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Dunce Fever

New Times photo illustration

"They misunderestimated me." -- George W. Bush, November 6, 2000

The probable ascendancy of George W. Bush is incontrovertible proof that America loves a dolt. This does not mean that Dubya will be a bad president. It's entirely possible that this great country desperately needs a dunderhead just now -- someone who's just dense enough to think he can Texas two-step into Washington, grin a lot and "unite the nation" by the sheer weight of personality and naive good intentions.

Pardon my mugwumpery, but I am not particularly eager to "unite" with a nation that would put its trust in a character like Dubya.

"If affirmative action means what I just described, what I'm for, then I'm for it." -- Bush, October 18

Arizonans favored Dubya on November 7, and we should be immediately comfortable with a man of his stripe. We do, after all, have a long and proud tradition of electing imbeciles.

Let me count the ways: Eldon Rudd, Hawley Atkinson, Jesus "Chuy" Higuera, Bobby Raymond, Dick Godbehere, Evan Mecham, Jim Cooper, Rose Mofford, J. Fife Symington III, Joe Arpaio, Tony West, Bob Stump, J.D. Hayworth, Skip Rimsza, Jim Irvin, Frances Barwood, Jeff Groscost, Karen Johnson, Jim Stapley, Barbara Blewster, Jane Hull.

In the voters' defense, not all these people started out as dunces. Some of them suffered brain death while in office.

Cooper, a state legislator, once told a committee that "if a student wants to say the world is flat, the teacher doesn't have the right to try to prove otherwise."

As reporters pressed him, Mecham once blurted, "We'll answer questions. We'll choose the questions."

With the alternative-fuels money drain, Hull is presiding over the most spectacular blunder in Arizona history. Yet no heads have rolled, and Hull and her staff are pointing fingers that ought to be directed at themselves. We expect nothing less.

On November 7, voters in Arizona also overwhelmingly favored Arpaio, Stump, Hayworth and our newest congressman, a Luddite named Jeff Flake. Surprisingly, District 30 voters did jettison Groscost. His ouster notwithstanding, Arizonans managed to buttress our status as a dumbbellwether for the nation.

And now, by all appearances, we have a true national standard-bearer in George W. Bush.

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." -- Bush, October 18

Thoughtful Americans need not despair. With each passing generation, the White House -- and the federal government in general -- becomes more irrelevant.

How much damage could somebody like Dubya do? We survived the economic marauding of Ronald Reagan, a nice, senile guy who believed trees cause pollution and who fabricated his war experience.

What difference, really, will it make in your life -- or mine -- if George W. is president and Al Gore is not? Either way, the fix is still in. The immutable forces of commerce donated copiously to both.

"They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program." -- Bush, November 2

Political scientists grappling with the inexplicable rise of a George W. Bush have begun to invoke the term "populist." Once, this imprimatur implied great achievement in the face of humble beginnings. Now, unfortunately, it has become a euphemism for "moron."

Dubya possesses none of the erstwhile populist credentials. He was reared in the cradle of privilege. He did not pull himself up by his bootstraps -- there are no bootstraps in Kennebunkport. Aside from affability and some visceral political skills, he has achieved little of note. His oil business was a dry hole, and only his daddy's links to benevolent "investors" (one of whom would be appointed president of the Export-Import Bank by Reagan and George Sr.) prevented a total failure. His big payday as a baseball team owner came on the backs of the taxpayers of Arlington, Texas, who built him a new stadium.

But Harry S Truman was a rank populist with an underwhelming business pedigree. History has treated Truman well. Frequently derided as a bumptious fool while in office, he's now considered a man of courage and principle -- perhaps the last. Yet Truman had vast legislative experience before he became president. Dubya doesn't.

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." -- Bush, September 29

In Texas, being governor is a largely ceremonial task. One analysis that measures appointment power, budget and veto power and party control ranks Texas' gubernatorial prowess 49th in the nation. Dubya's legislative résumé is anemic. His "compassionate conservative" legacy as governor will be the 145 people executed under his tenure.

"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" -- Bush, January 11

Al Gore is clearly more qualified, clearly smarter than Dubya. Which means diddly. (If intellect were the standard, Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader would be selecting a cabinet.) Gore can be engaged extemporaneously, something I find comforting in the leader of the Free World. Yet while he can wax arcane on matters of public policy, Gore just doesn't seem capable of shooting the bull. Dubya's jocularity, his vulnerability, strike a chord.

Dubya requires intense handling, which means that the key decision-makers will be people who did not stand for election. Americans want a regular guy, a Presidential Pal, not some preening, humorless policy wonk who can actually answer a salient question without a script. Even Dick Cheney, the subordinate, runs cognitive circles around Dubya. We want a prom king -- or perhaps a monarchy, which is great news for Jeb Bush.

"I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy." -- Bush, September 27

George W. Bush's fractious syntax will define the new millennium. Jay Leno is licking his formidable chops. We will become desensitized to the banality and transparent cronyism. We will not long for progressive reform or inspiration or intellectual curiosity or even insightful phraseology.

People of privilege will prosper.

"I am a person who recognizes the fallacy of humans." -- Bush, September 19

(The precious Bushisms appearing herein were compiled by Jacob Weisburg of Slate.)

"One of the common denominators I have found is that expectations rise above that which is expected." -- Bush, September 27


Jessica Jeffries, the morbidly obese teenager who faced 56 years in prison for sex offenses, will be spared such a draconian sentence ("Jessica's Hard Time," November 2). But prison seems to be a certainty.

On the eve of her trial, Jeffries pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of attempted child molestation -- charges that stemmed from an alleged game of "Truth or Dare" in her northwest Phoenix home with younger neighborhood boys.

Her pleas on two of those counts stipulate lifetime probation. The third count calls for five to seven years in prison -- 85 percent of that time must be served before she is eligible for parole.

She had been indicted on 16 criminal counts, and if she had been found guilty on all of them, the state's mandatory sentencing guidelines would have required a judge to sentence her to 56 years. The jury never would have been told of the severe sentence hanging over her head.

Jeffries has an IQ of 83. She's a special education student who was 17 at the time of the offenses. Yet Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley insisted on prosecuting her as an adult.

When I interviewed her last month, she said she weighed 437 pounds. A member of her legal team says she now weighs 477 pounds.

Her lawyers -- justifiably worried about her ability to survive behind bars -- are expected to ask the judge to appeal to the state's Executive Board of Clemency to commute her sentence.

Jessica Jeffries is not a predator. She needs close supervision, counseling and a doctor's care. She doesn't belong in prison.

She certainly shouldn't do more time than former deputy county attorney Christopher G. Shank, 35, who was sentenced to only a year in jail in July for having sex with a teenager. Shank pleaded guilty to having sex with one young boy and had charges of molesting six others dismissed. A psychologist testified at his sentencing hearing that Shank had admitted to having sex with 16 boys.

Shank, who prosecuted juveniles when he was employed by the county attorney, is a predator. He's also a lawyer. The judge thought prison time would be "counterproductive," and slapped Shank on the wrist with a year in the county jail and a lifetime probation.

Jeffries came to her change-of-plea hearing last week clutching a teddy bear.


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