Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
— Wm. Shakespeare, King John
No one likes to admit to being dull, so occasionally the task of making the observation falls to others. George Bush is a case in point. All his friends tell us his is a keen mind that cuts right to the quick. Since many of them have known him since prep school people tend to believe them even when the evidence is overwhelming that he is in fact one of the country’s duller presidents. The evidence is most often presented by his tongue that, embedded in an otherwise empty chamber, by its wagging gives voice to the vacuousness of his thought
One of its finer moments was during the New Orleans disaster. On the Thursday after New Orleans was wiped out by hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush, invited a friend over for lunch. His choice of a luncheon companion at the time there were 25,000 people huddled in the Superdome in New Orleans without food, water or sanitary facilities and looting and a general crime spree were in full flower, was a strange one. Of all the people he might have invited to help him decide what to do, he, bereft of ideas to the extent he’d tried coming up with any, invited the 78-year-old Alan Greenspan over. Whatever Mr. Greenspan’s skills, flood control and clean up are not among them. Not that that mattered. Relieving the distress of the people directly affected by the flood was not what was on the president’s mind. As always, what was on the president’s mind was money.
Describing his luncheon conversation with Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Bush was quoted in the Washington Post as saying: “We particularly spent a lot of time talking about the damage done to our energy infrastructure and its effect on the availability of the price of gasoline. [This was probably a tongue gone wild since the price will always be available. It’s the gasoline that may go missing.] In our judgment we view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector.” That was the kind of reassuring talk from a commander in chief that people who were homeless, starving and surrounded by dead bodies floating in the water, needed to hear.
Mr. Bush is not, of course, the only dull one in his administration, he is simply the leader. FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford is another. On September 1 Mr. Crawford claimed a prominent role in the administration as a man of exceptionally little ability and an exceedingly small mind. He did it by announcing that he was confronting a dilemma he was unable to resolve without further study.
The dilemma faced by Mr. Crawford was how to keep a dangerous substance out of the hands of children. The dangerous substance that concerned him was not alcohol. Even someone as dull as Mr. Crawford knows that that is a problem that was solved many years ago by saying minors are not allowed to purchase it and prosecuting those who sell it to them. Ditto cigarettes. The problem that puzzles Mr. Crawford is how to keep young girls from buying the morning-after pill known as Plan B. Unable to solve that problem he announced he would study the problem for another sixty days to see if he could figure out a solution.
In announcing the delay he angered Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray, both of whom had placed a hold on his nomination as FDA commissioner and released it only after receiving assurance from Health and Human Services Secretary, Mike Leavitt, that September 1 would be the magic date for resolution of the Plan B issue. In announcing the delay Mr. Crawford chose to ignore the independent scientific advisers to the FDA who in 2003 overwhelmingly backed over-the-counter-sales for everyone, even young girls. Mr. Crawford doesn’t think young girls should be able to easily obtain Plan B even if they are at risk of becoming pregnant because of having willfully ignored the Bush administration’s abstinence only policy. Explaining his decision Mr. Crawford said: “Enforceability is the key question.”
Susan F. Wood, assistant FDA commissioner for women’s health and the top FDA official in charge of women’s health issues resigned in protest over Mr. Crawford’s dullness. Those were not her exact words. What she said was: “I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled.”
Commenting on the delay and alleged breach of promise, Mr. Leavitt said: “The commitment was they would act. Sometimes action isn’t always yes and no. Sometimes it requires additional thought.” When dealing with dull minds anticipation of additional thought’s results tends to be muted. For good reason.