Friday, July 07, 2006

Evil v. Stupid

George Lakoff had a very interesting piece up at @ HuffPo a few days ago. (OK, a week ago.) He argued that the Bush moron meme does not serve our long term interest.

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi recently charged "The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader." Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point.

Bush's disasters -- Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit -- are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.

To Bush's base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm -- it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities -- disregarding him as a complete idiot -- and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it's all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.

On the one hand, I think Lakoff presents a false dichotomy: Bush can be both evil and stupid.

And I have certainly helped to to further the moron meme.

But I think Lakoff is right in a very important way. The Republican machine can compartmentalize and minimize the long-term damage from this train wreck of an Administration by adopting the moron frame. They can flood the Bush compartment and still keep the Titanic that is their bigger conservative disaster afloat. That is, if we are somehow able to succeed in convincing the media to start treating Bush as an idiot, the conservatives will be able to argue that the countless failures of the Bush Administration are tied to Bush's stupidity, not -- perish the thought -- the fundamental wrong-headedness of the policies themselves.

Stupid versus evil? Evil it is.

4 Comments:

Anonymous essayh said...

As incompetent as those currently in office are, I can't think about a campaign based on 'competence' without having a nightmarish Dukakis flashback.

2:30 PM  
Blogger bluememe said...

Yeah, and we saw how well Kerry's "what Bush did, but better" worked out.

9:17 PM  
Blogger <-<--esoder<---<----<----- said...

I agree there is that danger - that Republicans and those Americans who voted for Bush will vote for the next Republican who runs. They can agree that Bush was a disaster and blame it on his "incompetence" - it's not his policy failures - the policies themselves, and the entire ideology is flawed. But if you blame our sorry state of affairs on Bush, well, we could be in for more of the same from someone else.

Are they starting to paint Jeb as the "smarter" brother yet?

5:07 PM  
Anonymous essayh said...

quoting the carpetbaggerreport.com, who quoted U. S. News:
"'I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes vice president,' said a Bush friend and Florida lawmaker. After all, it was good enough for his dad. The two reasons cited: Jeb is wildly popular in Florida, a key electoral state, and he is often called the smarter Bush brother."

I'd actually throw in some links, but I'm too lazy.

2:16 PM  

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