Keith Hennessey has high praise for the intelligence of George W. Bush, and having worked closely with the 43rd president, Keith Hennessey is probably in a position to speak authoritatively on Bush’s strengths, weaknesses and character. I have no doubt that Bush is smarter than he let on, but I have to wonder why he didn’t let on. It is one thing to cause your opponents to underestimate you—or misunderestimate you (I guess making the joke here is obligatory, or something)—but it is another to allow your opponents to openly disrespect you without any pushback, thus ensuring that your public persona is reduced to joke-level status. I appreciate that in addition to wanting to be underestimated, Bush also wanted to be seen as a good ol’ boy—the better public image to win votes with, my dear—but Bill Clinton managed to show that you can be both publicly whip smart and a good ol’ boy. I am sure that it was within Bush’s skill set to manage the same feat, which makes it all the more strange that he chose an alternative path.
Hennessey’s post is also interesting because of all of the scorn and scoffing that it engendered on the left. Ezra Klein informs us that he believes that George W. Bush was smart too, but that he was also a bad president; historians say so, after all! The fact that the historians in question are a politically biased bunch goes unmentioned by young Ezra. Also unmentioned by young Ezra—and by all of the other port-side commentators that I have seen who have weighed in on Hennessey’s post—is the glaring contradiction between (a) the assertion that Bush was a terrible president and Barack Obama is a vast improvement; and (b) the incontrovertible fact that on a host of very important issues, Barack Obama is serving out George W. Bush’s third and fourth terms.