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Does a cowboy always stick to his guns?

In an editorial yesterday about President Bush’s limited exposure to what’s going on in the world, the New York Times writes:

It is worrisome when one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House takes pains to insist that he gets his information on what the world is saying only in predigested bits from his appointees.

Mr. Bush thinks of himself as a man of the people, but carefully staged contacts with groups of supporters or small children does not constitute getting in touch with the people. It is in Mr. Bush’s interest, as well as the nation’s, for him to burst the bubble he has been inhabiting, and take a hard look at the real world.

Which is true enough — but not the important point. In and of itself, lack of curiosity isn’t harmful (and is actually very efficient). It’s a lack of skepticism that’s dangerous, and the failure to respond when you have misunderstood something, or been misled.

That is, Bush doesn’t need to know everything that’s going on; he can’t possibly. What he needs to do is take steps to ensure that his advisors’ priority is telling him as best they can what’s really going on (and not what they want him to hear). In principle, this requires that he realize that he can’t just take his advisors’ word on faith, no matter what good buddies they are. In practice, he has to ensure that when the information he gets turns out to be bad, there are consequences.

The problem isn’t that Bush doesn’t know everything he needs to know — no one ever can. It’s that, judging from the way he acts at least, he believes he does, even when later events should at least make him wonder if it isn’t otherwise.

September 26, 2003 2:19 PM

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