"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Black is White, Up is Down

We have been told for the past three years how brilliant Obama is.   How educated, how erudite!   Why, he went to Columbia, don't you know, and Harvard Law, and he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.   

Meanwhile, we've also been told that President George W. Bush was a dunce, a man who lacked curiosity.   Uncurious George, they called him.   He didn't read, he didn't think, he couldn't understand.  

But how does that square with the following picture from a liberal journalism professor, Walt Harrington, writing in The American Scholar?

He certainly enjoys reading and talking about books. And his friends know it. On his desk is a stack of books that have come as gifts: All Things Are Possible Through Prayer; Basho: The Complete Haiku; Children of Jihad; and Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children. To the pile, I add my own gift, Cleopatra by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Stacy Schiff. Right now, Bush is reading Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life, a biography of the first president. “Chernow’s a great historian,” Bush says excitedly. “I think one of the great history books I read was on Alexander Hamilton by Chernow. But I also read House of Morgan, Titan, and now I’m reading Washington.”

He mentions David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter, a book about the Korean War that he read before a visit last year to Korea, to give a speech to evangelicals. “I stand up in front of 65,000 Christians to give a speech in South Korea … ,” he says, “and I’m thinking about the bloody [battles] fought in the Korean War.” Halberstam’s book—coupled with earlier readings of David McCullough’s Truman and Robert Beisner’s Dean Acheson, a biography of Truman’s secretary of state presented to him by Bush’s own secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice—gave the event deeper resonance. The decisions of the unpopular President Harry S Truman, he realized, made it possible for a former U. S. president to speak before freely worshipping Koreans 60 years later. “So history, in this case, gave me a better understanding of the moment, and … put it all into context—the wonder of the moment.”
I tick off a partial list of people Bush has read books about in recent years in addition to Washington, Truman, and Acheson: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Huey Long, Lyndon Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Mellon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ulysses S. Grant, John Quincy Adams, Genghis Khan.

“Genghis Khan?” I ask incredulously.

“I didn’t know much about him. I was fascinated by him. I guess I’ve always been fascinated by larger-than-life figures. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading Cleopatra. I know nothing about her. … But you can sit there and be absorbed by TV, let the news of the moment consume you. You can just do nothing. I choose to read as a form of relaxation. … Laura used to say, ‘Reading is taking a journey,’ and she’s right.”

Meanwhile, and please take this with a grain of salt, here's a description from an anonymous (and potentially fictitious) "White House insider" about Obama's reading habits:

So let’s look through the eyes of someone heading into Barack Obama’s upstairs office at the White House to give him a briefing.  Maybe it’s on national security.  Maybe the economy.  Energy policy. Whatever – doesn’t matter.  The scenario being played out these days is pretty much the same regardless of the particulars.  You knock on the door – it’s always closed.  Always.  Often you have to knock for some time before being given approval from inside to enter.  The big screen will be on – the volume loud.  You can easily hear it from outside the door.  The sports channels are the ones most commonly playing, though sometimes the channel will be set to music, or Fox News.  Sometimes Valerie Jarrett might be there, but most often it is just the president and his personal aide.  A large leather chair will be facing the television – it’s well worn.  Not part of the White House furnishings but something the president must have brought in from back home.  That’s where you’ll most often find the President of the United States – the most powerful man in the free fucking world.  He often sits with one leg draped over one of the chair’s arms and the other leg stuck straight onto the floor.  Shorts, sweats, a t-shirt, and like I said, no shoes or just those sandal things that so many of the younger people like to wear these days.  And that leg that’s draped over an arm of the chair will be bopping up and down, like…like someone with  a lot of nervous energy.  Like a kid does.  And there’s the smell of smoke hanging on the president.  The guy never quit smoking – that was all bullshit.  I told you that already.  In fact, there’s one of those smokeless ash trays on the desk in there.  And that desk, it’s a mess.  Magazines spread out all over it.  Stupid shit too.  Real low brow reading material the president is into.  People.  Rolling Stone.  Lots of those tabloid things.  The most common thread with this shit is it’s about the president.  If it’s about him, he’s gonna read it.  Good or bad – doesn’t matter.  If somebody is talking about him, he’s reading it.  He’s watching it.  Whatever.  The guy’s self-obsession is off the f**king charts.

Again, maybe this stuff isn't true.   Maybe "Ulsterman" at newsflavor.com is just making it all up.   But it rings true to me.  

Now, compare and contrast the two men.   Who exactly is the smart one and who is the dummy?

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