Improving the Institution of the Presidency

Published:  September 26, 2003

The choice of George W. Bush as the President of the United States was in poor judgement (which is not to say the alternatives were better or worse in any absolute sense). Not because the President belongs to any particular political party or subscribes to any particular political viewpoint, but because his notorious poverty of knowledge about world affairs and history, and anti-intellectual bent, are inappropriate to, if not catastrophic for, the Presidency of the United States, an office of sublime import both for this nation, and the free world.

The present foreign policy mistakes of this President, ground arguably in the flaws cited above, are destroying historic, valued, and essential U.S. international relationships and alliances; endangering the safety and security of the United States instead of enhancing or guaranteeing it; and destabilizing the world system.

The case for war with Iraq advanced by the Bush Administration rested on two premises, which by most accounts are now conclusively considered false or highly speculative:  the presence of weapons of mass destruction has all but proven a chimera; none have been found so far despite exhaustive searches and interviews, and the report of the Iraq Survey Group, the CIA-sponsored investigative group headed by David Kay, reports that nothing clearly defined as weapons of mass destruction has been found. Additionally, the Bush administration represented Iraq as having links to the group which executed the September 11 attacks, a claim which key administration members, including the president, publicly renounced last week. Thus were the bases for war largely illusory. Yet the war was prosecuted, resulting in the destruction of a country, countless lives on both sides lost, or shattered, and now we find a protracted pattern of killings of American and coalition service personnel, as well as death and destruction brought to supporting organizations such as the United Nations.

Furthermore, the imperious manner in which the Bush administration forced the war through traumatized critical and historic relationships which have existed between the United States and Germany and France since the end of World War II. Additionally, and ominously, the war in Iraq and the bellicose bearing it signified to the world, manifest in such actions as imprudently referring to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil," has sufficiently frightened North Korea, and now Iran, that they are now methodically abandoning their own nuclear nonproliferation treaties, creating the potential for a far more dangerous world than has existed since the end of the cold war. As if all that weren't enough, the United States and her closest allies now face an equally grave threat--the continuing introduction into Iraq of wave upon wave of foreign terrorist. The Bush Administration's specious declarations notwithstanding, Iraq did not comprise a center for terrorist operations before the war. However--it does now. Let us hope it does not become the new Afghanistan.

Such are the catastrophic consequences of the actions of George Bush, a man who, during the presidential campaign of 2000, proudly and laughingly trumpeted the fact that during his college years he barely read a book. Famously, he was unable to properly identify world leaders and nations during the campaign debates. And he joked publicly then about his inability to consistently speak proper and intelligent English. Further, he claims the qualifications to be President of the United States, yet cannot properly pronounce the fundamental and all-important word "nuclear." The correct pronunciation is noo' klee ur. Mr. Bush persists, moronically, in articulating noo' kyuh' lur--even when addressing the United Nations. And when presidential chronicleers examined his academic output to determine the scope and quality of his original thinking, as they do for each president when elected, they could not find any original scholarship or substantive academic work. Additionally, as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush maintained a rule that no meeting could run past fifteen minutes in length. Such, apparently, was his attention span, or perhaps he was simply disinclined toward a thorough examination of the issues and problems at hand.

The snapshot of the qualifications and apposition of Mr. Bush for the office of President is disturbing, especially now in our longer view.

At present, the material given him by his speechwriters, whose words he routinely reads from a teleprompter when giving a public address, has improved the perception of his public performance, and, in fairness, he seems to have genuinely improved somewhat, on own. Judging by his foreign policy gaffes, however, one clearly sees the limits of these changes.

Why are these issues important? Because a long and thorough-going view of history, an acute intelligence, and a vigorous general intellectual curiosity, as well as qualities such as courage and optimism, are essential to negotiating a crisis. Mr. Bush does not hold these attributes, and we see the results. Some are reassured at the notion that an inexperienced or compromised political leader can recruit seasoned professionals for key positions around him. However, much like an orchestra, though the flute and viola players may be highly competent, it is the proficiency of the conductor who will determine the sweetness of the sound. How much more true is this in the political realm--especially in a crisis.

Does a high level of education and intelligence necessarily make for an outstanding, or even good, President? Not necessarily, but a president without these strengths is at a comparative disadvantage. Perhaps a president possessive of greater knowledge and higher intelligence, even wisdom, would not have assembled such a critical mass of individuals of hardcore view and temperament in his cabinet. Or perhaps such a president would have had the inclination and capacity to personally effect a deep and nuanced reading of the many intelligence and foreign policy reports which are no doubt made available.

This Jeers intends no personal attack on the President for its own sake. Rather, it intends to proffer observations which might improve the institution of the Presidency, itself. For example, now warranted is consideration of a constitutional provision requiring candidates for the Presidency to demonstrate a basic level of knowledge, a fundamental competence, in the several key areas arguably most relevant to this critical office. Until such a fundamental change is effected in our national document, we must resolve to seek, and elect, only individuals of the highest calibre. That a candidate might garner votes because they are of a temperament suitable to "have a beer with" is a shocking absurdity which must be considered utterly alien to our electoral dynamic, lest we usher in the slow dissolution of the essential institutions of the United States of America.

We can never again subject this nation, and the world, to another series of injuries of the present scope. Morality, and realpolitik, both, do not permit it.

Note:  this writer has just learned that 6000 airport screeners have been terminated because of budgetary constraints. This, in the context of a Bush Administration tax reduction program considered huge. Thus have the policies of this president undercut our security overseas, and at home.


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