Thursday, October 2, 2008

From President Bush to Potential President Palin

"It is a capital error to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am reminded of that comment by Holmes to Watson as I reflect on the similarities between President George W. Bush and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Unlike some people who criticize President Bush and Governor Palin, I do not consider them stupid. The problem is that President Bush and Governor Palin are affable anti-intellectuals. Their popularity arises from their affability, and from the unfortunate prejudice within some segments of the American public against intellectualism. That prejudice highlights a strange self-contradiction. Americans like to believe that we are smart and enterprising people. However, many voters profess discomfort with elected officials who seem "too smart."

The problem with Bush and Palin is not that they cannot think, but that they approach serious public policy matters in narrow-minded ways based on the convenient lense of personal ideologies. Put bluntly, Bush and Palin are classic examples of tunnel-visioned leadership. They take positions on public policy matters based on prejudice rather than honest inquiry and hard analysis.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, Bush and Palin commit the "capital error" of theorizing without data. Bush launched the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq because of the "capital error" of theorizing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction despite insistence by United Nations weapons inspectors that none had been detected before Bush ran them out of Iraq with his threat of an imminent invasion. In the same way, Palin demonstrates such a "capital error" by claiming to be ready for national leadership.

It is intriguing that many Americans embrace Palin despite mounting evidence that she is more similar to Bush than different from him. When interviewed by CBS evening news anchor Katie Couric, Palin could not name a single newspaper that she reads. She could not name one Supreme Court decision with which she disagreed (even the decision issued earlier this year involving damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spil litigation. When Charlie Gibson of ABC news interviewed Palin and asked her opinion of the Bush Doctrine, Palin was clearly unfamiliar with the term.

For the past eight years, Americans have suffered the effects of an anti-intellectual, neo-fundamentalist, and belligerent presidency because of our unfortunate tendency to equate affability with competence. So it is amazing, but hardly amusing, that American voters might wittingly elect Palin Vice President of the United States, where she would have 1 chance in 7--the same odds of having your birthday fall on a Friday--of becoming President given Senator John McCain's advanced age and questions about his health.

All of this leads to the following questions. Is a potential Palin presidency likely to be qualitatively and functionally different from the presidency of George W. Bush? Do we want really want bet the life and posterity of the nation on a wrong answer to that question?


Mike Spencer said...

Sure we do! :)

Unknown said...

The similarities between Bush and Palin are indeed striking and frightening. And yet I continue to see poll questions asking voters which candidate they'd rather invite to a barbecue, or have a beer with. I'm sure that either Bush or Palin would be a lot of fun to joke with at social events, but neither is capable or qualified to run a large corporation, much less a country. Why do pollsters even ask such stupid questions when the answers don't matter? Or maybe they DO matter, if we can correlate them with election results later on (people voting for someone they'd enjoy hanging around with).

At such a critical time in our nation's life, one would think that Mr. McCain would have given more serious thought to his selection of a running mate and possible successor. But he demonstrates that he would rather pander to Joe Six-pack to win an election than do the intelligent thing. May God help us all if he succeeds.