Thursday, October 7

It Had To Be Said

One of a couple of nuggets from the LA Times this morning. Their lead editorial asks the question on the minds of at least half of America. (Take our new Big Poll above.)
Is He a Dope?

Although neither group likes to say so, some Americans who support President Bush and many who don't support him have concluded over four years that he may not be very bright. This suspicion was not allayed by Bush's answers in the first presidential debate a week ago.

The issue might better be described as one of mental laziness.

Does this man think through his beliefs before they harden into unwavering principles? Is he open to countervailing evidence? Does he test his beliefs against new evidence and outside argument? Does his understanding of a subject go any deeper than the minimum amount needed for public display? Is he intellectually curious? Does he try to reconcile his beliefs on one subject with his beliefs on another?

It's bad if a president is incapable of the abstract thought necessary for these mental exercises. If he is capable and isn't even trying, that's worse. It becomes a question of character. When a president sends thousands of young Americans to kill and die halfway around the world, thinking about it as hard and as honestly as possible is the least he can do.

Bush's Iraq policy is full of contradictions, often rehearsed on this page and elsewhere. But so is Kerry's. It isn't routine political mendacity that makes many people - many more than will admit it - wonder about Bush's mental engagement. It is a combination of things: his stumbling inarticulateness, the efforts his advisors make to protect him from unscripted exposure, his extreme reluctance to rethink anything.

Does it matter? Yes, it matters. There are those who say that Reagan's mental laziness was actually a plus. It prevented a lot of competing signals from causing static on the lines, and kept his principles clear. We do not buy that. We state boldly that thinking hard is a good thing, not a bad thing, even in a president. If that sounds snooty, so be it. And maybe George W. Bush will reassure us by his performance Friday night that he is thinking as hard as he should about the issues the president will face in the next four years. Especially the issues resulting from his own failure to think hard during the last four.