Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Monday:  A friend sent me a report from the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which has conducted a study of the intelligence of U.S. presidents over the past half century. The institute has translated their findings into I.Q. scores and the results should surprise no one. They found that Jimmy Carter has a rating of 175, Bill Clinton's is 182, and George Bush's is 91. This presumably affords solace to those who are critical of Mr. Bush. But I don't know why it should. In the first place, we don't know much about the Scranton Institute or its methods. In the second, we can't be sure that I.Q. scores correlate with presidential effectiveness. And third -- which for me is the most important -- none of us ought to be scorning people because of a low technically-measured intelligence quotient. My quarrel with Mr. Bush is not that he's stupid. I happen to think he's not very bright but that's not why it distresses me that he's the president of the United States. What bothers me about him are his attitudes and values, which I'm pretty sure he shares with lots of people who would score higher than he does on an intelligence test. And then, there's this. It's at least partially Mr. Bush's responsibility that he is as he is. But it's mainly our responsibility that he is the president of the United States. It might be interesting if the Scranton Institute would measure the intelligence of the American electorate. But, then, the results might be more frightening than any of us could endure.

Tuesday:  Having read Adam Liptak's review of Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power in the New York Times, I couldn't help but reflect on those right-wing screamers who regularly denounce the Times as a biased newspaper. When you dig into the core of that charge what you find is resentment that the Times covers subjects that never make it into the papers the right-wingers find appropriate. The account by Joseph Margulies of the difficulties he encountered in trying to defend an Australian citizen who was held at Guantanamo would never come to the attention of readers who get their news from the average newspaper. And that informs us about the rage of the right-wing toward the Times. They don't want readers to know about topics which refuse to fit into their cookbook interpretation of the world. The Times's bias lies mainly in the paper's determination to cover as much as possible of what's happening and being said in the world. That's impermissible from the perspective of rabid nationalists. The bias we really have to worry about is a prejudice against knowledge, and it's not coming from the New York Times.

Wednesday:  The trade deficit of the United States in May was 63.8 billion dollars, of which 17.7 billion came from the deficit with China. Neither the fact nor the meaning of these figures has much effect on the thinking of the American electorate. Yet, it seems to be the case that many voters will twist their pants into knots over the question of whether two men, or two women, ought to live together with the recognition of marriage. The one issue will have major consequences for how people live. The other will affect most people not at all. But it's the one of slight consequence that gets attention. When a group -- whether large or small -- cannot pay attention to the important issues affecting them, they are on the way to being fleeced. In America, this indifference to important issues has become an epidemic. There is no reform more vital than turning the American people's attention toward significant social and political developments. But since there are enormous vested interests which benefit from continuing bemusement and phony fears among the majority, it's difficult to know how that reform can gain practical force.

Thursday:  Last night marked an astounding first on television. Bill O'Reilly confessed that he did not know how to solve the problems in the Middle East. He did say we should care about the slaughter there because it's causing our gas prices to go up. But, he doesn't know what to do about it. How can this be? Bill O'Reilly knows everything. If we reach a condition in which he can't tell everyone in the nation what to do will not chaos descend upon us? Will we not be lost? I'm surprised the flags are not flying at half-mast today. And if Bill O'Reilly slips into uncertainty, who will not follow? Can Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, even Dick Cheney, be far behind? If they can't any longer tell us what to do, where will we be then? Might the entire American population be projected into the horror of self-responsibility? What would happen to the beer sales if that came to pass?

Friday:  Senator Jeff Sessions of the Senate Armed Services Committee thinks it's all right to include the votes of justices who did not vote in the tally of Supreme Court Decisions. At a hearing yesterday, he repeatedly called the ruling on the inadequacy of military commissions a five to four vote, because, he said, he knew how John Roberts would have voted if he had taken part in the decision. That statement was an element of the senator's efforts to blunt the rebuke the Court had delivered to the president, and to argue that the president's version of military commissions ought to form the basis for Congressional approval of a system for trying terrorists. Sessions, like many of his colleagues, seemed not grasp the point that if a defendant is designated a terrorist before his trial, then no fair trial can take place. In the quaint usage of yesterday, the point of a trial would be to determine whether a person was a terrorist or not. But that appears to be an unnecessary subtlety for men like Mr. Sessions. It's curious that he sees any need for trials at all. I suppose he views them simply as a means of placing a stamp of approval on what the government has already decided. And, yet, he purportedly did swear to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States. What was he up to then?

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