YOU KNOW THE ONE.
Lord a'mercy. Can things get any more ridiculous? (That's my only
point btw. If you're expecting me to make sense of anything, stop
Big stories of the week? An NBA basketball player is gay.
He got a congratulatory call from the president?! The president had
conference. After questions he couldn't answer about Syria's
use of chemical weapons, the Gosnell trial, whistleblowers
in the Benghazi
slaughter, and the intelligence community's embarrassments
in the Boston Marathon bombing, he felt compelled to inform the
press that "reports of his demise had been exaggerated." Although he
did race back to the podium to speak volubly about the gay NBA
player. What else? Ah, yes. The White House Correspondents Dinner.
Big big story. Tom
Brokaw is against it. Reporters at the dinner don't think it's
a big deal. After all, they're doing their job, aren't they? They
broke the Abu Graib story, didn't they? Fearless, independent, and
dedicated to the truth as always. And who cares about Tom Brokaw
I suppose conservative New Media can be forgiven for thinking cracks
are starting to show in the MSM's monolithic support of The One. The
messiah who has announced in recent months that "I am not a king,"
"I am not an emperor," and "I am not a dictator" now feels required
to tell us he's not dead.
Truthfully, the left is not completely charmed by this announcement.
They're beginning to suspect that it's impossible for everything
that goes wrong to be the fault of everyone except a president who seems to regard himself as a disgruntled spectator.
Their Truman iconography insists that there's something they should
remember about where the buck stops, even if they can't put their
finger on it just now. Not that they hold Obama responsible for
increasingly dismal economic news. A pitiful jobs
number. A report showing home
ownership at its lowest ebb in in two decades, under 60
percent in California. Another report showing recent college grads
percent underemployed. Still another report showing that minorities
have been hardest hit by the ailing economy. Not that these
are big stories per se. They're just kind of the backdrop for a lot
of "cats living with dogs" stories that do stir up the old and the new media alike.
Supposed conservative Joe
Scarborough is loudly predicting the death of the Republican
Party because congress failed to pass a redundant background
checks bill that nodded in the direction of gun control.
Longtime lefty Margaret
Carlson is agreeing with Sarah Palin (???!!!) that the White House
Correspondents Dinner is a signal to the rest of the country that
the MSM consists of a bunch of celebrity-obsessed insiders who
don't know or care about the travails of flyover country.
Onetime Republican hope Chris
Christie is running at full speed (talk about momentum!)
into the arms of the Obama left, most recently with an insane
gun-and-mind control bill in a state that already has the second
most restrictive gun control laws of the 50 states.
Republican messiah Marco Rubio is pissing away his 2016
presidential prospects with a doomed
immigration bill that proves nothing except the truism that
blood is thicker than principle.
Obama crossover Peggy
Noonan has fallen out of heat with her knight in shining
videos are proving that the Gosnell clinic is by no means an
Loyal liberal Kirsten
Powers is crossing party lines to cry foul on late-term
The prime author of ObamaCare, Max
Baucus, announces that the program is a trainwreck and that
while the president says there's no problem, never mind.
The Democrat Party is recruiting pro-gun
candidates to defend their senate seats in red states in the
2014 election. While Harry Reid insists that a gun control bill will be passed before that
A new poll shows that 42
percent of the electorate doesn't even know that ObamaCare
is the law of the land.
Some Dem pundits, including Dana
Milbank and Maureen Dowd, are wondering if Obama knows
anything about leadership and the responsibilities of the
Does this begin to sound like the crashing and burning of the Obama
presidency? Non, non, ma cher.
As Hannity is accustomed to say, "Let not your heart be troubled."
The Big big story of the week was
the White House Correspondents Dinner. They're just a little
hungover at the moment. Give them a week. They'll be back on point
before you know it.
Trust me. Cats and dogs will STOP living together. Or we'll shoot
them with the umpty jajillion hollow
point rounds the Department of Homeland Security has been
Feel better now? I knew you would.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Some of them are the opposite of sonorous and subliminal.
They're the exceptions.
A RARE GLIMPSE OF AN INVISIBLE VOICE. I've always had a thing
for voiceover narration. Probably because I grew up in a time when
film and television had superseded radio, but the greatest radio
voices were still there behind the scenes making images better.
There was Lowell Thomas, Orson Welles, Walter Cronkite on The Twentieth Century
(before he became the Lord God of News Walter Cronkite), and the one
who made me realize what an art form it truly was, Leonard Graves,
who in conjunction with the music of Richard Rodgers made Victory at Sea the most
riveting documentary series I have seen to this day.
complete episodes available on Youtube. Hint hint. Avoid the ones labeled "movie."
That's Alexander Scourby, also great but by no means the
equal of Leonard Graves.
For years now I've been wanting to do a post honoring the voiceover
stars who are no longer considered stars, even though we all know
and respond to their talents. When you look at the documentary
credits, the Narrator credit is always in small print late in the
roll, and somehow invisibility has metastasized into anonymity as
well. I don't know. Maybe they prefer it that way, although when you
can identify them and see what they look like, they're usually as
striking in appearance as their voices are on tape. Not handsome.
But the way you'd want your attorney to look if you were on trial
for your life.
I started trying to hunt down their names years ago, before the sea
level of the Internet had risen to its current height, and it was a
frustrating pencil and paper job, waiting to catch the name at the
end of a show in which networks were obviously racing to wrap it all
up quick, dammit, and get on to the next show. Result? The post not written and never
One thing I guess I have to thank celebrities for. (Not many
occasions of that, I assure you.) Because even those of you who
don't share my passion for narration know that there's more than one
kind of narrator these days. Most visible (literally) are the TV
journalists who would like to think their voices equal those of
their radio-trained ancestors, which they don't, of course. Tom Brokaw
does voiceovers these days of nature and history documentaries, and
we're supposed to hear past his crippling speech impediment to the
friendly face we saw for a gazillion years on the NBC Nightly News.
Does that work? Not for me. And then there are the 60 Minutes and
Dateline hybrids, who appear on camera in stilted staged interviews
and also narrate the taped footage and stills that tell the
backstory. But all their training has to do with how
they look when they talk. So you get Paula Zahn's
relentless singsong delivery, which is barely tolerable when she's
smiling and nodding like an animatronic doll but impossible to
listen to when she's off camera. And Keith Morrison,
who covers horrific crimes for Dateline with a totally creepy,
smarmy tone of voice that makes me suspect him of being the real
perpetrator of every crime he reports on. My private joke with my
wife is that he's possibly the most prolific serial killer of all
time. Have I mentioned Ted
Koppel, the giant body-less head that thinks it's Lowell
Thomas except that it's just a giant body-less head? No. Good. I
refuse to mention him. Well, enough of them. They are still stars, right?
Then there are the star stars, the ones who take the money for
voiceovers counting on the fact that we probably won't recognize
their voices when they do commercials for companies they loudly
disapprove of in their leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-profit
tirades. George Clooney does voiceovers for AT&T, for example.
Lots of others do commercials for foreign car companies, even as
they routinely blast Republicans for sending American jobs offshore.
True, I don't know all their politics, but when do you hear Jeff
Bridges (Hyundai), Kevin Spacey (Honda), or Alec Baldwin (Subaru )
denounce Morgan Freeman (Visa) and Susan Sarandon (Stouffers) for
their ostentatious hostility to the free enterprise system? Did you
want a list? Oh. Okay.
George Clooney - Budweiser (through
Christian Slater - Panasonic (-'10)
Kevin Spacey - Honda (-'10)
Gene Hackman - Oppenheimer Funds (-'10), Lowe's (-'10)
Kiefer Sutherland - Apple (-'10), Bank of America (-'10)
Donald Sutherland - Volvo (-??)
Stanley Tucci - AT&T (-??)
Thomas Haden Church - DirecTV (-??), Merrill Lynch
Billy Crudup - Mastercard ('97-'10)
Sam Elliott - Beef (-??)
Kelsey Grammar - Disney (-'10), Geico ('99)
John Corbett - Applebee's (-'10)
Tom Selleck - Florida Orange Juice (-'10), Go RVing (-'10)
David Duchovny - Pedigree (-'10)
Queen Latifah - Pizza Hut (-'10)
Jeff Bridges - Duracell (-'10), Hyundai (-'10)
Ed Harris - Home Depot (-'10)
Martin Sheen - Midas (-'10)
James Earl Jones - CNN (-'10)
Gary Sinise - Cadillac (-'10)
Richard Dreyfuss - Honda (-??)
Julianna Margulies - Pampers (-??)
John Goodman - Dunkin Donuts (-??)
Morgan Freeman - VISA (-'10)
Willem Dafoe - Qwest (-'10)
Hector Elizondo - Tyco, Chevron, Mitsubishi, TD Waterhouse
Allison Janney - Kaiser Permanente (-'10) John Krasinski - Verizon
Zach Braff - Pur (-'10), Cottonelle (-'10)
Scott Glenn - Merrill Lynch (-'10)
Liam Neeson - United Airlines (-'10)
Stockard Channing - AIG (-'09)
Matt Dillon - Pontiac (-'10)
Will Arnett - CBS (-'10)
Alec Baldwin - Subaru (-'10)
Regina King - Always (-'10)
Gilbert Gottfried - AFLAC (-'10)
Mandy Patinkin - Crestor (-??)
Susan Sarandon - Stouffers
Unless you have a particular ear for voices, you've probably missed
most of these celebrity paydays. But I do have a particular ear for
voices. I generally recognize them right away. One of very few
peculiarities about me my wife still regards with awe. God bless the
gossip websites. They out these affiliations on a regular basis,
even if they never take note of any hypocrisy that might be
Still, the fact that movie stars with talented voices are recruited
and well paid to sell products without showing their mugs onscreen
is a trend that has finally resulted in some belated attention to
the real, the non-dilettante professionals
in this rarefied craft. When the king of movie trailer voiceovers
died sometime back, the news was actually reported. His name was Don
There are others to whom we owe an enormous debt. You may not be
followers of all these individual shows or know these particular
ads, but you will
recognize the voices.
Plus a couple of equally adept pros you do know by sight.
Are you starting to get it? The calm authority. The centeredness.
The belief in words as meaningful, poignant, and evocative of the
best features of the human mind and spirit.
So who's my favorite narrator in the Age of Obama? Her name is
Sharon Martin. The narrator (and producer) of Snapped, the show at the top of
this post. It appears on the Oxygen Channel, a channel for women,
and believe me, lots of women don't like her. She's snide,
disrespectful, ironic in her delivery, and, well, pretty much
constantly contemptuous. I love her.
An emotional experiment. Memorize her voice, her clipped and
dismissive intonation, her distance from her subjects. Then imagine
her narrating all the clips above. No, I don't want her replacing
Leonard Graves, but just see what a change of voice does to the
reassuring authority of what we're taught to accept as truth from on
high. Suddenly everything is suspect. Everything is faintly risible.
I can't think of a better voiceover of 2013 America.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Not to Share
Around 8 min
in, books invented to spread Christianity. Also, no "unmolested
600 years." Islam, you see. But Giottos aplenty. A difficult
history, like the rest.
EASTERN CIVILIZATION. Recently Brizoni responded to a post of
mine and followup comments at another site, still on his
tirade against Christianity. In his own comment he said, among other
Only through willful self-deception
does Christianity pass the test of its own history. For its first
thirteen centuries, Christianity was a force for stagnation and
ignorance. Then despite Christianity (and despite wars and an
especially nasty plague), men start to rediscover knowledge, and
Christianity gets the credit? This is not a serious theory of
history. This is a lie Christian apologists tell themselves to
strengthen and flatter their faith. Only through strenuous
omission, acrobatic distortions, and scrupulous cherry-picking of
fact is Christianity the hero of the Western story.
Let’s go back to Byzantium. Robert’s
evasions of the Christian East have been nothing short of
shameful. This is the worst:
You seem upset that the Byzantine
Empire didn’t invent steam engines. But technology and
prosperity are not the purpose of Christian theology. They’re
just a by-product of empowering individuals to fulfill their
potential in the context of the inherent equality under God of
A masterclass in deliberately missing
the point. If Christianity as such does “empower individuals to
fulfill their potential,” why didn’t it? Where were Christian
Byzantium’s empowered individials? Who were their Giottos,
their Gutenbergs, their Dantes, their Galileos, their Severetuses?
(Severeti?) You know the answer, as much as you try to hide it
from yourselves: Christianity is not the force that unleashes
human potential. Christianity, when sincerely tried, acts as a
pause button on a culture’s status quo. Lucky for prosperous
Byzantium. Unlucky for desolate Europe. Learning followed for
neither. Until the Western mind, with the invaluable aid of
Aristotle, began slowly wriggling out of Christ’s death grip.
In Byzantium, Christianity had six
hundred unmolested years– two and a half times as long as America
has existed– to make something new and wonderful out of its
inhabitants. It did nothing. It has no excuse. Which means Western
progress is not essentially Christian. Christianity as such
did not lead to the Renaissance. Christianity as such did
not spark the Enlightenment. Christianity did not create America.
Christianity cannot save America.
Another commenter aimed him at a source for learning just a bit more
about Byzantium. It's such a concise overview that I feel impelled
to share it with all of you. It's a course
description from The Great Courses program. Read the whole
thought experiment: Mentally chart the main phases of European
history to 1500. If you're like most of us, you probably
hopscotched from classical Greece through Alexander the Great,
from the Rome of the Caesars to the Renaissance, with a detour
into the long post-Roman hiatus known as the Dark and Middle Ages.
But this storyline is woefully
incomplete, even misleading.
Why? It leaves out Byzantium.
And you're not alone. The mental
charts drawn by most educated people would show the same gap.
As Professor Kenneth Harl notes:
"Far from being merely the eastern
rump of the old Roman Empire, Byzantium was without a doubt the
greatest state in Christendom through much of the Middle Ages.
"This story is far more important
than any number of tales of palace intrigue, and is not as well
known as it deserves to be.
"These lectures are a small attempt
to help redress the balance."
Curious and Even Unsettling
The civilization of East Rome, or
Byzantium, is seldom studied on its own merits because this
seemingly remote world is a curious, even unsettling, mix of the
classical and medieval.
Byzantine arts and letters, deeply
steeped in traditional orthodoxy, seldom appeal to the modern
Westerner, a product of the Enlightenment and the changes
wrought by modernization. And the same can be said for Muslims,
as well, whose own civilization owes much to Byzantium.
These lectures by Professor Kenneth
W. Harl are designed to fill that gap. You come away with a
widened perspective on everything from the decline of imperial
Rome to the rise of the Renaissance.
Professor Harl's tellingly detailed
lectures show how the Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium, or
East Rome, occupied a crucial place in both time and space that
began with Constantine the Great and endured for more than a
A Crux of Civilizations
You can take the word "crucial"
Centered on its magnificent
fortified capital at the lucrative crossroads of Europe and
Asia, Byzantium was a crux of civilizations.
It was a colossus that bestrode two
continents: a crucible where peoples, cultures, and ideas met
and melded to create a world at once Eastern and Western, Greek
and Latin, classical and Christian.
It was truly a fulcrum of world
A Grandeur That Still Awes
Byzantium's spiritual grandeur and
mystical vision of humanity, God, and the cosmos can still be
glimpsed. You can see them in:
the awesome, soaring dome of
the Hagia Sophia, 100 feet across and tall enough
to hold a 17-story building, still the greatest domed
building in Istanbul and the model for the great domed
churches of the empire
the luminous mosaics of San
Vitale at Ravenna, Italy
countless Orthodox churches
on several continents.
For century after century, the
Byzantines kept alive Hellenic arts and letters and Roman
legal-political achievements over a vast arena of space and
The influence of this grand Orthodox
Christian state was felt in Russia and southeastern Europe and
throughout the Islamic world. And it influenced the Italian
Renaissance, as well.
Renaissance scholars would name this
powerful and brilliant civilization "Byzantium" after the
ancient town that occupied the strategic spot where Constantine
built his new capital.
The Byzantines called themselves
simply hoi Romaioi—Greek for "the Romans."
An Empire of Accomplishment
A list of the achievements of
Byzantium's emperors, patriarchs, priests, monks, artists,
architects, scholars, soldiers, and officials would have to
actively preserving and
extending the literary, intellectual, and aesthetic legacy
of Classical and Hellenistic Greece (the Byzantine patriarch
Photius was doing serious Platonic scholarship at a time
when only three of Plato's dialogues were even known in the
carrying forward pathbreaking
Roman accomplishments not only in law and politics but in
engineering, architecture, urban design, and military
affairs—at a time when these had mostly been forgotten in
deepening and articulating
Christian thought and belief through church councils and the
work of brilliant theologians such as St. Basil the Great,
St. John Chrysostom, and St. Gregory of Nazienzus while
spreading the faith to Russia and the rest of what would
become the Orthodox world
developing the Christian
monastic institutions whose eventual diffusion from the
deserts of Egypt to the shores of the Irish Sea would help
to sustain faith and learning through centuries of hardship
shielding the comparatively
weak and politically fragmented lands of western Europe from
the full force of eastern nomadic and Islamic invasions
fusing classical, Christian,
and eastern influences to create an art and culture of
stunning beauty and splendor
helping to shape the course
of the humanist revival and the Renaissance in Western
Europe through the writings of the Greek Fathers of the
church, the preservation of classical texts, and the example
of church mosaics and the work of El Greco.
Three Chapters of the
To tell this pivotal story,
Professor Harl has divided his lectures into three conceptual
Lectures 1 to 12
provide you with essential background as they explain how the
Roman world slowly gave way to distinct new blended cultures in
the Latin, Celtic, and Germanic north and west, the
Greek-speaking east (Byzantium), and later the Islamic south and
east from Morocco to India.
You learn how the later Roman Empire
under the forceful soldier-emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305)
responded to political and military crises, setting the stage
for Constantine (r. 306-337), whose conversion to Christianity
would point the Roman world in new directions.
You also meet the amazing emperor
Justinian (r. 527-565).
This brilliant visionary built the Hagia
Sophia, sponsored the magnificent codification of Roman
law that bears his name, and sought to restore the entire
Mediterranean world to his vision of a Christian and
But even the brilliant generalship
of Belisarius and Narses could not make Justinian's policies a
success. In the end came fresh crises that ended the classical
Lectures 13 to 21
deal with the achievements of medieval Byzantium, familiar to
poets and novelists.
Its emperors warded off new
invaders, checked the power of Islam, and directed a
transformation of government, society, and culture.
The Byzantine State went through
downs and ups of crisis and recovery, the latter sometimes
directed by remarkable emperors like Alexius I Comnenus and the
dynasty he sired (r. 1081-1185).
But the pressures from the Seljuk
Turks and others were relentless and eventually triggered the
Byzantine cry for help that led to the First Crusade (1095-99).
Lectures 22 to 24
run from the Fourth Crusade's horrifying sack of Constantinople
(1204) to the Ottoman triumph of 1453. They tell a tale of
political decline but enduring cultural and spiritual
Each in its own way, the Italian quattrocento
and the Orthodox realm of Russia and Eastern Europe emerged
as a legatee of Byzantium's mind and spirit.
Indeed, even the Ottoman sultans,
creators of the last great Islamic empire, owed a huge debt to
their vanquished foes.
So much for 1300 years of nothing. Not to mention the fact that
without this zero accomplishment culture, you and I might very
well be Sunni or Shia muslims ourselves.
I know this won't do anything to change Brizoni's mind. He'll
just change his argument to refocus on his previous equally
facile generalizations about western Europe's Dark Age. My point
in highlighting this blank spot in traditional understanding of
history is to emphasize an older argument of mine. History is
not irrelevant just because we don't know much about it. It's
exactly this kind of ignorance which so frequently dooms us to
repeat the mistakes of the past while assuming, based on cartoon
evidence, that we have learned all the important lessons of the
past. Stalin's memory can only be rehabilitated by forgetting
exactly what he did. Che Guevara can only be a sweatshirt icon
to those who know nothing of his actual biography. Why the Jews
perpetuate the memory of the holocaust under the banner "Never
The most fatal implicit assumption of our contemporary youth is
"No need to learn." They know it all already, even if most of
what they know just ain't so.
The video I
have so far. The Big Dog. If I have to do it
piecemeal, that's how I'll do it. You need to hear them all.
. Writing this before the Youtube of
the ceremony at the Bush Library dedication can be posted. But I can
already report that it was moving and that the presidents in
attendance were all gracious, including Obama. They all had
something evidently heartfelt to say. Call me a fool but I actually
believed Carter and even Obama, because I believe even they know he
is a good man whom they
cannot bring themselves to dislike personally. (I already knew that
Clinton and Bush like each other, because they're both "guys" who
know the difference between competition and respect.)
Lots of talk lately about bringing us together in the wake of the
the Boston Marathon bombing, gun control controversies, and
simmering scandals foreign and domestic. For my money, this was the
best possible venue for that. All the living presidents linked arm
and arm, figuratively at least, by love of country and the humility
that only American heads of state ever display.
Obama acknowledging the man with the bullhorn standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers. And giving a nod to Bush about a pair of daughters who tell dad
he's not as cool as he thinks he is. He can relate. But Bush also
took the opportunity to make the case for his own continuing vision
for America. Nothing partisan or divisive. Just a clear statement of
principle. Which still includes his feelings about his wife, his
family, his countrymen, freedom, and God.
Take the time to watch the whole thing. I'm posting before I have
the video. I'll add the Toutube of all the presidents' speeches as soon as it's available. Until then,
look for it. It's the best feeling you'll have had about our nation
PS. Okay. Piecemeal it
will be. Here's Clinton:
Stay tuned. Still waiting for Carter, which is not to be missed. But
here's George the Elder (just for my wife. She has a crush on
him. She likes dinosaurs for some reason...)
And here's 43 hisself:
Beginning to think the Carter piece won't be posted. It was unexpectedly emotional. He lauded Bush for the African AIDS effort, which saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The MSM probably doesn't want that speech on the net. But I'll keep trying...
OKAY. So here it is. The Carter piece. See if
I overstated it. Don't think I did.
And as a Parthian shot, here's what Washington correspondent and
frequent Bush critic
Ron Fournier had to say the other day.
Oh well. I think you get the gist. Of course there's politics. But it's not ALL politics.
btw, a commenter offered this from KeithHennessey.com. Something
I've always kind of suspected:
George W. Bush is smarter than you
24 April 2013 by Keith Hennessey
The new George W. Bush Presidential Center is being dedicated this
week. This seems like a good time to bust a longstanding myth
about our former President, my former boss.
I teach a class at Stanford Business School titled “Financial
Crises in the U.S. and Europe.” During one class session while
explaining the events of September 2008, I kept referring to the
efforts of the threesome of Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim
Geithner, who were joined at the hip in dealing with firm-specific
problems as they arose.
One of my students asked “How involved was President Bush with
what was going on?” I smiled and responded, “What you really mean
is, ‘Was President Bush smart enough to understand what was going
The class went dead silent. Everyone knew that this was the true
meaning of the question. Kudos to that student for asking the hard
question and for framing it so politely. I had stripped away that
decorum and exposed the raw nerve.
I looked hard at the 60 MBA students and said “President Bush is
smarter than almost every one of you.”
I could tell they were waiting for me to break the tension, laugh,
and admit I was joking.
I did not. A few shifted in their seats, then I launched into a
longer answer. While it was a while ago, here is an amalgam of
that answer and others I have given in similar contexts.
I am not kidding. You are quite an intelligent group. Don’t take
it personally, but President Bush is smarter than almost every one
of you. Were he a student here today, he would consistently get
“HP” (High Pass) grades without having to work hard, and he’d get
an “H” (High, the top grade) in any class where he wanted to put
in the effort.
For more than six years it was my job to help educate President
Bush about complex economic policy issues and to get decisions
from him on impossibly hard policy choices. In meetings and in the
briefing materials we gave him in advance we covered issues in far
more depth than I have been discussing with you this quarter
because we needed to do so for him to make decisions.
President Bush is extremely smart by any traditional standard.
He’s highly analytical and was incredibly quick to be able to
discern the core question he needed to answer. It was occasionally
a little embarrassing when he would jump ahead of one of his
Cabinet secretaries in a policy discussion and the advisor would
struggle to catch up. He would sometimes force us to accelerate
through policy presentations because he so quickly grasped what we
I use words like briefing and presentation to describe our
policy meetings with him, but those are inaccurate. Every meeting
was a dialogue, and you had to be ready at all times to be grilled
by him and to defend both your analysis and your recommendation.
That was scary.
We treat Presidential speeches as if they are written by
speechwriters, then handed to the President for delivery. If I
could show you one experience from my time working for President
Bush, it would be an editing session in the Oval with him and his
speechwriters. You think that me cold-calling you is
nerve-wracking? Try defending a sentence you inserted into a draft
speech, with President Bush pouncing on the slightest weakness in
your argument or your word choice.
In addition to his analytical speed, what most impressed me were
his memory and his substantive breadth. We would sometimes have to
brief him on an issue that we had last discussed with him weeks or
even months before. He would remember small facts and arguments
from the prior briefing and get impatient with us when we were
rehashing things we had told him long ago.
And while my job involved juggling a lot of balls, I only had to
worry about economic issues. In addition to all of those, at any
given point in time he was making enormous decisions on Iraq and
Afghanistan, on hunting al Qaeda and keeping America safe. He was
making choices not just on taxes and spending and trade and energy
and climate and health care and agriculture and Social Security
and Medicare, but also on education and immigration, on crime and
justice issues, on environmental policy and social policy and
politics. Being able to handle such substantive breadth and depth,
on such huge decisions, in parallel, requires not just enormous
strength of character but tremendous intellectual power. President
Bush has both.
On one particularly thorny policy issue on which his advisors had
strong and deep disagreements, over the course of two weeks we
(his senior advisors) held a series of three 90-minute meetings
with the President. Shortly after the third meeting we asked for
his OK to do a fourth. He said, “How about rather than doing
another meeting on this, I instead tell you now what each person
will say.” He then ran through half a dozen of his advisors by
name and precisely detailed each one’s arguments and pointed out
their flaws. (Needless to say there was no fourth meeting.)
Every prominent politician has a public caricature, one drawn
initially by late-night comedy joke writers and shaped heavily by
the press and one’s political opponents. The caricature of
President Bush is that of a good ol’ boy from Texas who is
principled and tough, but just not that bright.
That caricature was reinforced by several factors:
The press and his opponents highlighted President Bush’s
occasional stumbles when giving a speech. President Obama’s
similar verbal miscues are ignored. Ask yourself: if every public
statement you made were recorded and all your verbal fumbles were
tweeted, how smart would you sound? Do you ever use the wrong word
or phrase, or just botch a sentence for no good reason? I know I
President Bush intentionally aimed his public image at average
Americans rather than at Cambridge or Upper East Side elites. Mitt
Romney’s campaign was predicated on “I am smart enough to fix a
broken economy,” while George W. Bush’s campaigns stressed his
values, character, and principles rather than boasting about his
intellect. He never talked about graduating from Yale and Harvard
Business School, and he liked to lower expectations by pretending
he was just an average guy. Example: “My National Security Advisor
Condi Rice is a Stanford professor, while I’m a C student. And
look who’s President. <laughter>”
There is a bias in much of the mainstream press and commentariat
that people from outside of NY-BOS-WAS-CHI-SEA-SF-LA are less
intelligent, or at least well educated. Many public commenters
harbor an anti-Texas (and anti-Southern, and anti-Midwestern)
intellectual bias. They mistakenly treat John Kerry as smarter
than George Bush because John Kerry talks like an Ivy League
professor while George Bush talks like a Texan.
President Bush enjoys interacting with the men and women of our
armed forces and with elite athletes. He loves to clear brush on
his ranch. He loved interacting with the U.S. Olympic Team. He
doesn’t windsurf off Nantucket, he rides a 100K mountain bike ride
outside of Waco with wounded warriors. He is an intense,
competitive athlete and a “guy’s guy.” His hobbies and habits
reinforce a caricature of a [dumb] jock, in contrast to cultural
sophisticates who enjoy antiquing and opera. This reinforces the
other biases against him.
I assume that some who read this will react automatically with
disbelief and sarcasm. They think they know that President Bush is
unintelligent because, after all, everyone knows that. They will
assume that I am wrong, or blinded by loyalty, or lying. They are
certain that they are smarter than George Bush.
I ask you simply to consider the possibility that I’m right, that
he is smarter than you.
If you can, find someone who has interacted directly with him
outside the public spotlight. Ask that person about President
Bush’s intellect. I am confident you will hear what I heard dozens
of times from CEOs after they met with him: “Gosh, I had no idea
he was that smart.”
At a minimum I hope you will test your own assumptions and
thinking about our former President. I offer a few questions to
help that process.
Upon what do you base your view of President Bush’s intellect? How
much is it shaped by the conventional wisdom about him? How much
by verbal miscues highlighted by the press? Do you discount your
estimate of his intellect because he’s from Texas or because of
his accent? Because he’s an athlete and a ranch owner? Because he
never advertises that he went to Yale and Harvard? This is a hard
one, for liberals only. Do you assume that he is unintelligent
because he made policy choices with which you disagree? If so,
your logic may be backwards. “I disagree with choice X that
President Bush made. No intelligent person could conclude X,
therefore President Bush is unintelligent.” Might it be possible
that an intelligent, thoughtful conservative with different values
and priorities than your own might have reached a different
conclusion than you? Do you really think your policy views
derive only from your intellect?
And finally, if you base your view of President Bush’s intellect
on a public image and caricature shaped by late night comedians,
op-ed writers, TV pundits, and Twitter, is that a smart thing for
you to do?