Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND FAITH....I finally read the Suskind article in the New York Times magazine that everyone is talking about, and I was a bit disappointed. I don't doubt for a minute that George Bush really is isolated in a world that relies primarily on instinct and faith and is practically phobic about inconvenient facts, but Suskind's case is pretty thin. In fact, out of nearly 10,000 words, there's really only one genuinely supporting quote from someone who has worked closely with Bush (Christine Todd Whitman: "In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!").

What's more, I think the paragraph that's getting the most attention is being badly misinterpreted. Here it is:

[A senior Bush advisor] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality judiciously, as you will we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors....and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

This doesn't strike me as an admission that Bush ignores reality, it strikes me as a boast that Bush is a man of action who changes the world around him while blue state elitists like Suskind and his fellow Times readers are fussily engaged in studying multiple sides of every issue. Bush is a doer, not an analyzer.

But who knows? Maybe it amounts to much the same thing, and the record of the past four years doesn't leave much doubt that Bush has little use for inconvenient data and patent disdain for anyone who fails to immediately see the things that seem so obvious to him often with disastrous results. More interesting, though, is why Bush acts this way, and to understand that you have to read Suskind's piece pretty carefully.

At first glance, Suskind seems to be saying that Bush's character is driven by an almost unnatural, faith-based confidence in his own instincts a sort of Mao-like faith, as Juan Cole puts it. But he's actually saying just the opposite: that Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind.

Why is he afraid to change his mind? I don't know. But he sure does go to nearly neurotic lengths to avoid hearing anything that might cause him to doubt his own beliefs. That's hardly the sign of a man with genuine confidence in himself, is it?

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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