MAXWELL:  What others won’t say about presidential candidate George W. Bush

9/19/1999 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Let’s stop dancing around with W. and the D-word. I keep reading and hearing smooth euphemisms about the Republican presidential front-runner. He is “flip,” he is “cocky,” he is “not a details man” and he is “not a policy wonk.”

Give me a break. Let us just tell it straight, Texas-style: W. is dumb.

Most political pundits, however, publicly skirt the issue. For all of his money and his charmed head-start at birth, George W. Bush, son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush, should be well-read.

And brilliant.

But he is neither. And some observers even have the gall to excuse W.’s inarticulateness and ignorance of important issues.

One of the latest examples comes from none other than New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. This Pulitzer Prize winner, who made a cottage industry of calling Bill Clinton and his wife every nasty name permitted in a family newspaper, merely hints that W. is a dummy. She shows W. _ using quintessential Dan Quaylisms _ referring to the East Timorese as the “East Timorians.” She also places W. at a Bedford, N.H., elementary school imparting his brand of wisdom to innocent children: “Some people say that I proved that if you get a C average, you can end up being successful in life.”

Keep in mind that many of these same children would be frowned upon or taken to the woodshed if they earned a C average. They belong to a new generation of pupils who must overachieve, who are being tested into fits of vomiting and recurring nightmares by the likes of W., the Lone Star State’s Education Governor.

The plain truth is that W.’s mediocrity may prove that he became “successful in life” because of his name (Bush) and his family’s wealth. Most other guys of “average” intelligence, who fumble their thoughts and wear a smirk, could not dream of becoming governor of any state _ let alone becoming U.S. president. (Ronald Reagan being, of course, a notable exception.)

Keenly aware of his half-baked replies to Dowd, W. said, “In my life, I never tried to rush the natural progression of growing up.”

Sorry, W., but “growing up” includes reading _ and reflecting.

Frank Rich of the New York Times comes as close as any other pundit in stating unequivocably that W. might suffer from gray matter deficit syndrome. In a column arguing that W. won the cocaine joust with journalists, Rich writes: “Some voters are less concerned with what drugs, if any, passed through Mr. Bush’s brain than with what other traffic, if any, did.

“Though otherwise cooperating with a seven-part Washington Post profile this summer, this would-be education president would not permit Andover or Yale to release his grades. Asked by a South Carolina elementary-school kid at a campaign photo op . . . to name his favorite book as a child, Mr. Bush responded, “I can’t remember any specific books.’ ” Amid all the creakhead cracks on late-night talk shows was David Letterman’s chilling aside, “I have the feeling that this guy could turn out to be a colossal boob.”

Whenever I hear W. speak, I sense that I am listening to a faux Texas hick. How, for heaven’s sake, can a serious presidential candidate publicly confuse Slovenians and Slovakians? How can he say Grecian (formula perhaps?) when he means Greek? How, pray tell, can he use Kosovians when he should say Kosovars?

We have a serious problem here, fellow voters.

I am convinced that W., like Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, stands at the front of a new cycle of anti-intellectualism in the United States. Eisenhower, a celebrated general of World War II, known for his conventional mind and clumsy speech, ran against Adlai Stevenson, the “egghead” Democrat whom historian Richard Hofstadter, author of the book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, describes as “a politician of uncommon mind and style . . . .”

And like Ike, W. is of conventional mind and sounds as dumb when opening his mouth. W. operates in a party that blames the nation’s social problems on the so-called “cognitive elite.” One wag called this trend a “jihad against gray matter” _ an apt allusion that explains why that oftimes vacant look on W.’s face reminds me of the character in the movie Forrest Gump.

In falling all over W., as polls indicate, is America simply reacting to the sorry escapades of the brainy, over-sexed Clinton by celebrating stupidity?

Check out what Tucker Carlson writes about W. in the September issue of Talk magazine: “Toward the end of one interview with Bush I decide to test the Larry King Theory _ that dumb questions are the most evocative _ and ask Bush who his heroes are. Expecting the stock Albert Schweitzer-Aristole-Mother Teresa phoniness, I am surprised when Bush can’t seem to come up with an answer. After thinking for an uncomfortably long moment, he names only one: retired baseball player Nolan Ryan. (In the airport later, I notice that Ryan, a close friend of Bush’s, happens to be on the cover of that month’s Texas Monthly.) When I ask Bush to name something he isn’t good at, there is no hesitation at all. “Sitting down and reading a 500-page book on public policy or philosophy or something,’ he says.”

I am not making this up, America.

One reason that Bush might not let Yale or Andover release his grades is that, as a rich kid who filled “legacy” slots, he made lousy grades and probably did not belong on either campus. His first grade in English at Phillips Academy was a big fat goose egg. He also struggled in math.

He certainly is not a poster boy for meritocracy.

Am I saying that the intellectually challenged are not fit for public office? Nope. We are swamped with legions of them at all levels of public life. Am I saying that such a person should not be president of the world’s last superpower? Absolutely.

Do we really want W. Gump at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?