No Cabbies for President

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In light of President Bush’s speech tonight, I thought I’d comment on a brief but interesting experience I had on a recent business trip.  I just returned last night from Las Vegas, where I attended the 2007 Consumer Electronics Expo.  On my way back to the airport, I shared a cab with three other folks.  While en route, the cab driver spontaneously launched into a tirade about how stupid President Bush is.  It wasn’t hyperbole; it was clear he felt Bush’s IQ lands somewhere between the African tree sloth and an above-average igneous rock.

Shockingly, I said nothing, but I was both offended and disgusted.

First of all, it seems unlikely to me that this cab driver is really in a position to look down on the president, his cabinet and his military advisers.  Agree with their decisions or not, it’s not like there isn’t a lot of time, energy and brain power going into them.  And I have a hunch the Bush team may be slightly more qualified than this cab driver to make decisions about war and foreign policy.  Maybe not.  They’re certainly more qualified than I am.  Besides, all this guy did was rant and rave canned “CBS Evening News” soundbites with a few conspiracy theories thrown in.  It was all (and only) about how bad Bush is and wrong America is, how we’ve re-written all the history books, how justified the rest of the world is in hating us … blah, blah, blah.  Set aside that it’s rude, inappropriate and unprofessional to blather on like that with 4 patrons in your cab … and it was still pretty lame.

Secondly, hindsight is 20/20.  It’s pretty unfair – even intellectually dishonest – to look back on the last few years and call someone stupid because they didn’t see looking forward what you feel like you see looking back.  Watching the game is quite a different experience than being the quarterback.  And it’s a whole different game beyond that to watch the game on tape a week later after everyone’s been talking about it at the office (analogous to our cabby friend).

Thirdly, the facts are the facts.  President Bush’s cabinet is in fact quite well-educated – as least as much so as Clinton’s.  Just for the sake of reference, I looked up a few key players and their educations, just for the record.   From these lists of credentials, I see no reason to be calling anyone stupid.  Wrong sometimes maybe, but not stupid, don’t you think?

Under Bush – 3 doctorates, everyone else with a masters

  • George Bush – Bachelor’s from Yale, MBA from Harvard
  • Bob Gates, Defense – Bachelor’s from College of William and Mary, Masters from Indiana University, PhD from Georgetown University
  • Alberto Gonzales, Justice – Bachelor’s from Rice University, Masters from Harvard Law School
  • Condoleezza Rice, State – Bachelor’s from University of Denver, Masters from Notra Dame, PhD from University of Denver, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Sam Bodman, Energy – Bachelor’s from Cornell University, ScD from MIT
  • Henry Paulson, Treasury – Bachelor’s from Dartmouth, MBA from Harvard
  • Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security – Magna cum laude at Harvard and Harvard Law School
  • Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor – Bachelor’s from Cornell, JD from Yale Law School

Under Clinton – 1 doctorate (Clinton himself), most with masters 

  • Bill Clinton – Bachelor’s from Georgetown, Masters from Oxford, JD from Yale
  • Warren Christopher, State – Bachelor’s from UCLA, law degree from Stanford
  • Lloyd Bentsen, Treasury – Bachelor’s from University of Texas
  • Bill Cohen, Defense – Bachelor’s from Bowdoin College (in Latin), law degree from Boston University
  • Janet Reno, Justice – Bachelor’s from Cornell University, law degree from Harvard Law School
  • Bill Richardson, Energy – Bachelor’s and Masters from Tufts

I’m not saying Bush’s cabinet is superior to Clinton’s (or anyone else’s).  I’m not even really comparing the two.  In fact, I think everyone would agree that Clinton personally is quite intelligent.  In a head-to-head IQ smack down with George W, Clinton would win.  And both men have/had good, decent and intelligent men and women on their teams.  Both men could have made a few better choices.  The point is that neither is Bush a dunce, nor has he surrounded himself with them.

In his speech tonight, the president clearly demonstrated that he is listening to the many voices (even of his opposition) who are advising him.  It’s obvious he knows he’s made mistakes and is trying to do what’s best to correct them.  When I look at Bush, I don’t see a moron.  He’s made mistakes, no doubt.  He’s been cocky and less open to alternative perspectives than I’d have liked.  But he’s not dumb.  The democrats (and many republicans) wanted a new strategy; well, here it is.  Let’s see how things go.

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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18 Responses to No Cabbies for President

  1. Bill Woessner says:

    First of all, it seems unlikely to me that this cab driver is really in a position to look down on the president, his cabinet and his military advisers.

    Are you saying that the cabbie’s opinion is wrong because people with advanced degrees disagree with it? If that’s the case, then clearly the Bush administration is wrong as well, since lots of people with advanced degrees disagree with them. Perhaps you’re saying that the cabbie isn’t entitled to an opinion since he probably doesn’t hold an advanced degree.

    Secondly, hindsight is 20/20. It’s pretty unfair – even intellectually dishonest – to look back on the last few years and call someone stupid because they didn’t see looking forward what you feel like you see looking back.

    Oh come on, Jeff… LOTS of people saw the Iraq debacle coming. I know I did. The problem was that it was too soon after 9/11 and the country was still operating under what amounted to monarchy. In all honesty, I blame the Senate Democrats (who, by the way, were in the majority when the vote was taken) for not having the spine to stand up to the President.

    Thirdly, the facts are the facts. President Bush’s cabinet is in fact quite well-educated – as least as much so as Clinton’s.

    OK, first of all, a degree does not make you smart. Second of all, these people’s degrees are in fluff. From the ones you listed, I count 3 JDs, 2 MBAs, a PhD in political science and a PhD in Russian and Soviet history. Only Sam Bodman has a technical degree (I should hope the energy secretary would have a technical degree).

    And don’t go lumping JDs and PhDs in to the same group. They’re nowhere near the same degree. A JD proves that you went to law school for 3 years. A PhD shows that you came up with something new and added to the body of human knowledge. At least… that’s what a PhD in a technical field entails.

    Call me when the presidents cabinet is made up of PhDs in math, science and engineernig. Then I’ll be impressed.

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  2. Jeff Block says:

    > Are you saying that the cabbie’s opinion is wrong because people with advanced degrees disagree with it?

    No. First of all, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Secondly, just because I have an opinion doesn’t make me right. Thirdly, he dealt in very few facts, demonstrated very little big-picture kind of knowledge, and given his profession, speech patterns, and lack of realization that he was being unprofessional I deduce that he was uneducated. For all these reasons, I think it makes little sense that he would call Bush and/or his cabinet “stupid”. He doesn’t seem qualified to be taken seriously (which is different than saying he doesn’t have the right to speak).

    > Hindsight is 20/20.

    Yes, a lot of people saw *some* things coming, but I’m not sure how realistic it is to imply that it was common knowledge how bad things would get. Regardless, it doesn’t change the truth of what I’m saying … that it’s always easier to make the call after the fact.

    > a degree does not make you smart.

    Agreed. But an advanced degree from a prestigious school still means something, doesn’t it? Or are you suggesting that there’s no value or credential associated with spending 8-10 years in ivy league schools?

    > these people’s degrees are in fluff … Call me when the presidents cabinet is made up of PhDs in math, science and engineernig. Then I’ll be impressed.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that. I’m not sure how a math or an engineering degree would help someone run the country – whether it be in foreign policy or fiscal domestic policy or social policy or whatever. Just because I can crunch numbers or build things well doesn’t make me fluent in the law or know right and wrong any better or be a better diplomat.

    However, the “fluff” degrees you seem to be looking down your nose at do just that. A JD would make me far more qualified to be a congressman or a political advisor than a scientific technical degree. An MBA seems particularly relevant when we’re talking economy, which bleeds into social services. Degrees in political science or soviet history or history … those are at the vanguard of what it takes to understand how to learn from history, craft foreign and domestic policy, etc.

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  3. Bill Woessner says:

    But an advanced degree from a prestigious school still means something, doesn’t it? Or are you suggesting that there’s no value or credential associated with spending 8-10 years in ivy league schools?

    There may or may not be value, but it’s not necessarily the case. Degrees are bought from “prestigious” schools all the time. I strongly suspect that the President’s degrees were bought. Even if they weren’t, how hard is it to get a BA in history and an MBA? I don’t know about the BA, but I got an MBA in my spare time while working on my MS.

    I’m not sure how a math or an engineering degree would help someone run the country – whether it be in foreign policy or fiscal domestic policy or social policy or whatever.

    For starters, there’s logic. I believe that people with a technical background have a far better grasp of basic logic. Then there’s simulation and modeling. If you’re going to make decisions that affect the entire world, maybe you should explore the impact of those decisions before you make them. Of course cabinet members aren’t going to do this sort of thing themselves, but we’d be a lot better off if they had a clue about how it worked.

    A JD would make me far more qualified to be a congressman or a political advisor than a scientific technical degree.

    Why? Why would a JD make you better equipped to consider the effect of farm subsidies? Or evaluate the pros and cons of a change to the tax code? A JD means you’ve studied lots of cases, you can read legalese and you have a basic understanding of how the law is suppoed to work. I don’t see how that enables you to enact better policies.

    An MBA seems particularly relevant when we’re talking economy, which bleeds into social services.

    An MBA has nothing to do with economics. Ecomonics is a serious subject with a rich, deep theory. Modern economics is based on game theory. Then there’s applied economics, which draws on robust numerical techniques for building models and simulations. Please don’t confuse business administration with economics. That’s an insult to economists.

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  4. Brent says:

    Hi everyone, Brad told me about your blog over xmas and I thought I would check it out. My understanding is that most of the presidents military advisors and the prime minister of Iraq – Al Malaki – were against the troop escalation. But then, the President changed his military advisors to people who would agree with him. However, they conceded that diplomatic and economic changes would be needed, not just a military surge. I am not sure what is different now than the last few surges they have attempted. So, the president now has the buy in of the Iraqi Prime minister….what does that mean. We still won’t have the Iraqi troops taking over the brunt of the job. Also, many of Bush’s advisers said they would need more than 20000 troops. Tony Blair is sending many of the British troops home, so our surge will end up being the 20,000 worn out reservists on their third tour minus the British troops that leave. Hopefully, this will give Iraq enough time to build up their defenses, but this will also embolden the insurgents and terrorists and could hinder the build up of the Iraqi Army. Since Britian and Iraq think this is a bad move and, if Bush is correct, the Iraqi army will build up faster and hasten our exit, but if he is wrong, American causalties will escalate and it will hinder our exit, I think the safer and better strategy is to go with what Tony Blair, Al-Malaki, the former generals in Iraq and Congess suggests and begin a draw down. As far as the technical merits of the administration, I believe that both Clinton and Bush’s teams are very educated and there is a healthy debate in Bush’s cabinet, but I think Bush is hearing what he wants to hear.

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  5. Neva says:

    Sorry to be confused when everyone else seems to have gotten it, but what are we actually talking about here? I’m really not getting any set-up for a list of reasons a cabbie was wrong; did I miss something?
    So what was the intended point? Why this specific cabbie was wrong? (Not having been told what he said, I don’t know.) Why cabbies aren’t well qualified to make political decisions? Why cabbies shouldn’t try to have political discussions with their fares?
    That last one, at least, I can get. I do think it’s unprofessional for someone in the service industry to bring up obviously controversial topics with their clients. There’s a good chance of offending someone, and even if they’re trapped in your cab and you can’t lose their business now, it can still reflect badly on your company and cost you future business. Isn’t this why most etiquette guidelines suggest not discussing politics or religion with strangers or acquaintances in professional or polite circumstances?
    Beyond that, what exactly are we supposed to be talking about here? I’m lost.

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  6. Neva says:

    Nevermind, apparently when I view this post on anything other than the poor, pathetic old Macs in lab, there’s another paragraph at the beginning that makes it make sense. Go figure…

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  7. Brent says:

    I agree that it was unprofessional of the cabbie to launch into a tirade with a client. My guess would be that he knows someone over there, or who is going over there and needed to get something off his chest. And obviously, George Bush most likely is smarter (at least with book smarts) than the cabbie…unless the cabbie went to Yale or Harvard..you never know. But at least we live in a country where even someone that would be considered in a lower class is free to criticize the government. Ironically, isn’t that one of the basic justifications that Pres. Bush used in 2003 to go into Iraq. Of course, he also said it would only take six months. This makes me a little weary of his ‘temporary’ surge.

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  8. Brad Bull says:

    I agree Bush and Clinton have surrounded themselves with very intelligent people. Clinton could wipe the floor with Bush in a 1 on 1 intelligence battle. But Clinton and Bush senior are probably about even. My personal bias on past presidential intelligence.
    1. Jimmy Carter (go nuclear engineers!)
    2. Clinton and Bush senior (tie)
    3. Gerald Ford
    4. Ronald Reagan
    5. George W. Bush

    I hate to say this, but I have a suspicion that Bush is proposing the troop increase just because the new Dem majority may not approve it. Then he can move the blame of failure onto them for not approving his plan. I have no evidence other than the fact he never pushed for this until right after the Dems took control. I hope this is not the case, but this administration has had a weird preoccupation with the assignment of blame.

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  9. Brad Bull says:

    Hola,
    State of the union was not that impressive, although it was nice to see Bush begin to admit that everyone needs healthcare. I am surprised at all the candidates already for the next election. Alot of good candidates too, I might actually not feel like I am voting for the lesser of 2 evils this time.

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  10. Brent says:

    I agree. Aside from the tax break for health insurance, which I don’t believe would work, he had some really liberal ideas at the beginning of the speech. Although, hearing that we need to reduce oil dependence for the 7th time since he took office made me think two words—‘lame duck’. I guess nothing will really happen in Iraq for another two years, unless we somehow acheive ‘victory’, whatever that means.

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  11. Brad Bull says:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070125/ap_on_el_pr/democrats_health_care

    Interesting article. Looks like the dems might actually get serious about universal healthcare.

    The only way to reduce oil consumption is to tax the crap out of gas (like Europe). Although I would not like to be the politician proposing it.

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  12. Neva says:

    I’d disagree that gas taxes are the only way to cut down oil consumption. They’re definitely one component that would help, but oil consumption is actually currently on the rise in several European countries, despite gas taxes around 200%.
    I think we also need to be focusing on stricter gas efficiency standards for vehicles. If some companies can make fuel efficient vehicles, why can’t others? Because trucks and SUVs are cheaper to make so car companies created a market for them to maximize profit? Well, if we combine this with higher gas taxes, I bet that market will start shrinking.
    As a plant biologist, I’m also focused on biofuels. I realize that many people are worried about the inefficiency of producing ethanol from corn. I am too. Corn is a terrible source for ethanol production since most of the biomass in the plant is wasted when you only use the kernels. You put a lot of energy into growing a whole plant, and then you only try to regain energy from a fraction of that plant, very wasteful. Brazil is doing quite well on sugarcane, but most of our climate isn’t suited to high sugar crops, so we need to switch to a cellulose-based model instead of a starch/sugar one. We need to be looking at grasses, scrap wood/sawdust, fast-growing trees like poplar, etc. If the country wants to get serious about biofuels, it needs to get past the agrobusiness corn lobby and start looking at plants that are more efficient for ethanol production.

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  13. Bill Woessner says:

    Unfortunately, Neva, politics is not about doing what’s best for the country. It’s primarily about pandering to special interests so they will give you money to run for reelection. Second on the agenda is pandering to your constituents want so will reelect you. Doing what’s best for the country is a distant third behind these two priorities.

    Congress could meet tomorrow and decide to raise fuel efficiency standards to 40 MPG. That would certainly be good for the country (and the world). But they won’t. Not because it’s a bad idea. Not because it’s not possible. But because it would violate the first two tenets of legislation: don’t piss off corporate donors and don’t piss off voters.

    Personally, I give the President big props for taking on the initiative. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere, but at least he has the guts to try something. I just wish the legislature would grow some backbone and do something productive. Legislators are too damn worried about being reelected. Maybe term limits would help.

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  14. Brent says:

    Hi Neva,
    I saw an interesting story the other day on Ethanol plants. Some of the newer Ethanol plants are being created near cattle farms and corn fields. They are trying to create a cycle where the manure is used to generate energy to run the ethanol distellery. The by product of the ‘wet corn’ from the distellery is then used to feed the cattle. This creates more of a closed loop on energy consumtion and cattle feed and maximizes both the corn use and net energy gain (as opposed to the current loss) from ethanol production. Unfortunately, this can only happen in areas that already have a large cattle farm and corn field. Hopefully, Ethanol from bio-mass will become more economical in a few years and some of the tradtional Ethanol plants can convert over.

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  15. Neva says:

    Bill, I never said I necessarily expected any of that to happen, certainly not in a timely fashion, politics being what they are. I was just responding to Brad’s idea that a gas tax was the only solution to overconsumption of oil by pointing out that a broader approach would be preferable. I just said all of that was what we need to be doing if we want to take the problem seriously, not that I thought it was going to happen. I’m not actually naive enough to believe that politicians saying they’re going to get serious about something means that they have any real intention of making the hard decisions required to do so.

    Brent, there are definitely some interesting stories out there of people trying to be realistic and make improvements on biofuel technology using the current limitations imposed by things like the corn lobby, etc. I do agree that using the leftovers from ethanol distillation to feed cattle improves the energy usage and decreases the concerns about animal feed shortages as a result of ramping up biofuel use. Again, as a concerned scientist, I think that it’s really irresponsible of us to be raising cattle on corn because of the resulting acidification of their rumens and the resulting selection for pathogenic E. coli. But that’s a completely other debate that I’m not likely to win any time soon, either, political and economic realities being what they are.

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  16. Brad Bull says:

    You can buy your own still and make your own ethanol at home! Living in Oklahoma I see the market for big pickups and SUVs every day. No one is going to leave that market without a fight. If gas cost $5/gal you would see a significant reduction in oil demand over the next 5 years. Demand may be on the rise in Europe but it is still well below US demand.

    Efficiency standards are good, and I really applaud Ford for their upcoming plug-in hybrids, although we have to wait a few years for those.

    My focus on fuel taxes is for the benefit of reduced consumption and that alternatives become more economically competative. This can contribute to the beginning of infrastructure for alternative fuels.

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  17. Neva says:

    I don’t disagree with you, Brad. I was just suggesting that increased gas taxes won’t fix things on their own and would be more effective in combination with other initiatives, such as a more logical approach to biofuels than is currently being taken. I agree that higher gasoline costs are a required part of reducing oil consumption, but they need to be implemented along with other approaches.

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  18. Brad Bull says:

    Bill,
    It is pretty common for a lame duck to talk big because he doesn’t have to do any of the work. I would give the president big props if he made these statements 6 years ago. Hopefully the dems finance reform bills will be the beginning of a reduction in special interest powers. We still need special interest groups, but I think we could balance their influence if we committed to that goal. (Optomistic – I know)

    Neva,
    I agree other initiatives will help. But I also think increased gas taxes would work reasonably well by themselves, and that other initiatives will not work without the gas tax. Economics dictates much behavior.

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