So both Dan Drezner and Dave Adesnik have endorsed John Kerry, mentioning that an important reason they are voting for Kerry over Bush is Bush's inability to admit mistakes or revise his beliefs in the face of new information that conflicts with his ideology. Obviously, for two academics (and an aspiring one myself), this appears to be a huge problem. Dan Drezner writes:
But in the end, I can't vote for a president who doesn't believe that what he believes might, just might, be wrong.
Dave Adesnik echoes Drezner's sentiment:
And like Dan, I believe that the heart of the problem is the closed-mindedness that prevents the Bush administration from adapting in response to its own failures.In a later post, he says:
As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.
But, is there a plausible explanation that might describe this in terms of the current political climate rather than some inherent defect in Bush's thought process? I think there is. While not getting Bush off the hook entirely, it does at least explain why he has acted the way he has. As the 9/11 Commission noted that Republican opposition to Clinton made it more difficult for the Clinton White House to deal with Al Qaeda in an effective and decisive manner, I believe that Democrats' vehement hatred for Bush immediately after the last election entrenched Bush to the point that he could not admit any mistake publicly and thus severely hampered his decision-making process.
It seems that since his election, Bush's critics have hated him to the core. It seems as though this was even worse than the Republicans' hatred for Clinton. The Democrats thought that Bush stole the election and they wanted to get him on anything. In this kind of climate, no matter what Bush did, they thought was wrong. If Bush said it was day, the People for the American Way would say it was night. If he said it was night, the NAACP would say it is day. As perfect examples, see the Senate Dems' stubborn opposition to Michael McConnell for the Circuit Court (who was endorsed by liberal legal academics like Akhil Amar) and their disgraceful smear campaigns against countless others like Linda Chavez, Charles Pickering, Peter Keisler, etc.
I can definitely imagine that if Bush had ever admitted a mistake, the Democrats would immediately pounce on it and say, "See, we told you he's incompetent." Count the number of times Kerry has quoted administration officials admitting some mistake on some policy issue. Take the firestorm after Bush imposed the steel tariff and the firestorm after he lifted it. The only motives attributed to Bush throughout the past four years would be either evil or stupidity. Who would admit mistakes in such a climate? A person will admit mistakes when he knows that those he is addressing don't think that he is either evil or a complete moron. The Democrats were never interested in helping Bush fix the mistakes he might admit to. They just wanted to harp on them (see Tora Bora, where Kerry has actually flip-flopped... in 2002, he declared that the strategy of using Afghan warlords was a good idea... when our goals were not achieved, he says that Bush made a mistake and now won't fess up).
In academia, if Dan Drezner writes an article that another academic disagrees with, the other academic doesn't respond in a journal saying, "That ape, Daniel Drezner is a disgrace to the University of Chicago. I cannot believe that that esteemed university would even consider him for any job." But in essence, this is the rhetoric coming from not just the extreme left, but mainstream Democratic groups and even members of the Senate. This is how, from day one of Bush's presidency, the Democrats have comported themselves. Imagine if Dave Adesnik in an academic discussion said, "Yes, I agree that my claim X about rebels in El Salvador was ill-founded," and a fellow researcher got up at a conference and said, "Aha! I knew it. Even he admits that what he said is totally wrong. This proves he's incompetent." I bet Dave will become much more entrenched (justifiably) next time he argues with the other researcher or makes a presentation at a conference.
Have other Presidents faced such fractious political climates? Of course. Ronald Reagan was considered crazy by many Democrats after his election. But when Reagan, Carter, Clinton, etc were elected, nearly everyone thought that their election was legitimate. The other side didn't feel cheated, as though something illegal went on to deny them power. After 2000, it was all different. The other side not only disagreed with Bush on ideological grounds, but also believed that he was an illegitimate president and used anything possible to oppose and embarass him.
Again, this doesn't get Bush off the hook. If he had demonstrated good leadership (say like Truman who had a sign on his desk saying, "The Buck Stops Here"), he would have admitted when he made mistakes and figured out a way to fix them. But, it is also true that Kerry's Democratic Senatorial colleagues (and in some cases, Kerry himself) are very much responsible for this sorry state of affairs in American politics. They created a situation where Bush could not save face under any circumstance and made public pronouncements of Bush's illegitimacy.
UPDATE: Welcome Belgravia Dispatch readers. I completely agree with Greg Djerejian's comments that hopefully this time, the losing candidate will have more class than Gore did and not request a recount, thereby dividing an already-divided country. Yes, I hope so too. Though I don't think that it will happen. I am afraid Kerry's handlers aren't particularly scrupulous in this regard (they did it once in 2000!) and the Bushies will retaliate for last time and because they probably truly do think that the Dems have been engaging in sketchy practices (see Ann Althouse's posts over at Instapundit for the last week).