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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

# Posted 12:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GENUINE INSIGHT FROM MAUREEN DOWD: There could be no better topic for a column by Maureen Dowd than George Bush's alleged interest in serious literature. Although it isn't hard to poke fun at the idea of Bush reading Shakespeare, Dowd asks an important question. Can a familiarity with great works of literature make one a better human being or even a better president?
Stephen Greenblatt, the Harvard professor and author of “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” demurs, noting that “there’s no reason to think reading Shakespeare necessarily makes you a more reflective or deeper person. Otherwise, the Nazis who kept the German Shakespeare Society going in the 30’s and 40’s would have learned something.”
Greenblatt's observation calls to mind a phrase that explains a lot about George Bush: moral clarity.

Intellectual accomplishment tends to be value neutral. Although I firmly believe that the greatest statesmen tend to possess extraordinary intelligence, it is at least important, if not moreso, for them to possess strong values.

Consider Harry Truman, the president to whom Bush often compares himself. Truman was also mocked for his supposedly deficient intellect. Yet in the end, what mattered far more were Truman's values. Will values be enough to cement this president's place in history?

It's too early say. Yet Democrats ought to keep in mind that when the mock the intelligence of Republican presidents, they are often doing them a favor. An obsession with intelligence tends to suggest a disinterest in values.

Strangely, Dowd doesn't seem to appreciate the significance of Prof. Greenblatt's point, even though she considered it important enough to include in her column. Dowd concludes that:
The relentlessly black-and-white Bush could learn from [Shakespeare's] riveting grays. “With Shakespeare,” says Marjorie Garber, a Harvard professor and the author of “Shakespeare After All,” “nothing is ever finished. You never close the door on anything. There’s never any ‘Mission Accomplished.’ ”
How clever. Yet it is precisely this relentless celebration of "grays" that costs Democrats so dearly at the polls.
(21) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
MoDo is on extremely good terms with Bush Senior, so much so that Barbara is understandably quite jealous. She also knows W well enough having observed him over the years at Kennebunkport. In the column, there is the knowing quote, The president has been so tone-deaf in dealing with the world, and even with his own father, ....

The Greenblatt quote actually finishes with: Shakespeare's texts are so complex, he says, that they "allow a huge range of readings and political views, like the Bible." That was the significance that you missed.

You won't find a better reader than MoDo.
 
nothing is ever finished. You never close the door on anything. There’s never any ‘Mission Accomplished.’

Another idiotic "Mission Accomplished" comment. Plays, of course, have artificial endings, of play, act, and scene. One assumes that after one scene ends that another follows, even if off-stage. Just as when one mission ends the next begins, as anyone should know.
 
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Otherwise, the Nazis who kept the German Shakespeare Society going in the 30’s and 40’s would have learned something.”

Hmmm this was when the Germany nation conquered most of Western Eroupe, Africa and Eastern Europe. Glad they where so dumb. Just think if they were smart how much Germany would have conquered. The Nazis where not stupid nor where they uneducated. Underestimating your enemy is a good why to wbecome dead.

The Left constantly underestimates Bush for this very reason. They think he is stupid and treats him accordingly. It's a failing of the Left to think they are smarter they everyone else. An EGO complex if you will.
 
"The Nazis where not stupid nor where they uneducated. Underestimating your enemy is a good why to wbecome dead."

"nor where they", "a good why to wbecome dead."

At least your education can't be underestimated.

And since when were the Nazis considred dumb and uneducated? That's a new one, but then again, so is the phrase "a good why".
 
Why does the Right celebrate W's dumbness, or to use Adesnik's euphemism, his 'moral clarity'? Do they think the world is really a simple place with simple problems and simple solutions?
 
nor where they", "a good why to wbecome dead."

Should be "nor were they", "a good way to become dead"

But I'm glad you jumped on the errors. Seems you proved my point. Due to my lack of time to double check my comments before posting, I failed to catch several errors like misplacing where with were.

Amazingly from these errors you are able to classify me as uneducated. Much like the Left does time and again with Bush when he stumbles over speeches.

You have no facts to back up your statement except a few spelling errors. However with these small facts you deduce that "At least your(my) education can't be underestimated." Amazing how smart you are. Just amazing. You have no idea if I graduated High School, College, or if I dropped out in the 3rd grade. You have no idea if I have an IQ of 65 or 120. Yet somehow you know. Amazing. I tip my hat to your unmatched intelligence. Here I thought only the Right saw the world as black and white.
 
Can we get back to the free playboy and penthouse?
 
Why certainly pb, anything to please. But be forewarned that Playboy and Penthouse are notoriously Liberal magazines. That is, if you read the articles.
 
"But I'm glad you jumped on the errors. Seems you proved my point. Due to my lack of time to double check my comments before posting, I failed to catch several errors like misplacing where with were."

I assume you had time to catch "mislplacing where with were", and just didn't?

"Amazingly from these errors you are able to classify me as uneducated."

Well, that and your bogus statement that people underestimated the Nazis by believeing they were "dumb" and "uneducated." Not to mention your inconsistent usage of commas.
 
unseenmale, we are glad that you are unseen, but we'd prefer if you were unheard and unread so that you could be unremembered. Darling, please come back when you've passed Composition 1A. Until then, no lap dance for you.
 
I declare a blanket amnesty for both bad grammar/spelling and criticism thereof.

So back to the question: Does a knowledge of great literature make one a better human being or even a better leader?
 
In 1925 Hitler published his and the Nazis plans for world conquest in a book called Mein Kampf.

Over the next 8 years no one bothered to read it. In fact, most educated people of the times ignored the book and called it nonsense. It was not until 1933 when Hitler came to power that the book become a bestseller. Even then the world powers failed to understand that Hitler meant what he said in its pages.

David,

I would say yes. However, a leader should not limit himself/herself to just great literature. The above is a good example of why.

Jenny,

I don't need or want a lap dance. I respect women more then that.
 
I think a knowledge of history and a sense of the humanities to generalize the lessons of the past is important. One can get this "sense of the humanities" from reading the classics but I don't think it is necessary. (After all, there were great leaders before the "classics" were written.)

Obviously, Bush's reading list is more about addressing accusations that he is not too bright than about making him a better leader. Which is funny considering the fact that, at this point in the game, a person would have to be pretty stupid to think that Bush is stupid.
 
It's Jenya, unseen, J e n y a. And you almost made it through an entire post without a grammatical error, until the second to last word. We were rooting for you.

There was a guy, a Democrat named Franklin Roosevelt, who was fluent in German, who read Mein Kampf and who listened to Hitler's speeches without translation. He recognized the impending threat. Of course, then there was a banker, Prescott Bush, W's grandfather, who was busy making money with the Nazi's. And then there was a Conservative, named Neville Chamberlain, who with perfect moral clarity looked into Hitler's eyes in Munich and said, "we will have peace in our time."

You probably know the rest of the story. The Democrat rallies the country. The banker drinks himself into oblivion. And the Conservative is allowed to resign after surviving no confidence votes called by Labour.

You can look it up.
 
David, could you give a definition of "moral clarity", or some sort of explanation of what it means? This is something I've been wondering about for a while now. I have some vague and confused ideas about what it might mean to those who use the phrase, but I'm not really sure, and often it seems like nothing more than rhetoric. But you seem to be using it as shorthand for some definite concept, not as cheap rhetoric, so I was hoping that you could spell out what that concept is.
 
You glide into the assumption that Harry Truman was a good president. That is a judgment few who remember his tenure will share. Truman was a low, crude man, dumb as a box of rocks, who enjoyed swearing and playing poker. (He "married up," of course, and his wife was a fine woman).
 
Truman was a good president, ably completing FDR's legacy. During his tenure,

WWII was successfully completed.
The Marshall Plan was installed.
The United Nations was formed.
The military was integrated.
The Cold War was commenced.

It's a shame that FDR didn't live through VJ day. But Truman has his own list of accomplishments.

But he played poker and enjoyed swearing.

The Cold War was important because Truman saw that we couldn't fight both Fascism and Communism at the same time. But he was right in that we could and did fight them successively.

But he played poker and enjoyed swearing.
 
Blar, it's a good question, and it deserves a post of its own.

Also, I enjoy poker.
 
Wow, david, thank you for the quote:

An obsession with intelligence tends to suggest a disinterest in values.

I've never put that thought to words before.

But to your question about whether the humanities actually can make one a better person; I don't think it's possible to say. I've never been in a situation where I've gone "What would Odyesseus do?" On the other hand, I know after I read Childe Harold, I was never quite the same moral being again either.

So, if there is an answer, then I would say the corpus of one's humanities may form the body of one's values, but there's probably no way to ever prove it other than in platitudes about "the past" or parables therefrom.
 
Greenblatt? Isn't he the chappy who said that Shakespeare, as a country boy, would be familiar with porcupines?
 
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