Saturday, October 09, 2004

Gary Gottlieb says that Bush's supposed stupidity is an act, a folksy affectation. Gary may have a point there. What with all the examples of Bush tangling with the English language, I used to think he was ... not a moron but not far shy of it either. But I don't believe that anymore. Don't misunderstand me: Lord knows he's no deep thinker. However, he did acquit himself well in last night's debate. His answers were usually crisp. He made each point clearly and knew when to stop. I taught school enough years to know that students with a low I.Q. don't think that well on their feet, even if they have been well coached.
Neither am I saying he won the debate, because he didn't. Well, how could he? Look at the record he was trying to defend. All Kerry had to do was attack his abysmal policies and offer some sensible solutions. He did that. Kerry martialed his facts, spoke succinctly, and came across confident and cool. Only once did the senator slip into one of his rhetorical cul-de-sacs: his answer to the question about not using tax money to support abortions was garbled. Bush rightly observed: "I'm trying to decipher that." But compared to the President's simplistic take on this nation's problems--the preponderance of which Bush himself created--Kerry's answers shone. The polls so far bear out this assessment, even those at Fox News and Gallup. (53 percent of those Gallup polled said Kerry won. Only 37 percent of them thought Bush won.)
Even saying that Bush handled himself well has to be qualified, though. For starters, he comes across as cocky. In some people, that can be charming, and I'm sure his followers find it so. A sense of humor goes a long way toward getting people to excuse cockiness, and Bush won some points, I bet, when he answered a question about whom he would appoint to the Supreme Court with: "I'm not tellin'". But cockiness can also be a sign of a bully, and I know enough about W's flawed nature to believe that's exactly what it means. For example, Paul O'Neill described how Bush gives people nicknames as a way to demean them. Furthermore, when Karla Faye Tucker, the Texas murderer turned evangelical Christian, petitioned for leniency, Bush privately did a mocking imitation of her begging for mercy--before ordering the execution to go forward. And finally, the president's business school professor still remembers vividly how, as a student, Bush bragged, lied, and stated that all poor people were lazy. (Here's a link in case you haven't read Professor Tsurumi's account of those days.)
So, yes, Bush controlled his smirk and most of his blinking. He was folksy as all get out. But his essential nature, even dressed up in its Sunday best, still showed. Kerry won the debate.

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