Has the president changed, or have we, as NYT historians claim, "projected onto Mr. Bush" those qualities we "desperately want him to have"?
W. is characteristically singularly uninterested in the question, responding impatiently to yet another question about how Sept. 11 has changed him: "Talk to my wife," he said. "I don't know. I don't spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Except when I comb my hair."
The truth, as President Bush's own remarks suggest, is that we have changed far more than he has. The liberals' caricature of Bush as stupid and ill-informed was always more a reflection of their own biases ("Smart people vote Democratic") than of any objective reality. Bush may not be, by temperament, an intellectual, but stupid people don't get Harvard MBAs, either.
Moreover, even the question itself reveals the deep prejudices of the chattering classes: elite journalists, policy wonks, bureaucrats, academics all pulled from the same small pool of Ivy League (or equivalent) colleges (and yes, I went to Yale). Being smart is the most important human characteristic, the ticket to secular heaven. So a recent book, "The Reckless Mind," ponders amazedly how intellectuals, even really, really smart guys like philosopher Martin Heidegger, could have signed up with Hitler or Stalin, as if high IQ was not just a convenient human skill that can be used for good or ill, but the essence of human goodness. President Bush is smart enough, but the leadership qualities he has evinced lie elsewhere: judgment, strength of purpose, optimism, and a willingness to do the right thing before everyone recognizes it is right.
There are just two kinds of political leaders, as some wag put it: mommy pols and daddy pols. (This is not necessarily a gender divide: Most mommy pols are male. And a few intrepid females, such as Margaret Thatcher, can pull off being daddy pols). Since Sept. 11, the American people have developed a sudden belated taste for having a daddy in high office, whether it be Rudy Giuliani in New York or George W. Bush in The White House.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.