George Bush vs. the World, Part 2

GEORGE BUSH VS. THE WORLD, PART 2….By coincidence, South Knox Bubba points today to a Joe Klein column in Time on the same meme I mentioned last night: George Bush’s lack of interest in actual facts. As Klein says, it’s not that Bush lies, it’s “weirder than that”:

The President seems to believe that wishing will make it so ? and he is so stupendously incurious that he rarely makes an effort to find the truth of the matter. He misleads not only the nation but himself. Every worst-case Saddam scenario just had to be true, as did every best-case post-Saddam scenario.

Bush’s talent for self-deception extends to domestic and economic policy. He probably believes that he’s a compassionate conservative, even though he has allowed every antipoverty program he favors to be eviscerated by Congress. This week’s outrage is the crippling of AmeriCorps, which he had pledged to increase in size. He probably believes that his tax cuts for the wealthy will help reduce the mammoth $455 billion budget deficit (which doesn’t include the cost of Iraq), even though Ronald Reagan found that the exact opposite was true and had to raise taxes twice to repair the damage done by his 1981 cuts.

Yes, I realize this kind of analysis is completely subjective, but Bush’s ability to unblinkingly endorse policies that simply won’t do what he (says he) wants them to do is hard to explain any other way.

What originally brought this to mind was a conversation I had a few days ago about my old company. It turns out they’re shuffling their board of directors around and decided to add a financial analyst to the board, apparently because they remain convinced that their low stock price is a purely financial phenomenon. If they can only get better analyst coverage or repackage their story a bit, the stock price will go up.

It’s a remarkable bit of self-deception, since even a nodding familiarity with the company (and the world at large) would convince you that their stock price will go up only when the actual performance of the company improves. But they just refuse to accept that.

And this reminded me of George Bush. He is incurious about the real world and surrounds himself with people like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes who feed his preconceptions and decline to challenge him. He famously decides whether he likes people within minutes of meeting them, and convinces himself that anyone who disagrees with him is not worth listening to. And he is stubborn to the point of bullheadedness, refusing to ever admit that a plan isn’t working or that a different approach might be necessary.

If it were only tax cuts at stake here, I wouldn’t be that worried. Tax cuts can always be repealed if things get out of hand. But it’s more serious than that, and conducting the war on terror as if facts on the ground don’t matter is not something that can simply be repealed in a few years by a more openminded administration. By then it might be too late and instead of a few thousand Americans dead, it might be a few hundred thousand or a few million.

We’ve been lucky in the past. FDR was able to moderate Churchill’s stubborness and insist on opening a second front. JFK kept his advisors calm during the Cuban Missile crisis. In this administration Colin Powell appears to be the voice of reason, and I hope he’s enough. The stakes are simply too high to keep ignoring the real world. Way too high.

UPDATE: A corollary to this is the Bush administration’s well known dislike for scientific information that conflicts with its policy desires. Tapped has a good post about this today.