Bush courageous? Sure -- like a sociopath. Readers fire back at Alan Wolfe's essay "Judging Bush."

Published May 7, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

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I would take issue with the contention that Bush showed courage in sticking to his guns. The opposition to that mostly came from quarters his base of support naturally disdain: People who hate America (and who prove it by nattering on about the limits to military power, the venality of our rich, the dangers of eternal war to our liberties and to human lives, and other Commie trash like that), international groups not convinced of our blinding goodness, the French, moderate Republican State Department officials...

It would have been courageous for Bush to have gone against a good chunk of his base, as (the severely flawed) Lyndon Johnson did in pushing civil rights legislation through, or Dwight Eisenhower in his (day-late) warning against the military-industrial complex's influence on our polity. No, when you're rich, powerful, and convinced that God is directing your hand, it takes more than taking a risk with other people's lives to show courage ... anyone can gamble, especially when your friends are egging you on and the odds are in your favor.

-- M. Turyn

Alan Wolfe is willing to praise the president for his "steadfastness" and "ability to stay on message," but as Emerson pointed out, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Of course, Bush's pliability, ignorance and inexperience make him a useful stooge for the gang of extremists and imperialists that surround him. His only actual qualification for office is his name. His "consequences be damned" attitude is a betrayal of everything he claims to believe in.

The demands of high office bring out the best of great men and the worst of small ones. If Bush sat on a local school board he would be seen as a narrow-minded but relatively harmless conservative of few ideas. The presidency has promoted him to fool and public liar. He is a dangerous ideologue doing irreparable damage to his country. History will not be kind.

-- Patrick McKernan

You have to be able to distinguish between the courage to go against popular opinion in spite of political and even personal risk and the "courage" to pander to the electorate's macho self-image and its selfish desire to have its taxes lowered at whatever cost to the nation's fiscal integrity. And you have to be able to distinguish between the determination born of courage and the determination born of an arrogant disdain for all dissenting opinion no matter how well founded. Many sociopaths are courageous and determined, and almost all religious fanatics.

-- Stephen Kennamer

Alan Wolfe argues that George W. Bush has the noble virtues of courage and steadfastness but lacks the leadership qualities of wisdom and good judgment. Why not come out and say the obvious: Without wisdom or judgment, courage and steadfastness are not virtues at all; they are merely foolishness and obstinacy. It's a shame that early on so many pundits relied on George W. Bush's malapropisms and tortured syntax to prove that he lacked intelligence. They let him off easy. Isn't it far more important to point out that whatever substance there is in his utterances is lacking in wisdom and depth? This is demonstrated daily by his administration's unwillingness and inability to engage in any serious policy debate without hiding behind a curtain of empty talking points and bald-faced lies.

Mr. Wolfe, you wrote a brilliant essay, so why tiptoe around the elephant so clearly rotting on the national stage? We have a president who is a fool. In a democracy, if a leader does everything he can to stifle public debate and engages his critics by either ignoring or bullying them, that alone should disqualify them from any profile in courage.

-- Drew Emery

Mr. Wolfe lauds W on his "courage" in regard to the war in Iraq and to W's adherence to his tax cuts. I don't see these as particularly courageous. In regards to Iraq, anyone who has paid attention to American history in the current and just-past century knows that going to war gives a president a sizable bounce in support. It took years for LBJ to lose his bounce. W had nothing else to run on in 2004. As for hailing W's courage in sticking to an unpopular tax cut, I argue that getting reelected depends more on sheer money than anything else. By ensuring that his investors from 2000 are repaid handsomely, W ensures that they will help him again in 2004. This may show political canniness, but it can't really be described as courageous.

-- Terry Benoit

After reading this essay I didn't know whether to laugh or reread it to believe he was talking about Bush. Bush is a man who does what will benefit only those who benefited him. He went to war so that Bechtel and the big fat cats that lavished millions on his campaign would be paid back. He razed a country to the ground for pure self-interests. He is in essence appropriating an entire country for pure greed. This Bush is a man who stole an election, said he would like to be "dictator," and started a war the whole world looked askance at. Yes, he got rid of Saddam, but we all know Saddam was as threatening as a dead fish. He had no WMD, as Bush surely knew; otherwise Bush would have been extremely cautious, knowing the cost of going into Iraq without any allies except for Blair (who knew he wasn't taking any big gamble by aiding us). History will view this man as the biggest liar in history and a murderer because he sacrificed so many fine young people to justify his ends and had no compunction about cutting vets' benefits. I think Mr. Wolfe should be very, very careful on whom he puts the label courageous.

-- Dee Batler

I am not sure how being recalcitrant in the face of opposition or common sense is equivalent to "courage," as Alan Wolfe seems to be saying. Sticking to your guns may at times be courageous, but as in the case of the current Bush, it can also reveal an inability to understand issues and ideas well enough to create policy that is tailored toward the circumstances at hand. Example: Create the proposal for a massive tax cut to counter the flat-taxers while trying to obtain the Republican nomination. Apply tax-cut proposal as a salve for any and every issue that comes across desk -- booming economy, stalled economy, failed economy. The same can be said for the efforts to drill the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge or wage war with Iraq. Determine policy first; search for justification later.

Bush has these positions created for him to fit a particular, politically expedient need, and then repeatedly morphs the justification, refusing to let them die under any circumstances. This is the courage of a 4-year-old who will not eat his peas and whines loudly about this fact, not the courage of an adult making decisions that affect lives throughout the world. The point is not, as the article states, that "vacillation is not in his political genes." Understanding, interest and a passion for ideas are not in his political genes, and so it follows that an ability to craft meaningful policy is likewise absent.

-- Jon Klem

Why is it that the commentaries by so many writers (Wolfe, in this book, and Joe Klein in Time magazine, for example) presenting serious criticisms of Bush, begin by offering some sort of laudatory phrase such as "proves his courage" (Wolfe) or "displays strong leadership" (Klein)?

Alan Wolfe bases his assessment on the grounds that Bush has pursued his policies in the face of opposition. So does Klein. Hogwash. They give him far too much, and utterly undeserved, credit.

A far more valid, alternative explanation is that nearly all of Bush's policies are determined not by him, but by the crowd of neocon cronies with whom he has surrounded himself and who dictate their policies to him. Bush is savvy enough to realize that he is incapable of formulating any of the policy initiatives we have seen; he himself is merely the poster boy who dutifully mouths their rhetoric. While his scripted speeches sound as though he has conviction and resolve, we have never heard Bush offer any intelligent extemporaneous comment that hasn't not been an outright embarrassment. His obstinacy in the face of opposition is not evidence of a courageous man, but that of a dolt who is impervious to his surroundings because he is merely the willing tool of the neocons who run the show.

However, he does seem to exhibit evidence of some conviction, or at least emotional attachment, when he promotes right wing, "Christian" fundamentalist doctrines. But the reason for this is that he was "saved" by a fundamentalist preacher (Billy Graham's son, perhaps?) from a life of addiction to alcohol for all of his adult life until he was 40. That's hardly courage. It's a display of gratitude by a near moron. He has never exhibited anything but the characteristics of a wastrel from a prominent family whose life has been a long series of favors and easy deals placed in his lap by his family or the Republican Party.

He was chosen by the party to run for president and placed there by cronies on the Supreme Court. When one examines his "achievements" in business or politics in the past, they are either failures or sinecures.

Bush is neither courageous or a leader. He is a dullard and a follower. Next to him, Dan Quayle looks like Winston Churchill.

-- Francis V. Scalzi

By Salon Staff

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