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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Empathy and dumb

When the Supreme Court annointed George W. Bush president in 2000, I was dismayed. It was done in the context of a Republican lie-and-hate blitz that branded any Democrats who were seeking a fair recount in Florida as election thieves and anti-Americans. Bush 43 became president in a way that sppeared to be the political hijacking of an election. While 9/11 gave Bush a respite from the cloud of doubt and suspicion in which his presidency started, the cloud got darker and smellier during the course of his presidency.

There were people who took his verbal infacility as evidence of stupidity. In the early years of W's presidency, I was among those who objected to the gratuitous charges of dumbness hurled at Bush. Attributing mental disability and malfunction had become the favorite propagandic ploy of some in the right wing, and I cautioned progressives against being drawn into that kind of degraded exchange. Bush was overshadowed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and he had Karl Rove as his major poltical adviser. They were not dumb. But they were routinely devious and deceptive, and these qualities began to characterize the moral and intellectual nature of the Bush presidency.

Eventually, it was George Bush himself who convinced me that he was truly dumb at times. His constant inarticulation seemed to come from a mind that was stuck in a groove. Despite the evidence building up that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that Saddam Hussein had not stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, Bush seemed incapable of addressing that evidence. He deferred to those forces of coporate fascism that eventually brought the economy down. Bush seemed not to have any mental grasp of his own on the events taking place in the nation and the world. Rather, he kept up the stolid recitation of notions that almost everyone in the nation knew were not true, except for him.

In the books Bob Woodward wrote about George W. , he charts what started out to be a presidency that began with resolution and descended into an obstinate defense of the indefensible. Like most of the nation, I conduded that Bush was less than bright. Many people from his administration, including former press secretaries, have expressed exasperation with his inabiity to get control of the facts and of the people in his administration who distorted and falsified the facts.

Bush's struggles with language appeared more and more to emanate from struggles with the thought process. As an old professor, I have long recognized that the most ponderous thinkers are often the deepest and most thoroough thinkers. Bush never provided indications that such was the case with him.

There is a diffference between wrong and being stupid. It became impossible to make the distinction in George W. Bush.

A hallmark of stupidity is the mishandlling of language. It has become a custom, particurly in the conservative blogosphere, to insist on a meaning of a word that is not what the word historically has come to mean. And then to launch some kind of an attack on others based upon a narrow, even erroneous, meaning of the word.

Such is occuring around the word empathy. President Obama has said he wants a Supreme Court justice with empathy. When George H.W. Bush introduced Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, he said he was a man of "great empathy." But when the word comes from Obama's mouth, the Republicans have chosen to make the word mean biased. Most people know that empathy means to be able to see what it is like to stand in another's shoes, a matter of being able to perceive from a different perspective. So, as in 1984, the Ministry of Truth is revising the dictionary.

Using that kind of ploy to change the meaning of a word in order to attack another person is, well, dumb.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States