MAXWELL:  George Bush is clearly not up to the job

7/8/2001 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


By now, politically aware Americans know that President George W. Bush’s honeymoon is over. I will not repeat all of the poll numbers, only that of a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal tally showing that Bush has a lousy 50 percent job approval rating.

Many pollsters and pundits argue that Bush’s halo is dimming because voters disagree with the president’s stances on missile defense, energy, the environment and, lo and behold, the ballyhooed tax bonus.

They are right, of course. But disagreement with the president accounts for only part of his performance slide. While many people, even some who voted for him, now believe that Bush is out of touch with Americans’ core beliefs, a large percentage of others belatedly have come to realize that their prez may not be up to the job.

And I am not talking about his infamous linguistic gaffes. I am talking about the president’s lack of knowledge and his apparent inability to intellectualize _ not to mention his inability to articulate _ complex domestic and foreign issues.

Why is Bush always fooling around, winking, nicknaming and playing games (tossing a baseball with the Japanese prime minister one day, goofing around on the links the next, passing a football with African-American churchgoers the following)?

Does he ever read and reflect?

Witness what James Klurfeld, Newsday’s editor of editorials, wrote of Bush’s interview with former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who is writing a book about her former boss. During the interview, Bush uttered stuff about his recent European trip that showed his ignorance of the world, especially his ignorance of Russia.

“We shouldn’t be surprised,” Klurfeld wrote, “that Bush doesn’t understand the nuances of a foreign policy issue because he doesn’t have much background in foreign policy, has never traveled to Russia and has never exhibited much curiosity about world events.”

Bush is not a man of letters. Not that a president has to be a Woodrow Wilson, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy. But the leader of the free world should be a person of native intelligence, whose command of history enables him to apprehend the currents of events before the electorate does. Too often, Bush _ unlike his bookish, well-traveled predecessor _ seems to be light years behind the electorate.

Whenever I hear Bush speak of anything, even baseball, I suspect that he is parroting his advisers, the ideologues who frame his public persona. Whenever I hear him, I do not sense a grounding derived from personal involvement and natural interest. I do not get a sense of someone who has done the deep study expected of the president of the United States of America.

Remember how Bill Clinton, despite potentially career-ending scandals, commanded attention with the sheer force of his intellect, by his ability to instantly synthesize ideas? Bush is the opposite: His very lack of intellect commands attention, and, make no mistake, this deficiency is hurting him in the polls.

Many of you might be thinking at this point that the people to blame for putting this anti-intellectual in the White House are those “dumb” white Southern males? Wrong. Southern white males did put Bush in the White House, but they were not your stereotypical Bubbas. Nor were they Southern white men over the age of 60 and those who earn less than $30,000 a year.

The scary truth is the most educated and the wealthiest Southern white men overwhelmingly voted for this unqualified man as president.

“Bush scored strong margins among younger men, among men who have gone to college and among voters in the $50,000-to-$70,000 income range as well as among the wealthiest white men,” writes Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Guillory should know. He and his team of experts crunched the numbers.

What does this say about Southern white men and their regard for intellect? I am not sure, but I do know that most lower income people _ white males included _ believe that, short of being born into wealth, intellect and hard work are the path to success. Many lower income white men, like most blacks, saw Bush as a privileged smart aleck who never had to work for anything. They, unlike the men who identified with Bush, did not take him seriously.

Here is my question: How many of the white men who so enthusiastically voted for Bush are willing to fess up that their man is not up to the job, that their irrational choice did the nation a grave disservice? And, I want to know, what does their vote say about them?

Last December, I made this prediction in a column: “Prez W. will prove to be an empty suit. . . . Before 2001 ends, he will be a “world class’ embarrassment in foreign and domestic affairs _ if he is permitted to think and speak off the cuff. White House puppeteers definitely will earn their keep during the next four years.”

Nothing I have seen or heard thus far changes my mind about this president. His handlers, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, cannot save Bush from his limitations. The honeymoon is over, as it should be.


Half-price Mondays: All upper general admission (regularly $8) and outfield seats (regularly $14) are half price.

Tampa Tuesdays: Fans presenting a coupon from the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday issues of the Tampa Tribune can purchase $8 Upper General Admission for $3.

Web site Wednesdays: Fans can check the Rays official team Web site ( for the Wednesday Special (posted Monday at noon). You can get Lower Reserved seats, regularly $23, for $10, and outfield seats, regularly $14, for $7.

St. Petersburg Times TGIF at the Trop: On Fridays, fans presenting a coupon from the Times receive a $10 ticket in The Beach and two 16-ounce sodas or beers.

St. Petersburg Times Family Funday: Fans presenting a coupon from the Times receive a lower deck outfield ticket, hot dog and Pepsi for $12 ($19.50 value) or an upper GA ticket for $3 ($8 value).

Seniors Day: On all non-holiday weekday afternoon games, seniors can enjoy a game by buying a lower deck outfield ticket and receive a hot dog and Pepsi for $12 or an upper GA ticket, hot dog and Pepsi for $7.

The kids’ concession stand sells Pepsis, hot dogs and brownies for $1.

I repeat Vaughn’s advice: Plan for the game. Set a budget and stick to it. Hey, the Rays should give Asheley Ulrich’s daughter an ambassadorial season ticket.