A question of judgment…

In response to a comment from Croft on my previous post, I drew attention to the value of comparing memoirs from politicians.  The exercise can provide useful insights.

In his new book, Tony Blair argues that George W. Bush is far more intelligent than is popularly recognised.  I contrast this with the following two entries from Chris Mullin’s Decline and Fall:

Thursday, 7 December [2006]

Lunch in the Adjournment with Bruce Grocott.  Inevitably we discuss The Man [Blair].  Bruce said: ‘I can give you a list of his strengths as long as your arm, but he is not the best judge of people´.

Monday, 26 March [2007]

A friend in High Places came in for dinner.  She says The Man is exhausted, continually dosing himself with tea to keep awake.  My friend has sat in on two video conferences with George Bush.  Her verdict?  ‘I just don’t know where the idea comes from that in private Bush is brighter than he appears in public.  He’s unfocused, forgets names, uses words like “thingamy” and refers to the prime minister as “that Maliki guy”.  

And these are the people making the key decisions….


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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14 Responses to A question of judgment…

  1. Croft says:

    “George W. Bush is far more intelligent than is popularly recognised.”

    I suspect many people find it more comforting to believe that he played up the folksy persona for electoral success than face the prospect that he really is as many perceive.

  2. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    Blair also has a special reason to support Bush. He worked closely with him and his legacy depends in part on justifying their mutual faith. As for the perception of the person who made the perceptions they made I am afraid there may be many layers of cultural lenses and blinders involved. The Bushes in general have a legendary capacity for name memory and that is not a hyperbolic term. However, Bush the Father used to change the accents on Saddam Hussein’s name as an insult which he stuck with consistently. The son is a much darker piece of work than the father and I doubt he would have been well understood by the viewer.
    Croft: There are cultural issues here. Dubya Bush is not ordinary folk. He went to Yale. He went to Philips Andover, He pledged the Bones. He has very significant Yankee Brahmin Ancestry. He owned a Major League Baseball Team. He had a grandfather who was a US Senator, a brother who was a governor and a father who was the President of the United States. He was able to meet many influential world leaders when his father was the President. I wrote to Governor Bush before he ran for president and e-mailed him asking him to consider a run before he announced. I was not so thrilled in the end but he did many things well in bad times that were crucial. I am not a Republican at all, nor a Texan.
    Both Lord Norton and Croft,
    I think that there is a cultural issue set which is huge between the US and the UK which actually would be good to address but is not so easy to address. An example of that is when President Bush failed to meet Her Britanic Majesty at the airport and thus insulted her, later he used terminolgy to make ammends that perhaps assuaged the situation but was offensive to many quiet but influential Americans. All the terms of address I use are deliberately chosen– for example I call Lord Norton “Your Lordship” because it shows recgnition of his rank but he is most certainly not my lord in any sense. If I were writing to Her Britannic Majesty in St Kitts I would write Her Majesty Queen of St. Kitts and Head of the Commonwealth, if I annopunced her in my own home(just hypothetical) in the US I would say “Her Royal Highness and Supreme Excellency, Queen of the United Kingdom and other realms, Head of the Commonwealth, Chief of the Clans and Houses of British Royalty” I would not announce her as “Her Majesty” at all if such were essential then I would have to pass on the invitation under current political relations. I would probably have her addressed as “Your Supreme Royal Highness” or “Your Most Excellent Royal Highness” despite its length. All of this matters a lot to some people but I am an Anglo-Acadian from Louisiana and not a Yankee-Texan. Bush dealt with still unresolved tensions he is aware of in ways that would be seen as mere confusion by many. Every time I do a post like this I give Lord Norton another reason to stop taking my comments of course, but these are issues that really affect US-UK relationships. Poll numbers are not everything…

    • ladytizzy says:

      I’m pretty sure the Queen, as with most other people, is not be offended by an incorrect form of address if made in error or ignorance. For those who should know better she reserves a special look “as only a mother could make”.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lady Tizzy,
    Do you quote his Excellency the then President by memory or did you go to the archives? The truth is that terms of address are, always have been and always must be relative. We know this from normal life. Perhaps someone has called you “Pookie Bear” or something similar for example but my doing so here even by way of illustration is a bit creepy is it not? Daddy, Mum or other such titles or the oragnism of which titles are made. There are many reasons why all this gets blurry nowadays but for some of us we would be happy to follow books and courtiers if they were right but cannot follow them when they are manifestly wrong even if they are in general better qualified than we. His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople is addressed by what is left of his court as well as by his prelates as His All Holiness but for me despite ( I know you must raise an eyebrow here) the fact that I consider myself largely Greek he can only be His Holiness, however certain things could change that would allow the better address. While not usually done in English( and certainly none of my business) there are still real people with really compelling reasons why the two Patriarchs of Jerusalem, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Rome, the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Patriarch of Rome should address eachother (which happens rarely enough) in whatever language as “My Apostolic Brother” before any other title but their courtiers are the least inclined to see these things. I believe this sort of thing has always been difficult but now it is clearly much more difficult for some people than it ever has been before. I believe perhaps you and I despite a common language, many common interests etc. have occasions to see this from very different points of view. It is rather long and exhausting more than exhaustive but if you are interested in seeing where my points of reference are I now have them partly on the net:
    For me there really is not much about “winning” in any such issue. One simply has certain duties and that is all there is to it. Her Britanic Majesty has clearly many obligations and must always decide how her treatment at the hands of others will affect her commitments to symbolize the dignity of the realms of which she is Head of State. Today’s world like all others but more so than many ages has left more things undone and unfinshed that some people care about but others do not and still others resent anyone caring about. For honest people there is usaully a reflection process. But depite efforts to be reasonable quite a few people in the world simply cannot break bread although they heve little animosity if any to one another because the issues of protocol are insoluble.

    • Frank W. Summers III says:

      Lady Tizzy,
      In my little ranting essay of a response I have fogotten to include the Patriarch of Antioch. I have not fogotten the Primate Archbishops of Canterbury, Armagh, Tours or the Patriarch of Moscow or any of that whole next rung of bishops to whom this custom does not apply.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: Perhaps you should invite ladytizzy to tea rather than Her Majesty the Queen.

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Her Britanic Majesty’s adress is easier to find. It is easy to invite I think and even answers her mail because of the staff. I do not think it as much th inviting as the “getting her to” accept the invitation. However, I extend almost no invitations of any kind to anyone except at restaurant and other commercial and social spaces and I do not go to any of those where I would like to entertain her these days. However, in the past I did attend a few where I think suitable accomodations might have been made with notice. I am planning still to completely uproot myself from this area in the next few years and find a simple life elswhere. I have quite exhausted my desire for the sort of connections that involve inviting British royalty to Louisiana.
        But I would assure you that it matters quite little to me who the guest are right now — I have no personal guests who are not blood relatives now. The United States will always be my home but I think I will try to die as I have sometimes lived away from home in a modest apartment overlooking a nice view with a few friends and colleagues somewhere in Asia. I will miss my kinfolk when I do it long term but I am quite ready to say my goodbyes to my involvement in our civilization I think. I am not implying a chumminess with Windsor Castle in my earlier remarks. On the contrary I have made it clear before that I am surprised Your Lordship and I have kept up a cordial communication as long as we have to which I am willing to give yourself all the praiseworthy attributions of credit.
        There are many Americans who feel much less inclined to get on well with the British establishment than I do. Many of them more British American than I am. In my light of my travels and studies I am willing to say it is a relationship worth trying to have but for me personally there are very few reasons to care. However, while I am writing I write largely what I think or not all since others can do a better job of covering other points of view than I can. It is true I will always think of this conversation as remarkable but perhaps not exactly for the reasons you might think. As for winning the tea at Lords I just enjoy playing the game and if it ever happened I might have to deline the actual event in the end. However, if I did go I would consult the most knowledgeable people as I have done at the Tongan Royal Palace,the Great Hall of the People and other unfamiliar places I have visited upon occasion. I have never gone to a place of such significance to others seeking to make a scene and doubt that I ever have.

    • ladytizzy says:

      Frank, first, apologies for the slight misquote – evidently, your memory is better than mine!

      Nowadays, most people in the UK are relaxed about titles whether they have one or not. Heck, we’re so laid back that only our monarchs bother to add numerals after their chosen name.

      The whole protocol thing is merely one step up from good manners, aiming to make social occasions easier for both host and guests. From time to time, etiquette is useful to detect the odd nomad but I would settle for good manners if a nomad was the only prize.

      Lord Norton is such a tease. However, the Queen of Tonga and I did share a cuppa once…

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lady Tizzy,
        I am greatly impressed with the cuppa with Tonga’s queen. I really know almost nothing about you except a few facts but they all make me think your are to you ng for it to have been Salote the last Queen regnant and so probably was the consort of the King I met but did not eat with on a few occasions. I used to worship at the Royal Chapel in English after mass in Tongan but not family were normally present and never the KIng there. I come by the digits honestly. My birth certificate says Frank Wynerth Summers III and lists my father as Frank Wynerth Summers II and he is very much alive. My mother’s father is C___ B___ G___ and has a son who is the second and a grandfather who is the third. My closes male friend over all among peers in age (I am not his possibly I traveled so much for one thing) is my second cousin who is Ch______ W_____ M_____ IV. The numerals are enitrely essential to the daily life of the people who matter the most to me. Most of my family calls me Beau most of the time and my ex-wife in what seems an alternate universe used to call me Beau-Bie-da-Boy for more often than I can imagine is possible even as I type it. People have also known me for years as Francisco, Pancho and a few as Fa Lang Ka. However, it would be good if I could avoid having anyone repeatedly call me by any of my ex-wife’s pet names despite my indiscretion unless you are sure you wish to get rid of me. At the time however, I thought Snuggle-Pumpkin was quite charming when she said such things. Now are we all sufficiently uncomfortable with my self revelations? Perhaps I will change the Asia plan to an Antartica plan….

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Hopefully you can read through the numerous typos above. I was typing and thinking in a rather animated fashion I suppose. In terms of content errors my grandfather’s grandfather is neither alive nor named after him for one thing…

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lady Tizzy,
        I am sure that all good things must come to an end. How good my commenting in thses things is I do not venture to say. However, one thing that is almost incomprehensible to me is the British establishment really understanding good manners. It seems more like an oxymoron every day of my life.

  4. Frank W. Summers III says:

    I thought it seemed relevant to post this. I have not read the book discussed. I read his father’s sort of memoir which was a collection mostly of brief pieces of correspondence. But here is Bush’s memoir being discussed in the context of presidntial memoirs: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_presidential_best_sellers

  5. ‘And these are the people making the key decisions….’

    These are the people we have elected, albeit indirectly, to make the key decisions. Are you suggesting another way of such decisions being made, Lord Norton, other than by the people who have been elected to make them?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Wannabeexpatlaments: It is indeed a consequence of who the people elect, either directly (as in a presidential system) or indirectly (as in a parliamentary system, though some Prime Ministers act as if if they are directly elected). It is the necessary price of democracy. If the people don’t approve, they have the option of kicking the leaders out, at least where they come up for re-election. There are problems, of course, with lame-duck leaders. In between elections, the legislature is important for calling the nation’s leaders to account.

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