From JFK to George W. Bush: How Have We Sunk So Far?

John F. Kennedy was a thinker. He understood the world around him with great clarity. He surrounded himself with associates who were usually at least his intellectual equal. Not so George W. Bush. Bush doesn't think much compared to other US presidents. He looks with disdain on the rest of the world. And he wouldn't know intellectual stimulation if it bit him.

One of the greatest mistakes of Ronald Reagan's presidency was to bow to his handlers, who suggested that George H. W. Bush would be a good vice president. A man eminently more qualified to be president than his son, he nonetheless was not the best presidential material of his time, and worse, his presidency likely paved the way for

A much greater qualification for public office than one's political viewpoints is a healthy and diverse understanding of the world around us, as well as a respect for others' opinions. In this regard and many others, John F Kennedy runs rings around George W. Bush.

something that otherwise would have seemed laughable--the election of his uncouth son to the highest office in the land.

In late 1999 or early 2000, I was dismayed at the willingness of so many of my fellow Republicans to jump on the Bush campaign bandwagon to support a man who clearly had no bona fides to qualify himself to run for president. It occurred to me at the time that politicians of any stripe will regularly divorce themselves from principle, honesty, and integrity when it seems their bandwagon has the biggest chance of steamrolling to success.

It runs in my mind that Abraham Lincoln was once asked why he surrounded himself with political opponents and people smarter than himself. His reply was something along the lines that if he had people whose views differed from his and who were smarter than himself, that could only be a benefit to his presidency.

John F. Kennedy surrounded himself with such individuals, whereas George W. Bush seems to have disdained them. JFK was well read and had a wide variety of interests. W has an army of handlers who filter the news for him, ostensibly because he doesn't want his presidency to be affected by his opinions.

In her seminal work, The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby provides an elegant contrast between the well-read President Kennedy of the 1960's and the boorish Bush of four decades later, along with a stinging endictment of those who stooped so low to elect such a man--twice.
...the image of Kennedy as...someone who represented what Americans might aspire to for themselves or, more likely, for their sons--was a vital part of his appeal. Cultural literacy in a presidential candidate was seen [in the 1960's] as a desirable trait by the public... Yet forty years later, when college graduates make up a much larger proportion of the American population than they had in the early sixties, voters entrusted the nation's highest office to a man whose most distinctive personal trait has always been an absolute lack of intellectual curiosity.

The Age of American Unreason, pg 284
In other words, with all

John F. Kennedy surrounded himself with individuals of great intellectual talent, whereas George W. Bush seems to have disdained them.

of our education, we have become...


George W. Bush had scarcely set foot outside of the United States when he was elected president. He once taunted a member of the press in Paris who had the fluent capacity to ask French President Jacques Chirac a question in French. He has been known to refer to the Spanish language as Mexican. While political giants like FDR, Reagan, and JFK appealed to Americans in rational and reasonable terms, Bush appeals to their emotions. While all other Presidents in this century had developed the talent for fine elocution, George W Bush still cannot pronounce "guv'mint" and "nucyaler". Similarly, Susan Jacoby says
When other twentieth-century presidents, Republican and Democratic, drew on the resources of the intellectual community, they hired staff members who represented a relatively broad spectrum of opinion... Bush, by conrast, chose only those intellectual--and non-intellectual--advisers who came from the extreme right fraction of the conservative spectrum.

The Age of American Unreason, pg. 295
I am opposed to Embryonic Stem Cell research primarily because it seems like a colossal waste of money, and because adult stem cell research has shown much more practical promise. George W. Bush is opposed to it allegedly on purely religious grounds, thus giving religion a bad name. Rather than peopling his stem cell research commission with experts of differing opinions, "distinguished bioethicists and scientists" were "excluded from the panel" simply for their contrarian views.

Several people I know, including many Utahns, voted for George W. Bush twice. That is beyond my comprehension to understand how that happened (I have never voted for a Bush or a Clinton), but if they apologize, I will forgive them for it.


A much greater qualification for public office than one's political viewpoints is a healthy and diverse understanding of the world around us, as well as a respect for others' opinions. In this regard, John F Kennedy (and Bill Clinton, for that matter) run rings around George W. Bush.

My hope is that history will vindicate the growing number of people who have come to the opinion that George W. Bush was one of the least qualified persons ever to occupy the office of President of the United States.

Let's hope we can do better in 2008.


  1. The problem is CFR's control of the mass media and their financial funding of whatever puppet (GW Bush is the best puppet they've ever had) they can promote for public office. We end up with two very crappy choices to vote in as President of the US and we (as an American people) lack the will to educate ourselves sufficiently to find a qualified 3rd party or independent candidate. Until that happens, we're in deep kim shee.

  2. That's why I think it's critical that we get out the word that people should vote third party this time around at all costs.

    If we can get the 100's of thousands of people to vote who've stayed out of the election arena in years gone by, we can probably turn this thing around.

  3. Please accept my apologies - although I didn't vote for GW, had I been eligible I likely would have.

    I think the problem was that right wing pundits did a very effective job of propagating the idea that we needed change in Washington, and that a simple, religious man from Texas was exactly what we needed.

    I must say that having looked at Bob Barr, he appears to have started out that same way, but it looks like somewhere along the journey his brain fired up, and he seems to have come around as well. I still need to research a lot more before I cast my vote this year, but I very much doubt any investigation would lead me in the direction either McCain or Obama.

  4. Interesting post, Frank.

    In the book "Dark Ages America", Morris Berman makes some similar comparisons. However, his comparison also look at the basic intellectual curiosity of Americans during Kennedy's administration vrs. that of today.

    Berman's thesis, is that we as a society, elected one of our own. A nation that glorifies "dumb and dumber", who celebrates "Jaywalking all-stars", and poo-pooh's any of those hoidy-doidy egg-headed intil-ectuwals, was ready for eight years of George W. Bush.

    Berman takes on the liberal myth that "the American people" were just fooled by clever propaganda, but were willing participants. Bush spoke to the core of Americans actually believe.

    In some respects, Berman overstates his case. I'm still optimistic that we can turn things around, and that we can stir the souls of our children to be intellectually curious and cynical enough to ask the right questions. Time will tell whether that optimism is well-grounded.

  5. Ah, yes. Another elitist book that couches Bush hatred in high-toned language. Isn't that special?

    I'm no GWB fan, but Jacoby's claims have already been thoroughly fisked by many. The man that you deride as being too stupid to be president actually boasts a reading list that would make you blush. He is, in fact, fluent in Spanish (albeit, with a Texan twang).

    It is well known that Bush's leadership style is based in loyalty (to him) above all else. (What is that Constitution thing anyway?) Thus, he has been careful to insulate himself from a variety of viewpoints. This says more about his arrogance and/or insecurities than it does about his intellectual capacities.

    For all of the self promotion by self-proclaimed intellectuals, Americans don't trust the elitist world view. Our only true intellectual president -- Woodrow Wilson -- didn't leave us with a very good impression. And it seems that 'intellectuals' have reliably promoted every tyrant and socialist scheme in modern history.

    For all the teeth gnashing on GWB, elitist have only themselves to blame for the low regard in which Americans hold them.

    Jacoby can't understand why Americans dislike people of her stripe when there are more college educated Americans than ever. It never seems to occur to these people that many of these college educated Americans got their fill of arrogant, self-important, tyrannical professors when they were in school.

  6. Obi Wan,

    You said:

    Berman's thesis, is that we as a society, elected one of our own.

    I totally agree. We, overall, deserve what we get. Jacoby's book indicts popular culture and the falling apart of families for the problem. If GWB were of presidential age at the time of JFK, we would have all laughed at the prospect of a GWB candidacy.


    We agree that the people Bush surrounds himself with are largely loyalists. This is not intelligent.

    I would love to see his reading list. I think it would make me blush due to its paucity. I dare say your reading list--and mine--are deeper than his.

  7. I'm with Reach. This argument against Bush looks like swatting at a straw man. It has been estimated (based on SAT scores) that Bush's IQ is about 125. That's not Mensa territory but it's not far off.

    US News and World Report reports that Bush read at least 60 books in 2006. That certainly puts me to shame. You may disagree with his judgment, but the "Bush is dumb" line is pretty flat.

  8. That article seems like a bit of a PR attempt. I'd like to see what the other books are.

    He's about on par with me for books read in a year. Does that mean I should be president? If he read "Mao: The Untold Story" (very long, but very engaging), why does he still believe in imperialism? He sure doesn't seem to use whatever intellect he has very often.

    John F Kennedy was apparently a much more intelligent man. He was much more able to communicate to the average American. Also, a great deal of it was that he surrounded himself with intelligent people--not crusaders like Bush has.

  9. I think there's also a difference between reading a book, and really reading a book...

    I met a lady while I was a missionary who was told she had to read the Book of Mormon prior to being baptized. She read the entire thing, didn't understand a word of it, but still accomplished what she thought she needed to. If Bush was having a competition to read the most books, would he be more concerned with getting through the book, or getting something out of it. I'd have to agree with Frank that it's more of a PR piece than anything else.

    125 is really not that high on the IQ scale - And I would suspect that mostm, if not all who comment here are significantly higher than that.

    At the end of the day I'm not sure if you can base a person's leadership ability on their IQ or on the number of books they reads.

    I'm sure there are any number of things you could look at to determine if person could be a good leader, but at the end of the day it comes down to results. Based on that I think you would have to give Bush a failing grade.

  10. JFK was intelligent, yet Bush cannot be because he read about Mao yet is still an "imperialist"?

    JFK was every bit the imperialist Bush is made out to be!


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