There's a saying among lawyers: "If you can't blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullbleep."
George W. Bush, isn't a lawyer, but he understands the principle: If you lack substance, use style. Our president is not a great leader, but he plays one on TV.
Never in history have so many been fooled by so little. The ex- governor of Texas, the ex-pro baseball opportunist, the ex-serially failed businessman, the ex-alcoholic -- reinvented more often then Madonna -- has convinced nearly half the voters in America that he is a great world leader.
What a showman! Give him credit, he can play a part.
But as a real leader he's a total bust, an abject failure, almost clownish in his inability to cope.
Where was he a few weeks ago when the world learned of the American flu vaccine crisis? About 36,000 Americans die from the flu each year. That's 12 times the number killed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. And that's with vaccine available. Without vaccine, that number can be expected to rise appreciably. Flu is extremely serious business.
Did Bush react to the shortage as any good leader would? Did he immediately sit down with experts to learn how to cope with the crisis? No, he didn't. He didn't even bother to leave the campaign trail. Bush has been campaigning nonstop for the past four years. He's spent more time on the trail than Lewis and Clark. He was too busy to have his routine interrupted for something as insignificant as protecting the lives of small children and aging grandparents.
How did this "leader" respond to Sept. 11? Did he take immediate steps to protect our jetliners, our seaports, our borders? Are you kidding? He got only one out of three; airport and airliner security is improved. But our seaports are almost completely unprotected, and our borders -- particularly the one with Mexico -- are more open now than they were before Sept. 11.
All politicians know that people hate to change leaders during time of stress, so what did Bush do to protect his job? He invaded a foreign nation, that's what. Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism against the United States, but Bush sold Americans on the notion that we had no choice but to kill Iraqis and destroy their cities.
First he beguiled us with tales of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had them, he said, and would soon use them against us if we didn't stop him. Mushroom clouds over Manhattan.
When that lie was exposed, Bush changed his story and said we were killing Iraqis to free them from Saddam. After Saddam was deposed and captured, Bush changed his sales pitch again, and said we were killing Iraqis to bring them democracy.
This is not leadership. It is salesmanship. If the customer won't buy one approach, switch to another. If he won't buy that, try yet another. Sooner or later you'll hook the sucker.
Bush has added showmanship to the mix. On the campaign trail, he conducts pep rallies before hand-picked, blindly faithful audiences. He doesn't give speeches, he recites applause lines. "Freedom's on the rise," he shouts, and the no-liberals-allowed audience responds with cheers and applause. He refers to "the liberal senator from Massachusetts," and the mob dutifully boos. If you listen closely, you can hear shills in the audience leading the cheers and boos. It's a show, designed to make Bush look wildly popular and his opponent look like a slug. It has nothing to do with reality.
This is World Series time, so a baseball analogy might be appropriate. Compare Bush with successful baseball managers. Check out the managers. Most of the time, they appear glum, lost in thought. Nobody cheers them. They don't seek praise. They concentrate on their jobs
When they have to make a change in the lineup (or a "flip-flop" in Bushspeak), they do it without fanfare. Their interest is in winning games, not winning popularity contests. These men are leaders, not cheerleaders yapping on the sidelines.
Bush's inability to exercise true leadership has lead us down a disastrous path. With gasoline and home-heating prices going up, and the stock market going down, our economy is on extremely shaky footing. The big airlines are crashing financially. True unemployment and underemployment keep rising. All levels of government are cutting back on essential services -- like teachers, police and firefighters -- while going into debt. Bush's federal government is overspending like crazy to make the economy look good, and doing it with borrowed money. We'll suffer mightily for that when it the time comes to pay the bills.
Bush's "leadership" got us into a war that didn't have to be fought. He cost us billions of dollars and untold cost in human misery. He's been a disaster.
He has slowed scientific research for no better reason than to placate the most superstitious of his followers. He pretends global warming doesn't exist.
He has snubbed his nose at our most valuable allies. Needlessly offending one's friends is not a mark of leadership.
The list of Bush's failures is too long to repeat here. His one major success was temporarily driving the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.
Oh, and he also did a fine job of ramming through a tax cut for his base, the very rich. Give credit where credit is due.
Has Bush blinded us with his brilliance? Hardly. But when it comes to baffling us with bull, the lonesome cowpoke from New Haven, Andover, Yale and Harvard has proved himself a talented, latter-day Svengali.
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at email@example.com.
© 2004 SF Gate