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About Suskind

I should say that while the Suskind article is quite frightening and very convincing on the point that Bush has a badly out-of-whack, reality-averse decision-making process, on its main thesis -- that all of this is intimately related to his religiosity -- it seems terribly weak. As David Adesnik writes, "if Bush's certainty comes from his faith in God, where do the certainty of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the inner circle come from?" Indeed. Now it's possible that the reverse is true and that Bush's embrace of a rather eccentric religiosity reflects the same lurching, "bold," unreflective approach to the world that his policies do. But it simply isn't the case that the government is being run by a dozen or so committed born-again Christians. There are some people like that at the tops levels, certainly more than you saw in the Clinton administration and more than you will see in the Kerry administration, but there are plenty of people who aren't like that at all playing key roles. And they all operate in this same way.

October 17, 2004 | Permalink

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» God made me do it from Anglais Cassé
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Comments

MY, I was going to comment and tell you that your post about the Gallup poll was wrong (today's Gallup poll actually has Bush ahead again with a big lead) but then you removed it!

Posted by: next big thing | Oct 17, 2004 4:06:08 PM

That's probably true. Suskind doesn't strike me as much of a theologian. Maybe Ayelish McGarvey can say something about this.

But I thought the most egregious mistake came from Jim Wallis, of all people:

''When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking,'' Wallis says now. ''What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year -- a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn't want to hear from anyone who doubts him.''

Actually, really serious Calvinists tend to be relatively intellectual and apolitical. Most of the folks involved in the Religious Right are Baptist, Pentecostal, or nondenominational.

Posted by: JP | Oct 17, 2004 4:14:19 PM

You miss the fundamental quality that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz share. While Bush professes to be a born-again christian (and I'm certain he believes it), his faith is a fool's faith. It is a crutch that allows certainty where none should realistically exist. It allows him to forgo thinking. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz all share this trait. They just don't exercise it by pointing towards the crucifix. Rather, they exercise it by pointing to the GOP party itself or by wrapping their certainty in the flag of crony patriotism.

Posted by: manyoso | Oct 17, 2004 4:21:54 PM

"if Bush's certainty comes from his faith in God, where do the certainty of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the inner circle come from?"

From the knowledge that they are intelligent people. This is not to say that I support the Bush Admin. I do not. But Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have all had distinguished careers starting from a young age. They can reasonably depend on their decisionmaking processes and past experiences to guide them when reviewing facts. (At least you can be sure they wouldn't mistake Sweden for Switzerland.) Bush has no such background because everything he has engaged in depended on the backing of his father's cronies.

Unfortunately, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz all require a level-headed, informed boss to keep their baser instincts in check. During the Bush Admin they have lived out their wildest fantasies. It's interesting that Cheney and Rumsfeld both tested the presidential campaign waters but were found lacking by their party.

Posted by: corey | Oct 17, 2004 4:29:57 PM

I don't really know much of anything about anything, but the mixture of absolute certitude and intolerance for any dissent or critical inquiry has always struck me as very Catholic, as in pre-Reformation Catholic.

... which seems a bit weird. And scary.

Posted by: steve | Oct 17, 2004 4:32:30 PM

Many of the people at the top who fit the "neocon" profile do have a background as lapsed Leninists, though, or so I have read. That indicates that they do have a need to interpret the world through the filter of an absolute, quasi-religious ideology that doesn't seriously take criticism or empirically conflicting data into account.

And someone like Cheney just strikes me as totally corrupted by power, willing to do or say whatever he thinks will get him what he wants. An über-Machiavellian.

The combination of these guys with Bush's incurious, unreflective, God-based approach is like bleach and ammonia ... instantly toxic.

Posted by: jmb | Oct 17, 2004 4:34:34 PM

where do the certainty of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the inner circle come from?

They're just arrogant assholes.

You don't have to be a religious nitwit to have "easy certainty," but it helps.

Posted by: grytpype | Oct 17, 2004 4:42:46 PM

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagn'nagl fhtagn


Aaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!

Posted by: Barry Freed | Oct 17, 2004 4:45:11 PM

I didn't get the impression that Suskin believes the whole upper eschelon of the Bush Admin are born-again types. I thought he was saying that they all drank the Kool Aid because there was something about Bush's attitude about not feeling the need to rationalize a decision that appealed to them.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are able to get away with acting that way because Bush has set that kind of tone. They do not have to back up their decisions with facts or numbers because the president doesn't require this kind of evidence. Therefore, Rumsfeld can sit in front of a congressional hearing and make statements like (paraphrasing) 'how much $ we'll need is unknowable, just give me a bunch and let me allocate it as I see fit. I don't care what your historical responsibility regarding fiscal oversight is.' Similarly, Cheney can have secret meetings behind closed doors with energy industry people to come up with an energy plan because Bush also does not like to disclose how he makes policy.

Lots of people would do this if they thought they could get away with it. But, Bush has to look around and come up with some rationale of how such a f###up can become president when just 6 yrs prior he couldn't find a job on his own merit.

Posted by: altec | Oct 17, 2004 4:46:23 PM

Mr. Adesnik's post sounds like it was written by someone who is a young male and who has probably not personally interacted with the type of evangelical people he is writing about.

Same thing for his friend's dry thesis. "Yet scholars have not examined the movement deeply enough to understand the inner workings of its principal political organizations. By doing exactly that, this dissertation demonstrates that the Christian right is not the uncompromising movement that detractors fear." Personally, one of the reasons I fear the Christian right is because they often advocate creationism. I am not interested in compromising with them, as in "teaching both creationism and evolution" because creationism is not science. I also strongly dislike their stances regarding a wife deferring to her husband, birthcontrol issues, condom use, school prayer, the 10 commandments in my courthouse. And I don't want to compromise on any of these issues. I mean, what's compromising. Let's go back to the 1950s instead of the 1920s???

Posted by: ms | Oct 17, 2004 5:05:38 PM

But it simply isn't the case that the government is being run by a dozen or so committed born-again Christians.

You're right. There isn't a single born-again Christian in the government. Rather, they're all convinced that Bush is God. Hardly born-agains.

I guess that goes for Bush and his personal staff. As for Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al, they're probably akin to the Jewish former Ambassador quoted at the end of the piece.

Posted by: Marshall | Oct 17, 2004 5:06:11 PM

did I say Leninists? I think I meant Trotskyists.

Posted by: jmb | Oct 17, 2004 5:08:27 PM

It's either an accidental amalgamation: Cheney - the greedy, arrogant, plutocrat, plus Bush, the messiah, plus the ideologically driven neo-cons - all coming together in a perfect storm.

Or, if you want to view it through a religious lens, the mixing of a dangerous compound (trade, religion, and ideology) in one administration is proof that the Almighty is a practical joker.

Posted by: poputonian | Oct 17, 2004 5:13:14 PM

The point is not religion forms Bush Policy (it does too often but not enough to be the grand unified theory of the Bush administration). The point is that Bush policy takes on the characteristics of religion. Talking points are the new scripture.

Much like a creationist will attempt to discredit carbon dating technology that supports the evolution, the order of Bush will try to discredit actual events if they would lead to the wrong conclusions about the rightness of th epolicy. Its all about conviction and certainty, which, if you are in the midst of a holy war, is the most powerful weapon against the enemy. If 'reality' begins to chip away at certainty you are a waffle, paralyzed by maple syrup, and unable to stand up for what you believe.

The argument that we would be safer had we not invaded Iraq is never really refuted in any traditional sense, it be shouted down as a form of blasphemy. Stating that the Bush tax relief did not end the recession and start putting people back to work is heretical. Bush has Spoken.

Posted by: jonb | Oct 17, 2004 5:23:10 PM

Ever heard the expression, "The buck stops here"? Bush's religiosity is important because it impedes his ability to compile other points of view.

Posted by: Derek | Oct 17, 2004 5:29:39 PM

Suskind's overstatement is worse than Matthew thinks; it's deliberate. He's using the bs against the bs'ers, the same way he did when he let DiIulio and O'Neill (and Whitman in this very article) continue to claim naivete about why they were there and why they left. This is nothing more than a late game attempt to appeal to Republicans who care about their reputation to abandon a guy at the top who turned out to be the wrong figurehead at the wrong time. What Cheney and Rumsfeld really think is irrelevant at this stage. Even if they could salvage their reputations (and it's hard to see how they could), if they were to bolt now, Bush would lose in a landslide. If Bush manages to win a second term, it'll be an interesting race between those who want out and those who try to join Bush in his two-year crusade before turning into a lame duck. Then we'll see who the real true believers are: the ones who actually don't think Bush will start quacking the minute the last chad stops dangling.

Posted by: jsrutstein | Oct 17, 2004 5:37:54 PM

"Watching that speech from inside the hall, I was genuinely afraid at one or two points. The audience was so enthused by his frankly fascistic remarks that at any moment I thought the distinguished Senator might point up and say "see, there, right there is one of these unpatriotic liberal journalists busy abusing the freedoms our soldiers fight to protect -- he must be destroyed for the safety of the Republican" and that Matt Welch and I would need to fend for our lives against the onrushing hordes."


The Suskind piece reinforces the notion that what really makes the Bush Administration regretable is the people he attracts and the tactics employed to that end.


"Where do the certainty of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the inner circle come from?"


When was the last time this group acted in a way that betrayed certainty? Anyone recall Rumsfeld's leaked memo--"we don't have metrics for gauging success," "might be generating recruits faster than we can kill them," etc.?

Error.

Posted by: Eric | Oct 17, 2004 5:43:10 PM

Bush theology: "I have no evidence to support me, and plenty of evidence to the contrary, but I know I'm right." (also a tenet of global warming theology)

supply-side theology: "cutting taxes will increase federal revenues, except when it doesn't, in which case you should do it anyway."

neocon theology: "more war leads to more peace. and unjust wars lead to just peace."

Rumsfeld theology: "more planning leads to worse preparation."

How do you define "religious faith"?

The entire conservative movement disregards all inconvenient and controverting information via an ever-expanding list of rationales, including "bias," weak character on the part of the critic (i.e. "Byrd was in the Klan"), incentives (the NEA can't be trusted to tell a single truth about vouchers, Clarke has a book to sell), or even the simple fact that the critic doesn't like you (i.e. so-and-so is a "partisan"). By these standards, any fact or argument that comes from a mere human being can be dismissed. Thus our truths must only come from higher sources. The right has been increasingly isolating itself from objective reality for quite some time now. The seal is almost hermetic.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 17, 2004 5:44:35 PM

1. Power struggle. We don't het much from the inside, but we do have two pieces of evidence that Cheney was overeaching. Sept 11, when Cheney made decisions that were the President's, and Clarke says Bush was wandering around looking for something to do. And O'Neill's anecdote about Bush wanting more middle-class tax cuts, and Cheney overriding him.

So Bush perhaps felt Cheney was taking over, and needed an edge. Nothing rational would work, Bush isn't as smart, as erudite, as experienced. So moral clarity and an inpenetrable certainty becomes a defense mechanism, both in WH arguments, and internally as a way for Bush to regain his confidence. But I suspect ever since Cheney returned from the failed Middle-East mission, Bush has indeed been making the big decisions. Powell going to the UN was Bush asserting himself against Cheney.

2) For a long time, I have felt that Bush measured a man's arguments largely by the confidence with which they were asserted. As governor, he would have clemency appeals read to him by a member of the board he trusted, and make his decisions based on what he heard. What he was listening for was not the facts of each case, but for doubts and uncertainty in the exposition.

Nuance and on-the-other-hand arguments are not rewarded. And so we see an increasing inflexibility in Bush's advisors, as they compete to be able to present a case to the President that he will feel no need to actually defend.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 17, 2004 6:03:00 PM

Oil makes the world go round, world go round, world go round...

and religious fundamentalism helps grease deep pockets.

Posted by: Oh Oh! | Oct 17, 2004 6:33:50 PM

As a Christian I can only HOPE that if the entire administration were men of faith, that things would have gone a lot better for all of us. Anyone remember "thou shalt not kill" ?

Posted by: Ellen | Oct 17, 2004 6:42:49 PM

Here's a theory that I got from "Rise of the Vulcans"--I'm trying to decide whether I believe it or not: Bush is the fundamentalist Christian surrounded by true-believing Straussians, especially Wolfowitz. Strauss was an atheist, but he taught that foreign policy should be driven by Big Ticket Moral Values rather than pragmatic considerations. His Neocon spawn hate old school conservatives like Kissenger and Scowcroft because the later don't go in for moral crusades. The old guard believed in doing what they had to do to maintain peace through balance of power. The Neocons have a messianic zeal for their brand of militaristic capitalism. Their faith in American military might and unfettered capitalism is so great that it might as well be a religion. American foreign policy is also vulnerable to irrationalism from various powerful religious contingencies: fundamentalist Christians and reactionary Jews. (I refuse to call these people Zionists precisely because they the kind of bigoted mystics that the original Zionists scorned. But that's another story.)

As far as domestic policy goes, fundamentalist Christians really are running the government. Stem cell research, partial birth abortion ban, the FMA, faith-based initiatives, voucher lust, etc., etc.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Oct 17, 2004 7:50:58 PM

jsrutstein gets to some of the rhetorical goals of this article, I think. Suskind's focus on religious hubris might peel away Bush supporters from the libertarian and moderate Christian sides of the Republican party.

I wonder whether Kerry wasn't tipped off about the article before the last debate: his responses about religion--and especially the "I won't impose my beliefs on other people" line--seem perfectly drawn to contrast with this religious profiling of Bush.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Oct 17, 2004 9:47:42 PM

What Lindsay said. It smells like a symbiotic relationship among the triumvirate: Cheney (trade), Bush (religion), and Pick-Your-Favorite-Neocon (ideology). Even though the last might be on the outs.

Posted by: poputonian | Oct 17, 2004 10:30:26 PM

Kierkegaard, in Fear and Trembling, identified faith as the willingness to believe the absurd in the face of incontrovertible evidence that such a belief was not possible.

In light of the last four years, I'd say the entire Bush Administration is "faith-based" --they just have different opinions on what constitutues god...empire, money, a locked-in ballot box of useful idiots who believe that the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood...

Posted by: fauxreal | Oct 17, 2004 11:08:37 PM

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