The advantages of “one big” idea.
by Victor Davis Hanson
The greatest criticism of George Bush comes from the artistic and intellectual world. Alfred A. Knopf just published a novel by a prize-winning author about killing the President. The same theme of assassination is the stuff of off-Broadway comedies and stand-up comics.
Michael Moore is an icon in France precisely because he alleges the President is ill-informed and stupid. Billy Crystal suggested that 9-11 is really George Bush’s combined SAT score, while Howell Raines, former editor of the New York Times, writes in the Guardian that he is shocked at Bush’s impoverished intellect. At various times the President’s mauling of “nucular,” his contorted syntax, his NASCAR slang (“smoke ’em out”), and his apparent contempt for the National Public Radio-New York Times nexus are adduced as proof of his simplicity.
There are a number of things wrong with all this hysteria—quite apart from the morality of even discussing the killing of the President, to the conventional wisdom that it is easy to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale and Harvard, even if admitted as a legacy. Brainy Al Gore, we should remember, dropped out of both graduate and law schools; George Bush received an MBA from Harvard.
Our elite talkers and thinkers should first ponder how well they have accomplished their own tasks. Howell Raines, for example, was forced out from the New York Times for ethical lapses that were a direct result of his own silly policies. Rather than caricaturing Fox News and the Drudge Report,intellectuals might cross-exam themselves why fewer now trust the credibility of the New York Times or the ostensible impartiality of Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. It is really not a sign of intelligence to distort the news and drive away an audience.
Professors caricature Bush. But why are our graduates leaving college unprepared in the basic knowledge of language, logic, science and math—particularly when university tuition consistently soars well beyond the annual rate of inflation? Who are the brilliant minds on the campus that implemented a therapeutic curriculum, leaving students without real knowledge and discrediting the very notion that a baccalaureate degree is now a sign of erudition?
Actors have been vociferous in their claims of Bush, the dummy. But why is Hollywood itself indicted for turning out empty, shallow movies that pander to rather than attempt to elevate their audiences? And why do most Americans laugh at half-educated stars when they venture into politics, like a Barbara Streisand pontificating about Saddam Hussein, the “Iranian” dictator?
The most recent Alice Walker novel, the Vagina Monologues, Fahrenheit 9-11, or the new Manchurian Candidate are not exactly The Grapes of Wrath, Lenny Bruce, Citizen Kane—or even the old Manchurian Candidate. Our present generation in the arts and letters is in large part responsible for the general decline in all areas of American cultural achievement from fiction writing and poetry to cinematography and drama. Postmodern hocus-pocus, the intrusion of politics into literature and art, and the decline of real skills from critical thinking to grammar and syntax explain much of our present inability either to inspire our youth or to leave behind something lasting for posterity.
There are more problems than mere hypocrisy in the current critique of Bush as a dunce, and it involves the nature of intelligence itself. It was the ancient Greek elegiac poet Archilochus who posed the dichotomy of “the Fox and the Hedgehog”: “the fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog one—one big one.”
While the poet’s exact meaning has been the subject of debate for over two millennia, the logical interpretation is the most natural: complex thinkers sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees. Put simply: John Kerry can give 1,000 reasons why we should or should not stay in Iraq—or both at once. He will cite erudite foreign policy experts, and present it all as a sophisticated exegesis. George Bush cannot.
The President has instead this “one big” idea. It goes something like this. For a quarter-century Islamic fascists in the Middle East have transferred the impoverished Arab Street’s anger over its own endemic failure onto the bogeymen of the United States and Israel. And when terrorists, abetted by autocratic governments, struck the United States, they met mostly with habitual Western indifference and were further emboldened by outright appeasement. The problem with the sensitive, “don’t offend them” foreign policy of pre-September 11 is that it ensured September 11—as it would again.
Our hedgehog George Bush—hardly a fox-like Clinton, Gore, or Kerry—in both his gut and head concluded that a lot of people want to kill us for who we are, and they won’t stop until they are defeated militarily and the conditions that produced them are radically altered.
That single mindedness may seem trite or even scary to Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Gore Vidal; but it still seems pretty smart to most common Americans with uncommon hedgehog sense.
© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson