Maybe it was just that George W. Bush did not take his medication before the debate, or maybe he took pills that had been imported from some third-world country (you know, like Canada), but he clearly did not keep his cool. At first I was just looking at him in disbelief, but then realized this is the guy who is supposed to keep us safe as the commander in chief of the world’s strongest military — a truly scary prospect — but the problem runs much deeper than that.
For the first half of the debate I was waiting for somebody to check if his microphone was even on as he kept yelling at the audience. And then he shouted down moderator Charles Gibson even though Gibson was about to do just what Bush was going on about; let him respond to what Sen. John Kerry had just said.
Why would Bush do such a thing? In a way he was doing the polar opposite of his previous debate performance, when he was staying quiet despite having time to answer a question. But I doubt his advisers told him to go out there and “just be loud” to make up for last week.
The reason for his behavior is his inability to deal with criticism. For almost four years now, Bush has been shielded from dissenting views. He has surrounded himself with advisers who agree with him, firing those who did not. Others, noticing their advice was falling on deaf ears, left on their own accord.
Former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was one of those pushed into retirement, and Kerry correctly pointed this out during the debate. He did not agree with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s assessment of how many troops were needed to not only take Iraq, but pacify it later. At this point it’s clear he should have taken Shinseki’s advice. Even former administrator to Iraq Paul Bremer pointed this out last week, but then retracted his statement after White House officials got to him.
Others walked after being bipartisan experts for years. Former security adviser Richard Clarke had been the adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He was trying to alert the administration of the threat posed by al Qaida before Sept. 11 occurred. Later, a memo meant for the president titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States” saw a similar lack of response. And even after Sept. 11 the president was more preoccupied with going into Iraq than listening to Clarke tell him that there “was no connection between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein. So he walked. If only Bush had listened to him; but his selective hearing tuned Clarke out.
A similar pattern was seen during the debate itself.
When Kerry was making the point that the system the Bush administration was using to classify who qualifies as a small business is flawed because it also includes Bush as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, the point was lost on Bush. All he heard was that he supposedly owns a timber company, which was not the point. (I suppose Kerry could have made that much clearer.)
So he responded by saying “I own a timber company? That’s news to me.” Then spoke the words “Need some wood?” which have already have been elevated to comedic heights by numerous Web sites.
The sad part about this is not that the public finally saw how incompetent Bush can be, but rather that so many problems the United States has been facing could have easily avoided if Bush had listened to the right people.
While he is wrongly criticizing Kerry, and running mate John Edwards, for changing their stance on the war in Iraq (they never did, but that’s beside the point), it is Bush who has stubbornly clung to the wrong worldviews. If only Bush had flip-flopped on some things, we would not be in the mess we are in right now.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and is the Oracle Opinion Editor.