The Republic of T.

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Paris for Prez?

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It probably seems like I’m mining the Washington Express for content today, but it just happens a couple of items in the Express caught my eye today. The first I already posted, the second was actually a comment in the Express’ Blog Log, from a Defamer reader, on Paris Hilton’s interview with Larry King yesterday.

She is not stupid, just a completely uninformed human being. She is what happens when you are not pushed to be challenged.

Maybe I’ve been reading way to much about George W. Bush lately but it strikes me that Paris has that quality in common with the prez, and it might make her uniquely qualified to occupy the oval office some day.

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Much has been made, much ink spilled and much bandwidth burned about the uninformed state of that other heir to a family fortune, though in his case it’s called “incuriosity.” And while in Hilton’s case it may not have affected anyone other than whoever happened to be sharing the road with her during her boozy with of joy-riding (don’t people like her have chauffeurs or something?), in the president’s case, it’s a fatal incuriosity, not for him but for considerably more than were endangered by Hilton’s hi-jinx.

He cites the now-famous August 2001 CIA report headlined: “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” According to journalist Ron Suskind, Bush dismissed his CIA briefer with the remark, “All right. You’ve covered your ass now.”

“It’s impossible to know,” Gore replied when asked if a full-scale FBI mobilization would have stopped the hijackings.

“We use the old truism, ‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ ” he added. “Well, ‘incuriosity’ can cause great damage to nations. … The ‘incuriosity’ in this case was clear and chilling. To have received such a warning — and not asked any questions, and not called any meetings — I don’t pretend to understand it.

“The most important part of intelligence is the consumer: The consumer is the president of the United States,” Gore argued.

There are some similarities, however. In his book The Assault on Reason, Gore goes into a bit more detail.

There are people in both political parties who worry that there is something deeply troubling about President Bush’s relationship to reason, his disdain of facts, and his lack of curiosity about any information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.

Yet Bush’s incuriosity and seeming immunity to doubt is sometimes interpreted by people who see and hear him on television as evidence of the strength of his conviction, even though it is this very inflexibility–this willful refusal even to entertain alternative opinions or conflicting evidence–that poses the most serious danger to our country.

In both cases, Paris and the prez, it’s willful ignorance that’s the problem. Neither of them has to learn anything or know anything, the difference is that in Hilton’s case, she just doesn’t care, while in the president’s case he’s actively hostile to information that doesn’t jibe with what he’s decided to believe. (Some people call it stubbornness, but others call it being “resolute”). I’ve been up to my ears in presidential psycho-babble this week, as I finally got around to reading Bush on the Couch, in which Justin Frank described just why Bush can’t afford to admit new information because it might shatter what Frank calls the president’s “protective delusion”.

Freud calls megalomania a protective delusion of power and greatness that serves to as a defense mechanism against fear, against paranoid anxieties. In response to fears of persecution, the megalomaniac individual develops a false sense of invulnerability—a belief that the self is not only great but all-knowing. He magically replaces hope for the future with an omnipotent sense of knowing the future. he knows what the right way is—to him, it is that simple. This characteristic is what makes Bush different from other presidents, all of whom had significant lust for power. This is about omnipotent, magical grandiosity that attacks all thought. he celebrates his ignorance, which helps him preserve his omnipotent sense of self.

Reading that makes clear Bush’s considerable appeal to a number of Americans. If the country were a patient, supine upon Dr. Frank’s couch, it would pour out a long history of fears of persecution (everything from its history with lynching, to the Red Scare of the 50s, and the “culture wars” of the last few decades), a sense of invulnerability (shattered when, on 9/11, we were visited with a kind of violence that many in the world live with on a daily basis, some of whom claim is at least party a result of our policies), an omnipotent sense of knowing our destiny (that God should naturally “bless America” above any other country, or that “manifest destiny” notion that American had a “right” to possess North America — “from sea to shining sea” — despite the inconvenience that there were some people already on the continent), and magical grandiosity (because of course we can continue to promote policies that harm other people in other countries, and we can continue to deplete resources and harm our environment in the process because a solution will come from “somewhere” in time to save us, or someone will whisk us away into the sky and rescue us before the consequences of our actions and choices come due).

Paris and the prez have something else in common, that explains their popularity among some Americans, one that echos the Defamer commenter’s point. Something that, according to Frank, bridges the gap between them and Americans with far less wealth.

.. Another is that his wealth and position are so far beyond almost any of us that they are too great even to envy. Because Clinton, for example, came from a modest background and accrued his political power through his intelligence and capabilities, he presented an image of what peopel not born to power wish they could become, thus inviting feelings of envy and competition. Bush’s advantages are, on the other hand, all but unattainable: One can only be filled with wonder at his wealth and privilege…

There are some differences — Paris, for example, doesn’t make much of an effort to hide her wealth, and while there was more than a little schadenfruede over her jail sentence, there were at least a few cries that it wasn’t fair. That may be the biggest different between Paris and the prez.

Both are the beneficiaries of what last night John Edwards called “the genetic lottery.” Both were born in to wealthy families, inheriting wealth that they did little to earn. If either had been born to an average family, with all the gifts and talents they currently possess, would one be in the White House and the other on our television screens?

In Bush’s case, every business venture he attempted ended in failure, but he was often bailed out by his family or family friends because of his family’s political influence. (In fact, there’s room for debate about whether he “earned” the presidency in 2000, given the odd goings on in Florida on election night, and his preternatural calm even when the state was called for Gore, with Bar and Poppy Bush looking on while Jeb handled things in Florida.) In just about every instance where inevitable consequences would have rained down upon the head of almost anyone else, Bush had been rescued by his family, by its power and influence, or by a number of Americans who share his delusions and anxieties along with his aversion to examining either too closely.

Hilton, until her jailing, led nearly as charmed a life. At which point the consequences of her actions were visited upon her by a judge who wasn’t awed by her family’s wealth or fame. (After a sheriff sent her home for an undisclosed “psychological condition” that wouldn’t have gotten anyone else sprung from the lock-up.) And that’s where her path veers from the president, in 23 days, she lived with the consequences of her actions longer than the president ever has. (Even the state of affairs in Iraq doesn’t cause him to lose sleep. If anything, he sleeps better than ever.)

It’s unclear whether that experience will lend Paris any further depth, (though her interview with Larry King suggests it hasn’t), it may be one reason for at least some of the hostility directed towards her. She failed to get away with the ability to live above the law that her wealth and position is supposed to provide her, and that we’d like to think it would provide us if we could attain it. That most of us can never attain it means that it’s even more essential that we continue believing in its magical protection. Being told or shown otherwise is like learning [SPOILER ALERT!] that there’s no Santa Claus, well before we’re ready for that knowledge. And it can be hard to forgive anyone who lets us down in that regard, or tries to tell us. Just ask anyone who’s had the temerity to criticize the Bush administration since 9/11 until just recently.

So, Paris for prez? Sure. Why not? If she can recover from this minor brush with reality, and remain resolutely “heir-headed,” at least 30% of us will continue to love her. And even Bush has been able to cost along at that level. So far.


  1. Could you please post this at BT. Great comparison on Bush’s stubborn refusal to face facts with the mind of another spoiled rich brat who also has been allowed to create her own reality.