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George W. Bush is taking it on the chin, on grounds that he is not
the brightest bulb. But whence comes this idea that the president must
be the smartest cookie in the land? It dates back to the New Deal, when
central planning became fashionable. Central planning assumes the
government — particularly the head of state — knows more than anyone
else. Shouldn’t freedom lovers question this assumption?
Clinton has played the smarty-pants chief executive very well. Recall
how the press swooned, just after the 1992 election, when he gathered
all the country’s policy “experts” (read: left-wingers) in D.C. for an
extended powwow on the best way to socialize what remained of the
private sector. Boy, did Clinton know his facts! He displayed the
highest policy IQ of any autodidact in the history of public office! He
could even run rings around the experts! Add his wife to the mix, and
you had the central planners’ model political team.
What a contrast to Bush. First there were the medium-grade SAT
scores. And then there was a new innovation: Bush was asked to name the
heads of four nations picked at random. No multiple choice, just pick
them out of the sky. We’re not talking England or France here. The
Boston reporter asked for the names of the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan,
India, and Pakistan.
Correct answers in order: Aslan Maskhadov, Lee Teng-hui, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, Pervez Musharraf. Bush got the “Lee” part of Lee Teng-hui, but
nothing else. For this he is supposed to feel ashamed, and he faced more
grilling about his supposed lack of necessary knowledge.
But what kind of test is this? None of the names are Anglo-Saxon, so
for most Americans, this looks like a random assemblage of letters. Mix
the words up randomly and not one in 10 million Americans would know the
difference. At last check there were some 200 nations in the world. And
since Chechnya is not even recognized as a nation, we would have to
include all would-be nations, which would up the number by 10 fold or
even 100 fold.
Is the next president really only qualified if he can rattle off the
monikers of 20,000 political leaders? Clinton would memorize them all if
he thought he had to, in order to win the right to plan the world. But
if your ambition is more modest — to follow the Constitution, say — it
is not necessary to know a single one. For my part, I hereby swear never
to support a politician who knows who Atal Bihari Vajpayee is. Instincts
tell me that one who does has big designs on the world, and haven’t we
had enough of that?
Finally, Bush has suffered under the weight of the Dean Acheson
affair. Someone asked what book he was reading and he mentioned a new
book about Acheson. But when asked to provide details, he couldn’t
really come up with any. But why isn’t this a good thing? Acheson was a
monstrous insider, an architect of the Cold War, the Marshall Plan,
Trumanite socialism, and what he hoped would be the permanent Garrison
State. The only reason for Bush to read about him is to discover exactly
how far from the constitutional ideal we’ve come.
Bush shouldn’t have fibbed about the book, but does it really matter
that he didn’t read about the glories of elite intellectuals and how
they can run the world by grabbing the controls of the ship of state?
Far better that he read a collection of Dave Barry columns, or spend his
time tooling around LewRockwell.com.
We’ve had more politico-intellectuals running our lives than any society
should be forced to endure.
The first president to be heralded as an intellectual was Woodrow
Wilson. He was the Platonic ideal: a truly public-interested college
professor whose ideals soared above those of the mere mortals he
governed. He was so smart that he gave us the income tax, the central
bank, the direct election of senators and a murderous war. Then he tried
to create a world government though the League of Nations, complete with
a World Trade Tribunal. The rubes in Congress who thought the
Constitution should count for something rejected the latter two demands.
By contrast, in a truly free society, it wouldn’t matter who the
president is or how smart he is. Given the tyrannical potential of the
office, there’s a case to be made for regular Joes who don’t pretend
they’re philosopher-kings. Because they lack intellectual arrogance,
they might be less inclined to believe, for example, that they can
redesign the health-care system or regulate every drug. It’s even better
if the public regards the president as a lightweight, for then people
might be less inclined to believe that he is capable of much at all.
Given how much mischief the office is capable of causing, we need a
president who cares less about running the country than just enjoying
himself. We need a president who entertains friends late into the night,
wakes up around noon, plays poker and golf, issues an executive order
fixing the cocktail hour at four, and otherwise takes a vacation
whenever he feels like it. He should also hate flying overseas. We need,
in other words, a “caretaker president.”
No more policy elites, no more smart people planning our lives, and
no more arrogance in the White House. Give me a president with good
manners, a sense of simple decency, a warm heart, a friendly smile, and,
most of all, a realization that he is no smarter than the gardener. If
George Bush is that man, we can only hope that he doesn’t “grow in
stature” once in office.