One slam fits all

Posted: May 25, 2004 12:00 AM

 He isn't very bright. He's a religious fanatic who sees the world in black and white. He engaged in an "elaborate campaign of disinformation" designed to "mislead his own people" about the war. He's not really running the government; he's a puppet manipulated by a subordinate. And his name is -- Tony Blair.

 So says author Geoffrey Wheatcroft in June's "The Atlantic Monthly" in a profile of the prime minister of Great Britain. It demonstrates how the left demeans its opposition so uniformly that Wheatcroft managed to hurl the exact same insults at Blair that U.S. lefties have hurled at President Bush for years. One slam fits all.

 Wheatcroft sadly writes that Blair "is in no real sense an intellectual." Then: "Clearly, Blair is a smart operator, but how intelligent is he?" The answer comes from an American woman who dined with Blair and concluded "he wasn't that bright." The American denies making that statement. But who cares? Not Wheatcroft, who dispels the disclaimer by noting that novelist Doris Lessing said Blair is "not very bright in some ways."

 The proof of Blair's low wattage apparently comes, not from his actions or history but from what intellectuals have to say about him. If Lessing said it, case closed; it must be true.

 In fact, while critics here slam Bush for not reading newspapers, the word across the pond -- voiced by Lessing -- is that Blair doesn't read books.

 When she originally announced Blair's lack of brainpower last year, Lessing also linked the PM's dubious intelligence with his religious beliefs -- in the bigoted way that leftists dismiss the devout. Wheatcroft followed suit. He quoted Roy Jenkins, co-founder of Social Democrats, who said Blair is "a little too Manichean for my perhaps now jaded taste, seeing matters in stark terms of good and evil, black and white." Worse, Wheatcroft accused Blair of being "Antinomian," referring to "the quaint 16th century heretics" who believed "to the pure all things are pure."

 Hence, Blair's failure to make "the honest case for war." In this interpretation, Blair was supposed to admit he was sending British forces to Iraq because he didn't want America to win in Iraq without the help of other nations. And there should have been fewer references to weapons of mass destruction.

 I realize that the spate of bad war news has hit such a fevered pitch that critics have been able to dispense with recent history, such as the fact that the French, the United Nations and many Democrats genuinely believed in 2003 that Saddam Hussein possessed some WMD.

 It also bears repeating that Hussein could have prevented this war by giving U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access and verifying that he had destroyed his stockpile of WMD -- as per the agreement he had made with the United Nations.

 But the temptation to accuse both Bush and Blair of lying is so irresistible that no fact will get in the way, it seems. Wheatcroft even writes without qualification, "Planning for the war was under way starting with Bush's inauguration in January of 2001."

 Then, there's the gossip that Blair is not really in charge. Wheatcroft writes, Blair "completely surrendered to (treasury chief Gordon) Brown all control of the management of the economy." It must be true: A labor official once inadvertently called Brown "prime minister."

 Why is it that elites come up with the same silly caricature -- dimwitted, pious, manipulative yet manipulated -- for two very different men?

 Gerald Dorfman, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, said Blair is bright and in charge, even though he disagrees with the PM on Iraq. What's wrong with leaving it at that?

 Democratic Party operative Bob Mulholland, who has a history with Blair, also vouched for Blair's smarts and authority. When I asked Mulholland what he thought of Blair enduring the same bad rap as Bush, he replied, "It goes with the turf. When you're in office, you take the good with the bad."

 OK, but couldn't the dish on Blair at least be original?