I’ve said it before, it was a lot easier to be smarter than the President when the President was George W. Bush.
A major change in the tone, tenor, direction, and focus of this blog occurred sometime in the late summer of 2011 when it dawned on me that this President is smarter than me.
Of course I knew this already. I’d known it since 2004 when he made the speech at the Democratic convention. It’s one of the reasons I was happy to vote for him in 2008. But there’s knowing a thing and then there’s knowing a thing. Vanity is a powerful mind-altering drug. Even though I knew he was way smarter I hadn’t adjusted my thinking about my own thinking accordingly. I’d blogged merrily along as if although I might not be smarter than him on every issue there were plenty on which I could still teach him a thing or two (because of course he read my blog and asked himself every day, What does Lance think about this?). I’m not sure what exactly caused it, but once it finally sank in that compared to him I’m dumber than a box of rocks, it became nearly impossible for me to criticize him or his policies anymore.
This didn’t mean I decided he couldn’t or shouldn’t be criticized. I certainly didn’t start thinking he was never wrong.
What happened was that I realized that in order to criticize him I had to make myself smarter by making myself more knowledgeable. Once I set out to do that, though, I was in trouble. The more I learned, the more I learned I had to learn. Worse than that---worse as in a bigger blow to my pride---the more I learned the more I learned that I wasn’t smart enough to learn a lot of things I needed to learn. It’s as Richard Feynman was fond of saying in various iterations: The more I know, the stupider I get.
I found myself having to admit that for seven years I’d been pretty much blogging off the top of my head (If you do the math here, you’ll see I just told you I’ve been at this for ten years. In fact, today is the blog’s Tenth Anniversary.) and that had to stop.
It was ok to bullshit my way through some arguments. I do know stuff, lots of stuff, and am not really dumber than a box of rocks.
There were times when I still felt smart enough to write about politics: when the targets of my criticism were the Political Press Corps, just about every Democratic politician who is not Barack Obama and every Congressional Republican, and priests, preachers, and their yahoo congregations.
I can be fairly confident I’m smarter than almost every single member of the Press Corps but that’s not saying much, and it’s only because the conventions and practices of their reflexively group-thinking profession make them stupid. Plenty of individual journalists and pundits are way smart but they only get to show it now and then while they’re in DC and it only comes to the fore when they get the hell out of town and stop spending their time among other insider journalists and pundits.
Plenty of politicians, left and right, are smart too, but they’re all too often pressured by political realities into not doing the smart thing because the smart thing hits pocketbooks, upsets apple carts, gores oxen, and hides cheese or, to put it in actual English, getting the smart thing done usually costs money and requires people to change their minds, change their expectations, and give up things they like, trust, and rely on to try to do what usually hasn’t been tried before because it was the smart thing to do.
When it comes to the priests and the preachers it’s practically a no-brainer. I mean that almost literally. Their object is to keep people from using the brains God gave them.
Still, the truth was I wasn’t as expert on the political and economic issues I blogged about as I’d taken for granted I was and as I felt I had a responsibility to be.
And once I faced up to that I had to ask myself, “What other subjects have I been blogging about as if I’m such a smart guy but where I’m actually showing myself up as a pettifogging, derp-acious, logorrheaic horse’s patoot?”
After serious self-reflection and review, I concluded there were only three subjects on which I had done the required homework that I could rely on my stored knowledge enough to be reasonably sure I knew what I was talking about and ask readers to trust I wasn’t just making it up as I went along.
Shakespeare, Discworld, and movies. Superhero movies, in particular, although not a few readers will tell you I’m not all I’m cracked up to be on that one either. Hello, Gary.
Of course I didn’t give up writing about everything else. But I wrote less and less often and with, I think, less certainty---except when the target was Right Wing Republicans, the priests and preachers, and their yahoo congregations. I’m still certain I’m smarter than all of them. Smarter enough, at any rate.
But since then there’ve been all numbers and kinds of issues, events, and topics du jour I’ve shied away from that once upon a time I would have “nailed” with easy confidence.
Which brings me back to the President and on to ISIS.
I have no idea.
I think we really need to do something to stop ISIS.
ISIS is an army of mass murderers led by a genocidal maniac. Whether or not that maniac can lead his mass murderers into an attack on the United States (he probably can’t and probably doesn’t want to) is a separate question from whether or not we should do something to stop them in Iraq. What blood-thirsty warmongers like Dick Cheney, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and their stooges in the political press corps say we should do is beside the point, too. They always think the answer is killing more brown people. Everything they say is noise and posturing and has no real bearing on the question of whether we should set our sights on destroying or at least driving back ISIS. The fact that John McCain is always wrong shouldn’t figure into our trying to decide what’s right.
What we should do and how that would work are the next questions.
The President, smart as he is, isn’t much help on this. He doesn’t seem to know the answers. Of course one of the signs he’s smart is that he generally admits, tacitly but sometimes explicitly, he’s not certain what to do or whether or not what he’s planning to do will work or if it’s even the right thing to do. Another sign is that he takes his time making up his mind. Anyone who criticizes him for being indecisive has to explain what good it did when we had a Decider in the White House.
But the liberal blogosphere hasn’t been any help either. Seems a great deal of the discussion on the left side of the bandwidth is based on naturally fading memories of the run up to the invasion of Iraq and the smug certainty that Since we got it right then, we must be right now.
Republicans would like to forget George W. Bush was ever president. I think a lot of liberals have forgotten exactly what he did that makes them want to forget.
Bush and Cheney and company weren’t wrong generally about Iraq. Just as with everything else they put their dirty and bloody hands to, they were wrong specifically every step of the way, starting with their decision to let bin Laden and al Qaida get away in order to clear the decks for them to indulge Bush’s personal vendetta against Saddam and Cheney’s ambition to own all the oil.
That Iraq and with it the rest of the Muslim world was a democracy waiting to be declared was a lie they told themselves to justify their other lies but they believed it and based their military strategy on it.
“We’ll be welcomed as liberators!”
This seems a little different place to begin than where the President is beginning now.
He may be working from wrong assumptions, but he’s not working from the same assumptions.
Here is where a lot of internet doves lose me. Their arguments seem to me to be based on the assumption that we should get ourselves out of the Middle East no matter what because there’s basically nothing we can do to make things better and just by being in there we make them worse by stirring up suspicions and hatreds. Those are the smart ones. But I would think that since I’m inclined to agree.
I’m inclined to agree. That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree.
There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”
I’m not bothering with any arguments that are based on the assumption that whatever we do is wrong because we’re the ones doing it.
So I’m asking for help.
Should we do nothing? Why or why not? What should we do and how would that work? And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.
Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?
Yep. Ten years. How about that?