The Corner

Turning to Suskind

Yesterday I wrote about the Bruce Bartlett quotes that open the New York Times Magazine’s cover story on Bush’s faith. Today I’m writing about the rest of that story, by Ron Suskind. In short, it’s a mess.

Suskind’s central examples don’t demonstrate what he thinks it does. He tells a story about how Bush, in conversation with Rep. Tom Lantos, confused Sweden and Switzerland, said that the former was a neutral power without an army. When Lantos tried to correct him, Bush persisted in his belief—and only in a later meeting conceded that he had been wrong. Now this is certainly an embarrassing story, and perhaps a disturbing one. But it does not show that Bush is a man of arrogant certainties who relies on his faith rather than on facts and refuses to reconsider his views. It shows that he is a man who sometimes has his facts wrong and will briefly persist in error. I have known very, very intelligent people, whose theological views and psychologies are quite different from those of the president, who have had similar conversations.

Suskind talks a lot about Bush’s relationship with Jim Wallis, the left-wing evangelical writer. Bush at first was warm to him, but then lost interest when Wallis explained that he had to lead a fight against poverty around the world to win the war on terrorism. Does this show that Bush is uncomfortable with intellectual challenge? I should think it shows him to be unwilling to waste time with people who give him daft advice.

An anonymous Bush aide tells Suskind, hubristically, that Suskind belongs to a “reality-based community” that comments on the world while the administration goes about changing reality. Later, he quotes Mark McKinnon, Bush’s ad guy. McKinnon is saying that Suskind thinks Bush is an idiot. “[Y]ou do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read the New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. . . . They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!” Suskind adds, “In this instance, the final ‘you,’ of course, meant the entire reality-based community.”

It did? McKinnon hasn’t, “of course,” said anything to echo the anonymous aide’s comments. His remark seems to be suggesting that a handle on reality—or at least the realities of American life—is precisely what the New York Times and its peers lack. This is just liberal self-congratulation.

As is the article as a whole. Bush may very well have too much certainty, and too little empiricism. He seems, for example, to have jumped rather alarmingly quickly from the idea that all people have a God-given right to be free to the conclusion that all peoples are capable of exercising that freedom immediately. But when Suskind concludes by quoting Wallis on how true faith never yields “easy certainty,” you wish that he had done a little bit less catering to the easy certainties of the typical Times reader.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.