Monday, October 10, 2005

On Souls and Knowing

Just a thought from a Mike Kelly column in July of 2001. It's a reminder that this isn't the first time we've seen the "trust me" attitude from President Bush. And it isn't the first time he's been very wrong, either:
"I looked the man in the eye; I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. . . . I was able to get a sense of his soul. . . . He's an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family. We share a lot of values."
-- George W. Bush, June 16, 2001, on Russian President Vladimir Putin

"Mr. Putin was far from deserving the powerful political prestige and influence that comes from an excessively personal endorsement by the president of the United States."
-- Sen. Jesse M. Helms, June 20, 2001

To understand what put Sen. Helms in such a tizzy that he felt compelled to publicly spank a president of his own party, you have to first consider the matter of Sammy Sosa.

In 1989, Sammy Sosa played for the Texas Rangers, a baseball team partially owned by one George W. Bush. Bush, who had only recently been made the Rangers' chief executive and who had much to learn, took a sense of Sosa's soul and traded him to the Chicago White Sox. Considering that nine years later with the Chicago Cubs, Sosa was in a chase for the home run record, this was a mistake.

To further grasp the implications of Bush's judgment of Putin, and of Helms's unhappiness over that judgment, you have to consider that baseball was something with which Bush had some experience. He came from a baseball family -- his father played for Yale; his great-uncle George Herbert Walker once owned 6 percent of the New York Mets -- and he had played the game himself in Little League and on a varsity level at prep school. He was a lifelong avid fan, and he would turn out to be a natural at running a ball team.

As the Putin example shows, Bush puts great stock in his gut instinct -- his ability to look into other people's eyes (he is forever talking about this) and getting a sense of their souls. As the Sosa example shows, he is quite capable of getting the sense completely wrong -- even where he is knowledgeable.

Now you come to the presidency, Russia and Putin. Here, inarguably, Bush knows very little. He cannot know a lot (at least firsthand) about being president, because he has not been president for very long. He cannot know a lot about Russia, because he has never been there. He cannot know a lot about Putin, because he had never met him before this month's trip.

So what you have here is a situation in which a prudent man would begin by knowing his limitations -- by admitting ignorance, proceeding with study and basing eventual judgments on facts, not first impressions. . . .

. . . what is worrisome is that Bush -- and in this he seems dangerously to resemble the foreign-policy-disaster-prone John F. Kennedy -- does not seem to understand, or care about, the limits of gut. He does not seem to want to bother with the tedious business of study and fact-assessment that is the process by which right decisions are most often arrived at -- which is even then not so often. He does not seem to want to work at the thing.

The idea that he does not know what he does not know does not seem to ever occur to Bush. This is a problem and one that is a great deal more consequential in the case of Putin than in the case of Sosa.

6 comments:

Bizarro Jack said...

Also, his friends include Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

Anonymous said...

Well, in the end, there was that cork stuff, and Sosa's bafoonishness in front of Congress this past March. Maybe he did see what was in Sosa's soul. He just didn't see all those damned homers.

Anonymous said...

Logical problem: Kelly gave Bush credit for his father's baseball experience but not his father's presidential experience. But Dubya wasn't around when Poppy played for Yale, while he was around (and, he claims, sober) while his father was in the White House. So actually Dubya had more firsthand knowledge of what it takes to be president when he certified Putin's soul than what it takes to run the Rangers when he dumped Sosa.

(Plus Sosa was a notorious clubhouse poison even when the fans loved him in Chicago. Point, grudgingly, to Bush.)

However, Kelly formulated what history will almost surely use as an epitaph for the Bush presidency: He does not seem to want to work at the thing. He didn't then, and he doesn't now.

And good heavens but we still miss Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you guys are doing a bit of sucking-up to your boss Bill Kristol. Kristol's pissed and demoralized, therefore his cronies Last , Matus, et al are pissed and demoralized.

PAR said...

For the Big Lebowski fans out there: A friend of mine recently made this suprisingly apt reference to our dear president and his comments on Putin in particular, although I think it applies pretty universally. "George Bush has the character judgment of Walter."

"This dude WALKS! I've never been so sure of anything in my life."

Dean Barnett said...

Hey, I write for the Standard and I'm pissed and demoralized, too, so don't forget to question my integrity as well.

And don't forget all those guys at National Review. Pissed and demoralized would describe them also.