THE BLOG
10/24/2006 01:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Bush Evil or Stupid?

It is a sign of the times that writing this post makes me nervous about my future. Could it come back to haunt me when Bush turns Utah into a Gulag? Of course, I don't really believe this will happen, but an irrational part of me worries that it might, and if the blogs on HuffPo are any indication, I'm not alone. Paranoia is in the air. Bush has been such a disastrous president, we can use shorthand at this point to describe his failures: Iraq, Katrina, Corruption, Global Warming, Deficit. In America, we expect that the voters will eject the strategists behind such a pile-up of failed policy. The elections in November promise as much. But then there is the business of Bush's much-blogged-on smile and his persistent happy talk about a Republican route to victory, which inspired the New York Times to call him "Optimist in Chief." Maybe it's just a morale-boosting ploy, but to me the man really does not seem concerned. The paranoid circuits in my brain spin conspiracy theories. Can Bush steal congress even in the face of overwhelming public disapproval? Or is his confidence just more what-me-worry obtuseness? Does the smile mean he's capable of anything or just incapable? Is he evil or stupid? The fate of the world seems to hang in the balance.

"The best plan for the facts to be are is by somebody who spends time investigating it." Can the man who said this be anything but stupid? I feel some relief reading these words. Bush is more like Charles the 1st than Napoleon. You might remember that Charles the 1st made extensive use of the Star Chamber, which allowed testimonies extracted through torture and offered no due process, but his clumsy over-reaching led to the loss of his head. Then I look back at the march to war in Iraq. Bush was politically deft in turning 9-11 into an after-the-fact Reichstag. Rove begins to look like Goebbels in this light, and I begin to fret about Diebold Election Systems and martial law. Bush's indifference to reality -- "Brownie, you're doing a heluva job" -- is a quality we are accustomed to seeing in dictators like Kim Jong II, crazies who want to exert power not only over their people but over the facts, yet Bush pulls it off with a kind of numb Chauncey-Gardener befuddlement that keeps the question spinning in my mind: Is he evil or stupid? Our president's unilateral approach to international affairs might indicate a tyrant's need to go it alone or a fool's inability to collaborate with others. Is the Detainee Act the first pull toward unraveling the constitution or the work of a man who simply cannot understand the point ofhabeas corpus? That Bush managed to persuade 65 senators to back him on this suggests some political ability and seems to tilt the equation toward evil.

Proverbs has a great passage that has stayed with me since I read the bible in college: "As the whirlwind passeth so is the wicked no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation." The idea that evil contains the seed of its own destruction has been said in many different ways over the centuries. In Looking for Spinoza, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio considers ethical philosophy in the light of recent findings in psychology and neurobiology. Each human being, he argues, has a biological imperative to preserve itself by preserving others. "We must love one another or die," was how the poet W.H. Auden put it in 1939, the year Hitler invaded Poland. In Darwinian terms, evil -- which involves cheating and selfishness -- offers inferior survival value.

Evil or stupid? In the case of Bush, there may be no difference.