Praiseworthy Stupidity?!?

John A. Quayle blueoval at SGI.NET
Tue Dec 14 15:19:30 MST 1999


In defense of dumbness...

Needed: A lightweight president
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

        George W. Bush is taking it on the chin, on grounds that he is not the
brightest bulb. But whence comes this idea that the president must be the
smartest cookie in the land? It dates back to the New Deal, when central
planning became fashionable. Central planning assumes the government --
particularly the head of state -- knows more than anyone else. Shouldn't
freedom lovers question this assumption?

        Clinton has played the smarty-pants chief executive very well. Recall how
the press swooned, just after the 1992 election, when he gathered all the
country's policy "experts" (read: left-wingers) in D.C. for an extended
powwow on the best way to socialize what remained of the private sector.
Boy, did Clinton know his facts! He displayed the highest policy IQ of any
autodidact in the history of public office! He could even run rings around
the experts! Add his wife to the mix, and you had the central planners'
model political team.

        What a contrast to Bush. First there were the medium-grade SAT scores. And
then there was a new innovation: Bush was asked to name the heads of four
nations picked at random. No multiple choice, just pick them out of the
sky. We're not talking England or France here. The Boston reporter asked
for the names of the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India, and Pakistan.

        Correct answers in order: Aslan Maskhadov, Lee Teng-hui, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, Pervez Musharraf. Bush got the "Lee" part of Lee Teng-hui, but
nothing else. For this he is supposed to feel ashamed, and he faced more
grilling about his supposed lack of necessary knowledge.

        But what kind of test is this? None of the names are Anglo-Saxon, so for
most Americans, this looks like a random assemblage of letters. Mix the
words up randomly and not one in 10 million Americans would know the
difference. At last check there were some 200 nations in the world. And
since Chechnya is not even recognized as a nation, we would have to include
all would-be nations, which would up the number by 10 fold or even 100 fold.

        Is the next president really only qualified if he can rattle off the
monikers of 20,000 political leaders? Clinton would memorize them all if he
thought he had to, in order to win the right to plan the world. But if your
ambition is more modest -- to follow the Constitution, say -- it is not
necessary to know a single one. For my part, I hereby swear never to
support a politician who knows who Atal Bihari Vajpayee is. Instincts tell
me that one who does has big designs on the world, and haven't we had
enough of that?

        Finally, Bush has suffered under the weight of the Dean Acheson affair.
Someone asked what book he was reading and he mentioned a new book about
Acheson. But when asked to provide details, he couldn't really come up with
any. But why isn't this a good thing? Acheson was a monstrous insider, an
architect of the Cold War, the Marshall Plan, Trumanite socialism, and what
he hoped would be the permanent Garrison State. The only reason for Bush to
read about him is to discover exactly how far from the constitutional ideal
we've come.

        Bush shouldn't have fibbed about the book, but does it really matter that
he didn't read about the glories of elite intellectuals and how they can
run the world by grabbing the controls of the ship of state? Far better
that he read a collection of Dave Barry columns, or spend his time tooling
around LewRockwell.com. We've had more politico-intellectuals running our
lives than
any society should be forced to endure. The first president to be heralded
as an intellectual was Woodrow Wilson. He was the Platonic ideal: a truly
public-interested college professor whose ideals soared above those of the
mere mortals he governed. He was so smart that he gave us the income tax,
the central bank, the direct election of senators and a murderous war. Then
he tried to create a world government though the League of Nations,
complete with a World Trade Tribunal. The rubes in Congress who thought the
Constitution should count for something rejected the latter two demands.

        By contrast, in a truly free society, it wouldn't matter who the president
is or how smart he is. Given the tyrannical potential of the office,
there's a case to be made for regular Joes who don't pretend they're
philosopher-kings. Because they lack intellectual arrogance, they might be
less inclined to believe, for example, that they can redesign the
healthcare system or regulate every drug. It's even better if the public
regards the president as a lightweight, for then people might be less
inclined to believe that he is capable of much at all.

        Given how much mischief the office is capable of causing, we need a
president who cares less about running the country than just enjoying
himself. We need a president who entertains friends late into the night,
wakes up around noon, plays poker and golf, issues an executive order
fixing the cocktail hour at four, and otherwise takes a vacation whenever
he feels like it. He should also hate flying overseas. We need, in other
words, a "caretaker president."

        No more policy elites, no more smart people planning our lives, and no
more arrogance in the White House. Give me a president with good manners, a
sense of simple decency, a warm heart, a friendly smile, and, most of all,
a realization that he is no smarter than the gardener. If George Bush is
that man, we can only hope that he doesn't "grow in stature" once in office.


Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in
Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.



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