Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


©2007 UrbisMedia

©2007 UrbisMedia

If you happened to see Scott Pelley’s interview of George Bush on 60 Minutes this past January 14, you were witness to the hubris of man who has clearly deluded himself that he can be “responsible” for “mistakes” that “happen,” but is incapable of making a mistake.


By now, most everyone knows about the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of “Papal Infallibility.” [1]   We’ve come to expect this sort of nonsense in the metaphysical realms; but it is another thing when we come down to earth and are dealing with those who putatively lead our secular institutions, like something as mundane as the governments of our national states.   Hardly anyone but a sychophant, or someone fearing a tyrant’s wrath, would say that a human being, by whatever means they came to office or power, was “infallible,” incapable of error.


Yes we have, in this most advanced, and democratic, nation, something that is very much akin to the infallibility that is accorded to the Pope when he speaks on matters of faith or morals—we have what could be called Potal (from POTUS, the official code name for the P resident O fT he U nited S tates) Infallibility.   Potal Infallibility is related to that area of presidential power and responsibility that is perhaps closest to when the pope speaks ex cathedra (literally from his throne), when he is “commander-in-chief” of the armed forces.   Potal Infallibility means that the POTUS is incapable of being wrong when he says that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda; he cannot be wrong when he engages in preemptive war, approves prisons that abuse suspects that remain uncharged for years, or are “rendered” and tortured; who uses “signing statements” indicate that he is above the laws made by Congress; who approves of spying on his own people and opening their mail.  


We are hearing increasing reference—though not in these terms—to Potal Infallibility these days because Republicans who support George Bus’s Iraq War have been backed into a corner by the American voters this past November, by generals, active and retired, who have expressed grave doubts about this war, and by even 38 percent of troops in Iraq, about the prospects of for a so-called “surge,” or infusion of thousands of more troops, to try to arrest or reverse what is probably already a lost war.


Invoking Potal Infallibility goes something like this: we must abide by the decisions of our commander-in-chief—no matter what—in time of war.   He is right, by right ; we should not question whether his decisions.   It’s that old military crap that, “an order is an order,” you obey it. Don’t’ think, don’t question, just obey.   We have seen this countless times throughout history, and its results can be disastrous—at Actium, on the steppes of Russia, the Maginot Line, Hitler in his bunker, Vietnam, and many other places where the hubris of political/military leadership resulted defeat and disgrace.


The doctrine of infallibility applies to when Catholics have a Pope who is a moral hypocrite, so why not when we have a president who is an intellectual dunce. Remember, this is a president who, when asked at a pres conference if he thought he might have made any mistakes, replied that he couldn’t think of any.


No, make that a President who is a moral hypocrite, Because it is becoming clearer and clearer that the motivation for the protraction of the Iraq way owes much to this president’s unwillingness to admit it was a mistake—one would think that a man who knows he has lied about the causes of the war would know also that he is lying to himself—and he is willing to sacrifice thousands of American lives and limbs in a foolish and desperate attempt to not have his legacy be that of a loser.


There will be those Republicans (and, of course, that slimy Uriah Heap of a Democratic(?) Senator, Joe Leiberman), who will invoke Potal Infallibility.   They will link it to the usual bromides—to not support him, since he is the top of the chain-of-command, is not to support the troops, and the good ole “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”   It’s the troops who will suffer, not because their commander’s has been challenged, but because he has lied to them and, like the spoiled brat that he is, he is willing to see them killed for the sake of his reputation.  

There is no special knowledge that the president has that justifies and complete and unquestioned deference to his plans and policies.   Just as the Pope or some Ayatollah has no more direct knowledge of God, or Allah—if there is one—than you or I do, George Bush is making value judgments when he acts.   It is his twisted “moral” view, not intelligence, that determine his actions, that allow him to arrogate to himself an exalted position above that of mere fallible citizens such and you and I.   He seems to feel that his position is so exalted that he does not need to hear the vox populi that spoke with much volume and clarity this past November. We must therefore prevail upon our duly elected representatives not to abdicate their collective wisdom. It is they who must restore to us our democracy. It is they who must tell this arrogant fool that he is WRONG.

©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.17.2007)

[1] But just in case, it is   “. . . defined as “a divinely revealed dogma” that “the Roman Pontiff , when he speaks ex cathedra — that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church — is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter , possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished HisChurch to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals; and consequently that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature ( ex sese ) and not by reason of the Church’s consent.”