When I was in 9th grade, I learned my place as a brainy kid. There was a big history test coming up about Napoleon. Somehow, the first period class had snuck a copy of the test out of the classroom, and a bunch of kids (in the afternoon class with me) who hadn't studied much spent their lunch hour memorizing the multiple choice answers. I had studied, but I also heard enough of their conversation that I knew what the first 10 answers were supposed to be.
Question 1: e.
Actual Question 1: "What is a coup d'état?"
Answer e: "Napoleon's horse".
The teacher had switched the order of the questions or the answers or something for the afternoon class. Didn't bother me much. But the wave of panic across the room was palpable. It wasn't long before I got a "Psst....what's the answer to number 9?"
My place as a brainy kid was clear. If there's an easy way out, the rest of the world was going to take it and ignore all the work I did. But when things got tough, I was a resource for them. Not because they respected me or my work or intelligence, but because at some level they knew that they were more popular than me, and that I would help them because I wanted their respect.
George W. Bush has surrounded himself with smart people: Cheney, Rice, Rove, Hughes, etc. (Note: I didn't say I agree with those people, and I don't think they're very wise, but they are undoubtedly intelligent by almost any measure.) And he pays lip service to respecting them. He probably thinks he does respect them. But my inner insecure, respect-wanting 9th-grade brainy kid sees through the hypocrisy.
His actions speak loud and clear. He can't let Rove just be smart—he has to be put in his place with a nickname like "turd blossom". Could it be any clearer that Bush hands out nicknames to make the brainy kids feel popular?
He claims to not read newspapers. He wants everyone to think that he runs the country from instinct and guts, not reason and information. According to a recent Newsweek article, Mr. Bush does indeed read newspapers. He just doesn't want anyone to know it. It might ruin his image as one of the popular kids.
According to the same article, he subtly stifles debate while seeming to encourage it. He asks his generals questions like "Do you have what you need to complete the mission?" instead of "Tell me, what do you need to complete this mission?" The message is clear: the pentagon bosses of the generals have made their funding decisions, and for the generals to answer "No, I don't have what I need" would imply that their bosses were wrong. The message of true respect for intelligence is that the generals in the field are the experts, and deserve to be asked open-ended questions so their opinions can be known. Bush just wants the yes or no answer and be done with it.
His administration regularly replaces pesky, disagreeing scientific experts on medical/environmental/economic/younameit advisory boards with people who will agree with him. To his administration, scientific facts are mutable and ignorable in order to fit with its a priori view of the world.
He dignifies the "inane" and "lying" Intelligent Design movement (the quotes are from the Republican judge's decision in Dover, PA) by opining that science ought not stifle the supposed debate over evolution. This is despite a ridiculously overwhelming majority of professional scientists who don't even acknowledge that there is any debate. (Overwhelming: about 100 scientists signed a statement in support of questioning evolution—about 200 scientists named Steve signed a statement saying that Intelligent Design ought not be taught in schools (source).) There is no real debate. That has now been settled in the courts. But we have not heard a retraction from the president.
No Child Left Behind is a fundamental philosophical statement. It says: the standard of a respectable education is to pass a test designed to weed out only the very worst-performing kids. The brainy kids? Well, good for them, but they're not really important to us right now. George Bush's vision of schools is the one he wishes he had: clear, step-by-step instructions on how to pass a test, and then a pat on the back when you manage to (surprise!) pass. It is not the vision of the good, creative educators: teach kids how to think outside the box, bring out children's natural curiosity, foster success through hard work and not through memorization.
The place of brainy kids in George W. Bush's world is clear. He has no real respect for their work or their intelligence. But when things get tough, he offers them jobs or nicknames in return for their eager participation. But he alienates the thinking people who can see through his charade.
So when your little cheat sheet says "Napoleon's horse", Mr. President, please don't come to us for help. Learn what a coup d'état really is. I think there are some people who might be willing to help you with that.