Bad Judgment

I was amused by the chattering class’s attempt to analyze the "bad week" the president had. All the chatter tended toward the superstitious view that fate had dealt the president a series of blows for which, of course, he was not responsible.

However, as Shakespeare’s Cassius says to Brutus, "The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves."

In short, the president has and has had only one problem: his own bad judgment. Unfortunately, bad judgment is virtually incurable. Judgment is the personal assessment of the facts, of situations and of courses of action those situations require. In poker terms, it’s knowing when to hold and when to fold. In personnel terms, it’s knowing whom to trust and whom to choose for a particular job.

It was bad judgment to allow Dick Cheney to accumulate and assert so much power. Cheney is the only vice president in American history who created his own national-security staff. It was bad judgment to rely on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for directing the war in Iraq, because his stubbornness and intellectual shortcomings led to the series of debacles. It was bad judgment to rely on Ahmad Chalabi, a convicted swindler, for so much Iraqi "intelligence." It was bad judgment to allow a cabal of neoconservatives (defined as liberals with guns) to kidnap his administration’s Middle East policy.

Most of all, it was bad judgment to take the nation to war based on what everybody now knows was 100 percent false information. The question that now needs to be asked is, Was that false information known to be false or at least dubious at the time? I believe it was known. I believe the Bush administration deliberately misled both the American people and Congress.

I could go on. Almost everything that has gone wrong in the Bush administration is a result of his own bad judgment, from broken borders and appointing loyal but incompetent people, to prematurely claiming victory in Iraq, to his wacko Social Security scheme, to the mushrooming federal deficits and federal trade deficits, to actually encouraging the offshoring of American jobs.

Sometimes the president appears to be a puppet operated by Cheney and Karl Rove. It is revealing of the depth of cynicism that infects the national press that they praise Rove as a genius. He is not a genius. He is an unscrupulous manipulator of public opinion, whose modus operandi is to use third parties to smear the opposition and to raise false issues in the campaigns. Without a lap-dog press, he would not be so successful.

The bad news is that the president has three more years of his term to serve. I’ve often said that we Americans get the kind of government we deserve, but the real question is, Can we survive the kind of government we deserve? It turns out that the judgment of a narrow majority of the voters is as bad as that of the president. I include myself, as I foolishly voted for Bush in the first election, though certainly not in the second.

There are some signs that the Democrats are at last stirring from their apathy. Their using the closed Senate session to force the Republicans to undertake an investigation into intelligence that they had promised but delayed for 21 months is a good sign. They need to scuttle some of their old ideologues like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, who seem to think the mainstream of upper-class Boston is the mainstream of America. Surely there must be some Democrats who are not leftist ideologues and neototalitarians, not to mention pompous windbags.

The fate of nations and empires always hinges on the judgment of their leaders. As animals, the human race ranks as the smartest and the cleverest, but it is certainly not infallible. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who observed that humans had better pray that God is more merciful than just.

In the waning year of our Lord 2005, that’s not a bad suggestion.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.