Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
May 2, 2013 - April 25, 2013

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Widening Gyre

Cats living with dogs...

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 reading now.)

Big stories of the week? An NBA basketball player is gay. He got a congratulatory call from the president?! The president had a press 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 anyway?

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 are 40 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 armor.

Mayor Bloomberg and The New York Times are shooting at each other over the nexus of gun control policies and lockstep civil rights orthodoxy.

The Democrat mayor of Detroit is offended by the rhetoric of the Democrat mayor of New York.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are still insane. (Not strictly relevant but part of the sum.)

Hidden videos are proving that the Gosnell clinic is by no means an anomaly.

Loyal liberal Kirsten Powers is crossing party lines to cry foul on late-term abortion abominations.

The prime author of ObamaCare, Max Baucus, announces that the program is a trainwreck and that he's retiring, 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 election occurs.

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 presidency.

A think-tank computation asserts that Obama has spent about 3.6 percent of his time on economic matters, half of what he's allocated to golf and vacations.

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 stockpiling.

Feel better now? I knew you would.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Favorite Narrator

Some of them are the opposite of sonorous and subliminal. They're the exceptions.

. 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.

Multiple 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 posted.

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 '10)
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 (-'10)
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 involved.

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 La Fontaine.

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.

Kevin Yon:

Stan Bernard:

Gene Galusha:

Peter Thomas:

Will Lyman:

Plus a couple of equally adept pros you do know by sight.

Mike Rowe:

Keith David:

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.

Can you?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Too Important 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.

. 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 things, this:

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 all souls.

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 thing:

Try this 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 Civilization

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 millennium.

A Crux of Civilizations

You can take the word "crucial" literally.

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 history.

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 time.

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 include:

  • 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 Latin West)
  • 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 the West
  • 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 and peril
  • 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 Byzantine Story

To tell this pivotal story, Professor Harl has divided his lectures into three conceptual phases.

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 Constantinian empire.

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 world forever.

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 achievement.

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 forget."

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.
RETURN OF THE MAD COWBOY.  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 for years.

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 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 on,’ right?”

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.”

More silence.

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 were presenting.

 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 do.

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?

For what it's worth.

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