A viewpoint by Cal Thomas: Look who some Brits are calling stupid

January 03, 2001

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The stereotype about President-elect George W. Bush being dumb has traveled the Atlantic and has taken hold in some of the British press and in the minds of some British and Irish citizens.

People ask me if Bush is as dumb as they've been told he is. When I mention his Yale and Harvard degrees, they are surprised. When I speak of his inherent decency in contrast to they-know-who, most nod appreciatively.

Early post-election commentary in several British publications follows the line of people who cannot defeat someone's argument. They prefer to smear him as an ignorant lout, if only to avoid having to discuss the weakness of their own political ideas.

But the most liberal American commentator has nothing on some British publications, which are characterizing Bush as having an IQ that is a few crumpets short of a proper tea. Perhaps they suffer from empire-envy?


Writing in last Sunday's London Times magazine, Kate Muir tells of her visit to the exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, ‘‘The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.'' Muir, who is photographed before the statue of Lincoln in his memorial (doesn't she know that he preserved a union that her British forebears sought to prevent and later tried to destroy?), doesn't like it that Bush refuses to treat the job he is about to assume as a burden.

She quotes approvingly Lyndon's Johnson's view of the presidency as making whoever occupies the White House ‘‘bigger than he was, and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.'' Muir apparently is too young, or skipped this class, to recall how the Vietnam War reduced Johnson's political size, while adding considerably, and unnecessarily, to the nation's burden.

Revisiting the rap on Ronald Reagan, who she also dismisses as intellectually unworthy, Muir says Bush is not only ‘‘anti-wonk, but anti-work.''

There is a secret to the presidency that the successful presidents have understood. It is hiring experienced people who wind up making the president look good. No president can, or should, be expected to know everything. And many who give the impression of knowing a lot lack the one component that trumps intelligence every time: wisdom.

President-elect Bush is wise enough to have surrounded himself with people who know what they are doing. Many have been there before and will require no on-the-job training. This is about running a government, not pleasing commentators who can freely float their opinions without being held accountable for them.

Bush is so secure in his own skin that he can afford to hire gifted, experienced and wise people for his Cabinet and staff. From once-and-future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon to Wisconsin governor and end-of-welfare-as-we've-known-it Tommy Thompson at Health and Human Services — not to mention Colin Powell at the State Department and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser — Bush is bringing in people who not only will make him look good, but, more importantly, make the government run well.

The president-elect is wisely ignoring adversaries who had wanted him to construct a coalition government that would include people who oppose his policies. Instead, Bush plans to act as if he won the election, which is highly unusual in Republican circles. Could it be Bush will lead Republicans out of the loser mentality that afflicts them even when they win? Might Bush show Republicans that power is to be used, not negotiated away to the losing side?

The ability to make wise decisions is far more important than conquering books on someone's subjective reading list. President Calvin Coolidge noted ‘‘the world is full of educated derelicts.'' Supposedly intelligent men and women have grown the federal government as they have tried to perfect humankind through spending on bloated social programs.

That they have repeatedly failed never indicates to them that they lack wisdom and that their ideas are wrong, only that their supposed intelligence has not been tried for a sufficient period of time, backed up by ever-more spending of the dollars earned by hard-working people, who never get a refund even when surpluses soar out of sight.

Bush is smarter than people give him credit for, and he is wiser than most of the arrogant, intellectual wizards think he is. If he weren't, liberal British and American commentators would not be taking potshots at him. Perhaps they sense their greatest fear will be realized and Bush will succeed in dismantling the people's faith in the government gods.

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