One of the memes introduced by Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 is that because Bush waited seven minutes after learning of the first WTC plane impact before leaving the Florida school where he was reading to children, he cannot be considered a strong or decisive leader. A liberal commenter in a thread on PoliPundit expressed the view that (paraphrasing) “strong leaders act instinctively, but Bush had to think about it, therefore Bush isn’t a strong leader.”

I think there’s something deeply wrong here. For starters, human being don’t really have instincts, at least not in the sense the commenter intends. When we say that someone acted “instinctively”, what we usually mean is that the action was rapid and driven primarily by an emotional response. Emotions, though, are not psychological primaries. They are products of subconscious evaluation by reference to previously internalized values. Put another way, emotions are a product of prior thinking.

When someone has previously thought about something, emotional reactions based on that prior thought can be valuable guides to action in similar contexts. But they are only guides, and when the context has changed they can easily point in the wrong direction. New contexts call for new thinking.

Bringing this back to specifics, my instinctive reaction on learning of the 9/11 attacks was to turn Tehran into a radioactive pane of glass. Had I been President, I would hope that I would have had the strength of character to think before responding rather than going with that first emotional response. As a citizen, I’m very glad that Bush thought about his response (even though I don’t fully agree with his conclusions).

The idea that, when faced with a radical new threat, thinking about it is a sign of weakness rather than strength is pretty scary. The strategy and tactics of fighting this war could do with a lot more thinking and a lot less “instinct”.

3 Responses to “A thought on leadership”
  1. Sigivald says:

    If it’s any help, I’m sure that commentor would not have the same reaction if the President’s name had not been “Bush”, or his party not started with an “R”.

    The Wrong Man can do nothing right.

  2. Chris Cary says:

    You know, first liberals condemn Bush for being “too instinctive” and “too impulsive,” and now he’s not “instinctive” or “impulsive” enough.

    Like, WTF, mate?

  3. NeoDude says:

    I think he was paralyzed by fear and he immediately wondered if this had anything to do with that memo, Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.

    Maybe his training as a Cheerleader from Andover didn’t cover this kind of intense reality.

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