Bush Isn’t Worried, But We Should Be

Life as a Republican intellectual can be rewarding in many ways-the money is pretty good-but it has never been free of a certain inherent tension.

Any reasonably well-educated Republican must always be prepared to cringe, at least during the past few decades. Such people have had to smile benignly when the late Senator Roman Hruska said that mediocre people are “entitled to a little representation” on the Supreme Court. They had to sit and listen, more than once, while Richard Nixon spewed out obscenities about Jews on tape. They had to pretend the Laffer curve didn’t make them laugh. They had to argue that Dan Quayle was qualified to be the nation’s chief executive if something terrible happened. They had to look the other way while Pat Robertson ranted about the conspiracies of international bankers and Freemasons. They had to insist that teaching creationism in public schools is just fine (although God forbid that the authorities should outlaw evolution at their kid’s private school).

And what now? As loyal Republicans, they must fall in behind George (“What, me worry?”) Bush. His latest gaffe won’t be his last.

Obviously, that television reporter who asked Mr. Bush to name leaders of countries like India and Pakistan the other day wasn’t playing fair. Just because those heads of government have been on the front page for the past several weeks doesn’t mean that the Republican front-runner should have to remember those long, foreign-sounding monikers. What makes anybody think a candidate for President has the time or inclination to read newspapers, anyway? A candidate has too many other things to memorize, like the names of the G.O.P. chairmen in every county in Iowa and New Hampshire.

More worrying was Dubya’s halting endorsement of the Pakistani general who took over in a coup d’état. At first, Mr. Bush wasn’t sure whether “that guy” had been elected or not, but then he added brightly that the new military regime was bringing a welcome “stability” to the subcontinent. (At least he knew the word “subcontinent.”)

The problem with George W. isn’t that he doesn’t know the names of all the foreign leaders with whom he may someday have to contend. The problem is that, like Alfred E. Neuman, he seems too complacent about his rather dim understanding of the big world. After that disastrous interview, he reassured the nation that he’s “plenty smart” enough to be President. And somebody else will always be around to do the heavy lifting.

Don’t be surprised, however, if he regurgitates the names of a dozen foreign dignitaries at some opportune moment in the near future. His memory is reputed to be stunningly accurate, possibly as impressive as Bill Clinton’s. In the biography First Son , reporter Bill Minutaglio mentions more than one anecdote confirming Dubya’s mnemonic capacity. When he underwent hazing at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale University, for example, he reportedly recited on command the names of the 54 pledges in the room with him, most of whom he had barely met.

A lifelong baseball fan, Mr. Bush was once known for his startling ability to reel off the names, positions and vital statistics of literally hundreds of players, both famous and obscure. Now that he’s a little older, he may not recall every baseball stat with crystal clarity, but there is no question that he can remember whatever he considers truly important.

Even with a prodigious memory, however, the Texas Governor may not be up to the lonely responsibilities of the Oval Office. As he travels the country, delivering the same speech over and over again, even his Republican supporters must wonder whether he can cope with issues of national policy. Aside from serving less than two terms as Governor in a state where the Governor doesn’t have much to do, after all, his qualifications are literally nonexistent.

Maybe that doesn’t matter, as his Republican supporters are all telling us (and each other) right now. But leaving aside Mr. Bush’s well-known psychological need to emulate his dad, the country might be better off if he had pursued a more modest destiny.

Where he really succeeded was in baseball, not so much as the actual manager of the Texas Rangers-a mundane task handled by others behind the scenes-but as the team’s glad-handing front man. With his tireless boosting, the Rangers franchise nearly tripled in value, and was sold in 1998 for the second-highest price in the sport’s history.

All of which raises the possibility that Mr. Bush is the right man for the wrong job. Even though he may well win, he surely isn’t seeking the position for which he is best suited by temperament, interest and experience.

He would have been a great baseball commissioner.