Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Surge

We live in a country where even the village idiot is permitted to run for President.

However, when the founding fathers set up this system, they assumed that at least a majority of voters would be smart enough not to vote for the village idiot.

Well, actually, that’s not true. The founding fathers set up the Electoral College, and meant for it to be something more than a rubber stamp of the public will. Recognizing that the selection of a President is an important task that takes more time and intelligent research than the average person has available, they decided instead on a system where the people would choose elector. Those electors would go through the effort of assessing candidates. The next few generations of Americans tossed out that system in favor of direct elections. That system is one that can only work if we assume that the average voter has enough intelligence not to hire the village idiot to run the country.

Yet, here we are.

Anybody who paid attention to how Bush thinks could have predicted long ago that Bush was going to promote a renewed push in Iraq, with more troops and more money. I described that method yesterday. Bush ‘thinks’ by a three-step process that says:

Step 1: Embrace a conclusion

Step 2: Collect evidence on an issue.

Step 3: Filter the evidence, keeping only that which conforms to the embraced conclusion, toss out that which contradicts as the embraced conclusion and condemn any who would dare present conflicting evidence as anti-American, anti-Freedom, and anti-God, and reinterpret everything else so that it supports the embraced conclusion one has embraced.

Shortly after the Bush Administration saw the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, it called a group of ‘experts’ over to the White House to discuss alternative plans.

Simply by knowing how Bush thinks, one can see what he was up to with this meeting. Four years ago, Bush embraced a conclusion. He turned to the intelligence evidence, threw out what he did not like, and reinterpreted the rest to match his conclusion. With all that he has seen since then, nothing has yet shaken his faith that his original conclusion was correct. If a group delivers a report that he does not like, then this is proof that the group was made up of incompetents – twisted by ideology or a weak will from seeing the grand vision that sits right before Bush’s eyes.

In order to move on to Step 3, Bush needed somebody to tell him that his embraced conclusion was correct. As soon as somebody else told Bush, “The Iraq Study Group was wrong,” then Bush can say, “Yes, I think so, too,” and continue on with his embraced conclusion.

It would be interesting to see what he would do in the absence of yes-men willing to call his ideas brilliant - whatever those ideas may be. However, since any idea, however stupid, will have at least one advocate other than Bush itself, Bush will always find what he needs to find in order to continue to hold on to his embraced conclusion. Once Bush collected his data, he decided that he then had enough information that his generals were too stupid to know what to do and overrule their suggestions. He could assert that the blue-ribbon committee were wasting their time and taxpayer dollars coming up with a set of recommendations.. Instead, Bush could assert that he alone had the intellectual giftedness necessary to come up with a plan that all of his experts. All of this came in spite of the fact that his experts worked full time on the question, while Bush filled a substantial portion of his time and keen intellect on other matters.

Now, I have criticized some Democrats of this same way of thinking. They have embraced the conclusion that Bush was wrong. As a Republican, by default, he could not possibly be right. They collect their evidence, keep what confirms their hypothesis and throw out what they do not like, and reinterpret the rest so as to support their embraced hypothesis.

I have presented as evidence the claims that many of the more liberal Democrats have made regarding the conduct of the war. With nothing to go on but their own ideas, and the automatic assumption that Bush must necessarily be wrong, they judge themselves fully competent to make their own war plans (or withdraw plans) on little or no data.

In this context, I have held that the only morally and intellectually responsible position to take is to say, “I do not know; I must leave these choices up to the experts.”

In the last couple of months, we have had reports of what the experts would have said. An individual who holds that intellectual responsibility involves listening to experts, there is reason to condemn Bush. The Iraq Study Group has given its recommendations. In addition, the Washington Post reports that the Joint Chiefs are unanimously opposed to Bush’s plan.

Bush is, in fact, the village idiot. He is so lacking in basic intellectual skills that he thinks he is a genius.

He does not earn this title because he does not accept my wisdom on what to do in Iraq. I have admitted my own ignorance, and yielded to the better judgment of those who have spent more time studying the issue than I have. Bush earns the title by not listening to them.

Ancient Greece brings us the story of Socrates, who the Oracle of Delphi declared to be the wisest person around. Socrates answered that if he was wise, then wisdom must consist in knowing one’s own limitations – with respecting the fact that one actually knows very little.

It is true, in fact. The wise person consults a doctor to diagnose his disease, an engineer to design his house and a carpenter to build it, a lawyer to handle his affairs in court, and a financial advisor (either personally or in the form of experts running a preferred mutual fund) to make many of his decisions for him. He recognizes his own limits and trusts to experts.

Only the fool thinks that he can do everything himself.

Of course, there is a chance, however small, that even a fool might get lucky. After all, somebody has to win the lottery. However, even professional gamblers know how to read the odds so as to give oneself the best chances possible.

Plays and movies tend to show us examples in which a person makes a 1 in 1,000,000 gamble and wins. However, this is only because the 999,999 examples in which the gambler loses, the story tends not to be one that one wants to watch – or to live through.

Bush has decided to gamble by putting yet another stack of young American lives and a few more tens to hundreds of billions of dollars into the pot. Yet he lacks even the rudimentary intellectual competence to play the game well – meaning that there is a good chance (given the testimony of the experts) that Bush will lose this hand as he lost the earlier hands, and another stack of lives and collection of taxpayer dollars will be wasted.

Yet, ultimately, it is difficult to blame Bush for these failures. Bush is an intellectual lightweight. Much of the reason he does poorly is because he lacks the basic competence to do well. If an incompetent employee does something destructive to a business, then the blame not only falls on the incompetent employee, but on the people who decided to hire him.

America is filled with people who decided to put the village idiot in charge. At which point, the village idiot made the types of decisions that village idiots are prone to make. The public tendency is to blame Bush himself. The just and fair response would be to blame those who put him in that position. Those are the people who have the blood of 3,000 dead Americans, over 20,000 wounded Americans, nearly 40,000 dead Iraqis this year alone, and untold number of wounded, and incalculable damage in loss of education and damage to economic infrastructure. Such people deserve fair condemnation for what they have done.

The founding fathers decided that even the village idiot can run for President.

However, that doesn’t mean that they wanted us to actually vote for him.


Anonymous said...

H. L. Mencken was right!

"[W]hen a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental--men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... [A]ll the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre--the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." -H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920 http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken#Sourced

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

There is a theory that it's better to be lucky than good. We tend to vote for people who have a history of being lucky.
Bush II had a history of astonishing luck and little skill before he became President. Unfortunately past luck is a poor predictor of future performance. We're now paying the price for someone with no skills to fall back on when the luck ran out.