawal.

Fortunately, Gates and Petraeus aren’t taking the bait.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 18, 2008 01:51 AM | Send

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