Monday, February 21, 2005

Criticizing But Not Listening

Reginald Dale is Editor of European Affairs, a policy quarterly, and a media fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In a column published in the International Herald Tribune today, he wrote about the phenomenon of criticizing President Bush without listening to what he says. He uses a number of examples from both the U.S. and Europe to illustrate his point.

A woman who is no fan of President George W. Bush in this rural red-state community [Madison, Virginia] recently wrote the local paper boasting she had switched off the president's State of the Union address after only five minutes. She then proceeded to castigate his policies on Iraq and the Middle East for the best part of 600 words.

Of course, having missed most of what he said, she got it completely wrong, all the less surprisingly as she also proudly admitted her views were heavily influenced by Hollywood movies. Her irrational if entertaining letter would be trivial were it not representative of a much wider conundrum surrounding the Bush presidency: Why is that so many people think they know what Bush thinks, while so few appear to listen to what he says?

The phenomenon is particularly widespread among Bush's many critics in America. But it also seems to have afflicted Europeans, who long ago formed their opinions of Bush, often on the basis of crude caricatures in the European media, and don't want to change them now.

There is little doubt, however, that many people who think they know what Bush thinks are wrong. And that in turn makes it harder for them to criticize Bush effectively. If you don't know what you are aiming at, you'll probably miss the target.

Dale continued with a number of specific examples of criticisms directed at President Bush which are simply wrong or completely unfounded.

It isn't hard to find this odd phenomenon in both the media and the blogosphere. It's not a particularly serious concern among bloggers because there's no expectation of professional journalism or scholarly research. They're just people saying what they think, sometimes without having done the work to find and understand facts. I have to say, however, that some bloggers are better informed and more fair-minded that most media reporters and pundits.

Perhaps the most disquieting charge levied against President Bush is that he's a liar. Or, in the words of Teddy Kennedy, who has no moral standing to make such charges, he's a "liar, liar, liar." The problem is, to my knowledge no one has provided specific evidence that the President has told even one lie. If his critics can't prove that he has committed an intentional violation of the truth, then they should chose their words more carefully. English and the European languages have many other crude and insulting words that can be used to attack President Bush and his policies or, if need be, to simply express juvenile hatred.


Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

A wonderful point, Tom. I've been quite confounded to hear what people say about politicians with no facts to back them up. I guess they just assume that because other people in their circle say the same thing someone must have checked it out and found it true.

Rumors are no substitute for thinking, reading or learning. You see the same thing about other politicians too. It's as if someone tags them with a label, and then the only soundbites that are played on the news are those that confirm the label. I guess that's why I turned off the TV and spend a lot of time reading transcripts online.

11:33 PM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

I find that many people who dislike Bush actually HATE the man and therefore, the shrillness overwhelms them and they tune out any and all info that might possibly calm them down. They're impossible to have conversations with! They would call me some flaming right winger and I'd try to explain, I simply don't hate the man! I'm not a huge fan of Bush but I don't hate him and I approve of some things he's doing. They'd hear that and I swear, their eyes would roll back and practically pop out of their heads.

12:32 AM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

MOM and Esther, I agree with you. I often find myself being cast as some die-hard Bush supporter, but I'm not one at all. Some people these days are so firmly backed into a left or right corner that there's little or no room for open-minded discussion about much of anything. Depending on what corner they're in, all criticisms of people on the other side are virtually automatically assumed to be valid. What makes this so sad is that some are otherwise very intelligent people.

9:52 AM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

I believe there's ample evidence that Bush lied to us on Iraq...or at the very least worked overtime to mislead the public.

See John Dean's piece at Findlaw from 2003:

The examples provided by Dean are those which, at the time spoken by Bush, were known by the Administration to not be everything they were saying.

Bush has also been untruthful about his Texas Air National Guard service:

I am a self confessed loather of Bush's policies. I can see how some who really dislike his policies might label him unfairly sometimes. But from where I sit.."liar" isn't an unfair characterization.

12:07 PM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carla, I read the Dean piece and the Globe article.

Dean says nothing that proves Bush to be a liar. Wrong, perhaps, although there's still room for him to be proven at least partially right. Bush repeated what U.S. intelligence, the intelligence services of all other significant nations, and Democratic and Republican leaders all believed to be true. How does that make him a liar?

The Air National Guard business is so old it has moss on it, and the Globe article is wrong in some respects. If you want to read a pretty straightforward statement of the facts, here's a link back at you. The charges don't stick simply because there's no real substance to them.

As a professional Army officer with a lot of experience working with the National Guard, I can tell you for certain that Bush's service was a lot more commendable than that of many other people during those years. In particular, consider that he was on active duty for two full years training as a fighter pilot, and after that he flew a heck of a lot more than many other Guard pilots did. Beyond that, he met the requirements and was honorably discharged. Period.

And one more point that Bush, to his credit, has never mentioned and that others don't bring up because they don't know enough to talk about it. As a tactical military pilot with a whole lot of experience, I can assure you that being an operational fighter pilot is a demanding and very dangerous business, no matter where you're flying. It takes a level of guts and talent that few people possess. And having personally flown in military operations both in and out of combat, I can assure you that what Bush experienced as a fighter pilot was more dangerous and more challenging that what many veterans experienced in Vietnam.

Criticize Bush's policies, make fun of the way he walks or talks, whatever. But don't call him a liar because that charge in itself is not true. And give up on the Air National Guard business--it's a dog that don't hunt.

My apologies to all for going on at such length. While I'm by no means a hardcore Bush supporter and often criticize him myself, I believe that fairness counts. And at the end of the day, he's our President, and he deserves some respect.

2:29 PM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...


Fairness does count. Fairness helps move any political discussion forward, aside from being the right thing to do.

You wrote: "What makes this so sad is that some are otherwise very intelligent people."

All I can say is that capacity doesn't equal results, and a person who has the habit of being fairminded often reaches better conclusions than even the very brilliant. If I have to chose between working for or with either a brilliant person or a person who is notably fairminded and struggles to look at questions equitably, I will chose the fairminded person every time. Over the long run such people accomplish more and they are a lot easier to communicate with.

I also think that human beings have to struggle to be fair - it's one of those talents we aren't born with but must develop.

4:13 PM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger carla said...


If Bush wasn't lying, as you say..then he was really going out of his way to be misleading, at best. There was intelligence in the public realm that debunked much of what Bush said...and the private realm had to have some too. I know we've had this conversation before...but it seems to me that cherrypicking intelligence is lying. Especially when you're using that intelligence as an impetus for war.

I looked at the link you provided from the Hill...and frankly the author is being dishonest. Bush can't account for his whereabouts for October 1972 through March 1973. He was supposed to serve his Guard duty, and there is no record of his attendance.

The author also neglects to mention that Bush lost his flying status for not showing up for his physical.

The author of the Hill piece also says Bush was given permission to go to Alabama to campaign. That is incorrect. Bush went to Alabama without permission.

I could go on here...but you get the idea.

7:02 PM, February 22, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Tom, I have no problem with your long comment -- I learned a lot. Thank you!

5:34 PM, February 23, 2005  

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