Its Hard Work; In that phrase, Bush encapsulated for the American people precisely the problem with his governance: he is in over his head. Way over his head.
By Stephen Dinan
For all those
who began tonights debate with low expectations for President
Bush, the results were a surprise: he performed even worse than most
could have imagined. Beyond the repetition of a few key phrases that
Karl Rove had obviously made sure he was supposed to emphasize, Bush
bumbled through most questions, returning to the drum beat that
threaded throughout his talk: Its hard work.
Hard work, indeed. It is hard work to be saddled with the complexities of governing the most powerful nation in the world. It is hard work to deal with the nuances of diplomacy and coalition building. It is hard work to admit mistakes and change direction based on changes in the geopolitical landscape.
Its hard work. In that phrase, Bush encapsulated for the American people precisely the problem with his governance: he is in over his head. Way over his head. He has never been a smart man, nor a particular talented one. He is banking on one thing alone: a bulldog-like tenacity to cling to his opinion as the truth, no matter what new information arrives. That, he believes, is what it takes to be President. That is what can lead us to greatness as a country: fixity of opinion.
Fixity of opinion may work for a football lineman. But it doesnt work for the head of the most powerful nation on earth. Fixity of opinion may work in an emergency situation but it doesnt allow one to move strategically in a more complex world. That is why Bush needed, again and again in the debate, to simplify foreign policy to us versus the enemy lumping Iraq and Osama bin Laden together. That is why he said multiple times that we must always be on the offense and never waver.
Fixity of opinion is a way for a man who is in over his head to make sense of a complex world. It reduces shades of gray to black and white. Either youre with us or youre with the enemy. Either youre an ally or youre an enemy. There are moments, of course, when black or white is called for. At those moments, Bushs capacities may allow him to do an adequate job. But in all those areas where a more sophisticated understanding is called for, black and white will not suffice.
In a way I felt compassion for him. It IS challenging to be in over your heard and out of your league. I dont blame him for clinging to the life preserver of surety. I can almost see him pep-talking himself in the morning mirror: youve got to look strong and presidential. Never give an inch. Be firm. Always attack.
In Bushs desire to be seen as resolute, he made it clear in the debate he was not open to changing his ways or admitting errors. His paramount goal, as he stated it, was to not send mixed messages to the troops, to terrorists, or to the world. As Kerry countered, the main worry about the President is that you can also be sure of yourself and be wrong.
The irony of Bushs repeated theme was that he was anything but resolute in his presence. He stumbled over words, answered questions off topic, meandered, fell into silence. During Kerrys answers, his eyes darted like a cornered animal and he hunched over the podium, clearly uncomfortable. Because Bush is trapped in black or white thinking to cope with a job that is over his head, he cannot build bridges to other countries. Diplomacy takes a certain amount of grace, collegiality, and tact. He is blunt, aggressive, and dismissive.
Kerry, by contrast, presented himself in a persuasive, commanding, and presidential way, far better than I would have imagined. I have not been a huge fan until this debate but Kerry convinced me with the clarity in his thoughts, the power of his convictions and his command of facts, figures, and nuance, that he has the capacity to lead in a powerful, resolute way that is open to change when change is called for.
In the debate, Kerry was methodical and powerful. He took notes and spoke unerringly, with an outstanding command of language, policy, and nuance. He attacked the presidents record while honoring him as a man. He made clear that he would chart a different course. And he made brilliant tactical maneuvers, like citing Bushs father about never entering Iraq without an exit strategy.
At the end of the debate, I felt one thing with great certainty. If this nation does elect Kerry as our next president, we would not see him in four years repeating over and over, Its hard work. He would do the job with every ounce of his capacity and I feel much more confident that he would meet those challenges, with a resolute but open and intelligent stance towards the rest of the world.
Kerry is what we need to redeem Americas sullied reputation in the world. George Bush has confessed to the American people the truth: he just doesnt have what it takes to do the job.
Its hard work, indeed.
Stephen Dinan firstname.lastname@example.org is author of Radical Spirit (New World Library, 2002), and founder of TCN, Inc. Stephen directed and helped to create the Esalen Institute's Center for Theory & Research, a think tank for leading scholars, researchers, and teachers to explore human potential frontiers. Currently, he is a marketing consultant for a number of startups, political action groups, and non-profits and runs workshops through the Radical Spirit Community. For a full archive of his articles, visit www.stephendinan.com