George W. Bush Graduated From Yale and Harvard

June 4, 2014 by  

George W. Bush Graduated From Yale and Harvard, We seem to have entered an extended national shopping period for our next president. The debates have already begun, arraying the options in neat displays. The analysts suggest the qualities we might think to look for as we peruse the campaign shelves: Does he have enough foreign policy experience? Can she be strong enough? Will he be a true champion of conservative causes, or is he just pretending? And so on.
They are all reasonable enough attributes for us to think about. Now, I’d like to suggest one that no one is talking about, which seems to me far more important: Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, tried-and-true or fresh-face-on-the-scene, the next president had better have a complex mind.

I’m not just talking about intelligence or smarts. George W. Bush graduated from Yale and Harvard; C student or not, he wasn’t failing. The tragedy of the Bush presidency is not about failure; it is about a conception of success that is much too simple.

Bush campaigned, for example, on the promise of “compassionate conservatism,” but when the chips were down, he delivered a simple form of “cowboy conservatism” long cherished in the American psyche. Like the citizen-sheriff in High Noon, a decent man and reluctant warrior, George Bush-as-Gary Cooper courageously stood up at one end of our global Main Street and faced down the Bad Guy, Saddam Hussein, to protect his family and community.

A dose of reality

But here’s the problem: The real world is not a Western movie. In High Noon, when the lone heroic actor succeeds, the town is saved and the movie ends in the quiet triumphalism of plain-spoken America. In the real world, a super-power sheriff acting essentially by himself, no matter how brave, imperils the global town no matter the outcome of the gunfight.

In the simple world, the mission is accomplished when the initial military campaign succeeds. In the real world, the invasion of Iraq involves at least five distinct and complexly interrelated campaigns: (1) winning the war; (2) securing the streets; (3) rebuilding the infrastructure; (4) rebuilding social institutions; (5) providing humanitarian relief.

In the simple world, the Sunnis and Shiites are feuding factions like the Hatfields and McCoys. In the real world, many neighborhoods and families are inextricably both, and there are feuding factions within, as well as between, each group.

In the simple world, we are helping to create a democratic state, a crucial piece toward a new Middle East that, Europe-like, will consist of a collection of pro-Western partners. In the real world, most Iraqis do not think “nationally” at all, regard state boundaries as arbitrary, and feel first allegiance to their brand of Muslim faith rather than to their current or future country.

In the simple world, it is clear that withdrawing our troops will strengthen the hand of the terrorists. In the real world, the path to diminished Arab extremism is not won by American victories but by the increased strength of Arab moderates who can form alliances with the West that will withstand tough, mutual demands for accountability. It is likely that this cannot occur while we continue to occupy Iraq, and that our withdrawal could ultimately place the terrorists in a weaker position.

What to look for

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of people with complex minds would make lousy presidents. (Thirty years on the Harvard faculty will teach you something!) I’m not saying this is the only thing we should look for.

But if the past six years have taught us anything, it is this: All our lives, we have heard that the real world is a dangerous place, and indeed it is; but the simple world — especially when this is where the leader lives — is much more dangerous.

So before we put that candidate in our shopping carts — probably because he or she sides with us on issues we hold dear — we might ask ourselves a difficult question: How does this person hold those positions we favor?

When we listen to the candidates discuss the issues: Are we learning anything about the subject itself other than the candidate’s position? Is this a mind that can be in conversation with itself, or is it blissfully unencumbered by alternative possibilities? Do opposing views and the people who hold them get characterized as two-dimensional straw men? Are we visiting a world of black and white or one that respects the shades of gray? Can candidates surprise us with their views when they turn to a new topic, or can we anticipate how a cookie-cutter mentality will put its familiar frame on fresh material?

In a complex world, a complex mind in the leader is no luxury. We simply cannot afford otherwise.

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