Ellen Feldman writes that post-election fatigue is an unlikely reason for President Bush’s recent troubles, given “the amount of time he spent vacationing at his ranch before Katrina.” I’ve taken a few cheap shots myself over the years, so I don’t much mind this rather gentle one, especially as I’m sure that Ms. Feldman realizes full well that Presidents don’t get to take anything that the rest of us would consider a vacation at all. The daily briefings, the endless consultations, the telephone calls with foreign leaders, the reading of important but deadly dull reports, goes on relentlessly whether he is wearing a coat and tie in the Oval Office or shorts and a T-shirt in Crawford, Texas.
With modern communications and Air Force One parked on a nearby tarmac ready to take him wherever he needs to go at a moment’s notice, why on earth should the President of the United States have to sit in the miasmal swamp that is Washington, D.C., in August, if he prefers to be in the searing heat of Texas instead? Washington in August, after all, is largely deserted by Congressmen, Senators, Cabinet members, diplomats, and lobbyists. But many think that the President is somehow goofing off if he isn’t in the White House, drumming his fingers on the Oval Office desk, waiting to handle a crisis.
This attitude is nothing new. The proverbial Martian, coming to Earth and reading the mainstream media, would return to his home planet to inform his fellow Martians that Republican Presidents since World War II have always been either lazy or stupid or both (except Nixon—he was evil). Only Democratic Presidents, it seems, work hard and have smarts, even if they spend much of August frolicking with the mega-rich on Martha’s Vineyard or keep to themselves the awesome power of deciding who gets to use the White House tennis court at what times, as Jimmy Carter did.
Eisenhower was forever playing golf and couldn’t utter a simple declarative sentence spontaneously. Gerald Ford couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Reagan was only an actor with a good staff and a tendency to nod off. He took afternoon naps! George H. W. Bush was an amiable preppy without a clue. And, of course, George W. Bush is famously unglib (unlike his Democratic predecessor who wagged his finger at the American people and proceeded to glibly tell us a shameless, bald-faced lie.)
The fact that Eisenhower had organized and successfully executed the largest and most complex military operation in history was of no moment to those who made fun of his syntax. He was obviously a fool and a lazy one to boot. Howell Raines, the former executive editor of The New York Times, wrote that it was impossible to imagine that John Kerry’s grades at Yale weren’t far better than George Bush’s, given that he was so much smarter. It turned out, however, that Bush had had the better grades at Yale and was smart enough to convince a majority of the American people to vote for him, not John Kerry.
In fact, of course, no one in this day and age gets anywhere near the Oval Office (even by inheritance from the Vice Presidency) without being very, very smart; willing to do a lot of very hard, very boring work campaigning; and willing to suffer fools gladly (and handle them adroitly) in countless media interviews. Nobody who has been President since Warren Harding, Republican or Democrat, has been anything resembling stupid or lazy. (Harding, of course, was both.)
The root of this is that liberals tend to be intellectuals and intellectuals can forgive almost anything except the crime of not being an intellectual. And they never seem to grasp the idea that being intellectual and being smart are not at all the same thing. You can be both, neither, or one of the two. Successfully carrying off D-Day didn’t require a deep interest in abstract ideas; it did require that Eisenhower be smart. And being a workaholic doesn’t make you a great President. Jimmy Carter is on no one’s list of even average Presidents.
Since Republican Presidents are rarely intellectual (Theodore Roosevelt was a notable exception), intellectuals think they must be lazy and/or stupid. But that is an idea, to quote George Orwell, “so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.”