Raznor's Rants

Costarring Raznor's reality-based friends!

Monday, May 10, 2004

Bush's idiocy in historical context

Noting that Bush is clearly incompetent, Kevin Drum wrote the following:

So what's my point? I don't know. I'm rambling, and the question of how George Bush ever managed to become president is one that's gnawed on me for a long time. I still can't figure it out, though. He's such an obvious airhead, so plainly unqualified, that I can't figure out why the Republican party nominated him or why so much of the American public still supports him. I suspect that in the future, when histories of this era are written, historians won't even try. Rather, George Bush's presidency will just be considered some kind of weird, unexplainable aberration.


Now, from what I've been reading in my history classes I very much doubt that historians won't try to explain why Bush was nominated and ultimately elected president, even if it's considered some kind of weird aberration. Maybe most of the population won't care, but the question of "why" is central to any historical study.

So with this in mind, I thought I'd get a jump start on those historians and offer my own theory of how Bush's presidency fits in the historical context.

First of all, let's take a look at American politics. American politicians have, for the past 100 years at least, not been as elite as one would expect in, say, European parliamentary democracies. This may be good or bad depending on your outlook, but the result is that American legislators are typically more or less everyman types of people. Compare this with Britain, where relatively recently everyone in the House of Commons was classically educated. In the 20th century, this requirement of a classical education became less important in the British system, but still Latin phrases are thrown around in legislative hearings, something that is unheard of in Congress. (the closest I can think of is when Senator Byrd quoted Livy in a speech, but if this was British, he'd do it in original Latin)

In any case, the point is that political trends in America lend itself to a political government lead by everyday sorts-of-people, as opposed to the intellectually elite.

(side note: Notice I say "political government", which is the part of the government that is run by politics. Most people who work in the government work outside of politics, but that aspect of the government isn't important to this analysis)

But what we have in contemporary politics is more extreme than a simple preference in the voting public for everyday-sorts-of-guys over intellectuals. What we have now is an adamant anti-intellectualism that is becoming increasingly mainstream.

So where does this anti-intellectualism come from? Probably it mostly originated from the left-wing. Specifically within the anti-war movement in the 1960's. This is an important and oft-overlooked point. People take a look at student protests at Berkeley and other college campuses in the 1960's and '70's and view the anti-war movement as being an extension of academia, when in fact the students were often protesting their academic institutions' support of the war. My Vietnam War teacher was teaching at Berkeley at the time, and would often tell us about the standoffs between faculty and students that occurred all the time.

This stemming anti-intellectualism from the left is what caused many academics of the time to abandon the left, and started what is termed the neoconservative movement. Such academics included the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Henry Kissinger and many others. Ironically, however, it was this exact neoconservative movement that helped lead American politics further toward anti-intellectualism, with that paragon of neoconservatism - Ronald Reagan. The fact that the Soviet Union collapsed during Reagan's administration led to the current myth that moral clarity, rather than logic or knowledge, is all that is needed to ensure victory for American values.

So there you have it, a context of anti-intellectualism that can help lead to Bush's nomination, despite the fact that he's clearly unqualified for the presidency. This doesn't fully explain Bush, but it puts Bush in a context that makes his nomination and presidency seem like something less than an aberration.

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