Dan Hull of What About Clients? is quite the fan of Alexis de Tocqueville, and with good reason. While Hobbs, Locke and Rousseau tend to appeal more to the flashy MTV crowd, de Tocqueville (On Democracy in America ) was no slouch.
Still, applying the views of great philosophers to our current affairs is no mean feat. Indeed, you have to show great respect when you can not only do so, but have some fun in the process. Dan has managed both in this column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
What’s especially striking about this is that President Bush is very, well, American. Bush is American in the way citizens of the U.S. have been perceived by outsiders for nearly two centuries. He mirrors national traits — some admirable and some not — which Alexis de Tocqueville observed 170 years ago in his book “Democracy in America.”
Talk about a seguey! Okay, I’m dying. Why, Dan, Why?
Tocqueville identified certain attributes of this new American:
• By nature or necessity disinterested in other nations and cultures
• Practical rather than theoretical
• Plain spoken but occasionally bombastic
• Openly religious (an “exalted spiritualism,” he called it)
• Stubborn, prideful, hurried in all things, impulsive and prone to do “ill considered things”
• He found that Americans were not overly enamored with ideas for their own sake
• Tocqueville even mentioned, delicately, that these new creatures had run roughshod over the English language and abused its inherent flexibility.
Now bring it home, baby:
A Texan’s Texan, Bush is a hardworking, action-oriented, driven and headstrong man who, despite his Ivy League education, has shown little interest in ideas generally.
He plainly believes, however, in the primacy and superiority of American ideas and institutions. Although his presidency has been consumed by foreign affairs, Bush is no internationalist.
Bush also is perceived to not think things through (i.e., the details of the Iraq occupation), yet apparently considers himself pragmatic. He is not shy about bringing “God” into the national discourse. He is happy in cowboy garb and with a folksy manner of speech.
Note how Dan worked in the little Texas dig, without any effort at all! Every paragraph in Dan’s column gives us another gem, and reluctant as I am to reprint it word by word so as to avoid missing a critical piece of the puzzle, I can’t pass up this one:
And Tocqueville would have been fascinated with George Bernard Shaw’s famous quip that democracy is “a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
It sounds so much better when Shaw says it than when I do, which explains why most of my best quips are attributed to him. Read the whole column and enjoy. Anybody who can make de Tocqueville relevant to Bush 43 has earned my admiration.