Over lunch, a liberal friend expressed puzzlement. Citing the title of Tom Oliphant's new book about the Bush administration, "Utter Incompetents," he wondered aloud.
Like him or not, he said, Bush is not an unintelligent man, and he is a principled and energetic executive. As for Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the others, almost all had long resumes of accomplishment in politics, government and business. Why, then, do they seem to have failed so dismally?
In my new book, "Day of Reckoning," published this week, I offer an answer. If there is a one root cause to the Bush failures, it has been his fatal embrace of ideology.
Ideology is substitute religion, a belief system based on ideas that are often contradicted by history and common sense. Yet men will adhere to ideologies with a zealotry that borders on fanaticism.
Marxism, fascism and socialism were are ideologies, gods that failed. So, too, is democratism, the Gospel of George W. Bush.
Democratism is a belief that all men are equally endowed with a desire for freedom and an aptitude for democracy. All can be uplifted, and all brought to see that democracy is the one true path to peace in our world. In democracy lies our salvation.
This conviction lay behind the invasion of Iraq, Bush's crusade to democratize the Middle East and his "global democratic revolution" to "end tyranny in our world." And, as Woodrow Wilson's crusade "to make the world safe for democracy" gave us Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, Bush's crusade for democracy is leaving us with ashes in our mouths.
Yet, Wilson's heart was pure, and he ever exhibited the serenity of the True Believer, the unmistakable mark of the ideologue. One imagines Bush will be preaching the dogma of free trade long after the last U.S. factory has closed and the dollar has reached parity with the Mexican peso.
Bush's "compassionate conservative" appears grounded in the ideological conviction that all children are endowed with the capacity to learn through the high school level. No Child Left Behind was going to raise the test scores of all our children above the national average, as in Lake Wobegon.
Why was it fated to fail? Because reality is otherwise. All children are not equal in their innate ability to learn English or math, as they are not equal in their ability to play sports, music or chess. A second-grader knows that, but our elites reject it as bigotry and blasphemy against the egalitarian dogmas that define who they are.