I always thought Bush was just the leader to lead this nation
into the middle ages…
(From the Los Angeles Times)
It should have been an embarrassing admission for him and a flabbergasting one for us: President Bush told Fox News recently that he only “glanced” at newspaper headlines, rarely reading stories, and that for his real news hits, he relied on briefings from acolytes who, he said flippantly, “probably read the news themselves.” He rationalized his indifference by claiming he needed “objective” information. Even allowing for the president’s contempt for the press, it was a peculiar comment, and it prompted the New York Times to call him “one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House.”
The difference between the current administration and its conservative forebears is that facts don’t seem to matter at all. They don’t even matter enough to reinterpret. Bush doesn’t read the papers or watch the news, and Condoleezza Rice, his national security advisor, reportedly didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate, which is apparently why she missed the remarks casting doubt on claims that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Africa. (She reportedly read the document later.) And although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hasn’t disavowed reading or watching the news, he has publicly and proudly disavowed paying any attention to it. In this administration, everyone already knows the truth.
A more sinister aspect to this presidency’s cavalier attitude toward facts is its effort to bend, twist and distort them when it apparently serves the administration’s interests. Intelligence was exaggerated to justify the war in Iraq. Even if there were no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or of ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the CIA was expected to substantiate the accusations. In a similar vein, the New Republic reported that Treasury Department economists had been demoted for providing objective analysis that would help define policy, as they had done in previous administrations. Now they provide fodder for policy already determined. Said one economist who had worked in the Clinton, Reagan and first Bush administrations, “They didn’t worry about whether they agreed; we were encouraged to raise issues.” Not anymore.
Even the scientific community has been waved off by the medievalists. A minority staff report issued last month by the House Government Reform Committee investigating scientific research found 21 areas in which the administration had “manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings,” including the president’s assurance that there were more than 60 lines for stem-cell research when there were actually only 11; it concluded that “these actions go far beyond the typical shifts in policy that occur with a change in the political party occupying the White House.” When a draft report of the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year included data on global warming, the White House ordered them expunged. Another EPA report, on air quality at ground zero in Manhattan, was altered to provide false reassurance that no danger existed, even though it did.
His self-confidence is certainly admirable at a time when most politicians mistake opinion polls for empiricism. It is also scary. As writer Leon Wieseltier recently observed, this is a presidency without doubt, one entirely comfortable with its own certainties, which is what makes it medieval. But as Wieseltier also observed, it is doubt that deepens one’s vision of life and often provides a better basis for acting within it. It is doubt that helps one understand the world and enables one to avoid hubris. A presidency without doubt and resistant to disconcerting facts is a presidency not on the road to Damascus but on the road to disaster. By regarding facts as political tools, it compromises information and makes reality itself suspect, not to mention that it compromises the agencies that provide the information and makes them unreliable in the future. And by ignoring anything that contradicts its faith, it can vaingloriously plow ahead – right into the abyss. The president and his crew may well live within a pre-Enlightenment lead bubble where they are unwilling and unable to see beyond themselves, but their fellow Americans must live in the real world where even the most powerful nation cannot simply posit its own reality. If you need proof, just read the newspapers.