Twenty-eight percent of Americans, in the most recent polls, approve of President Bush’s performance in office, suggesting that failure has a surprising large constituency. Who are these people and how can they still believe in Bush?
The answers matter. Competence is—or should be—ideologically neutral. Conservatives who strongly supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, for example, had a right to expect that the administration would prosecute the war successfully. If a third of us either cannot recognize incompetence or don’t judge presidents by performance, then the rational voter theory no longer describes a significant minority of the voters.
That theory posits a rough fit between the world and the picture of it in the voter’s head. The challenges to this theory proceed from an old source—the human condition—and a relatively new one—misinformation about the world. Francis Bacon would find nothing surprising in the disinclination of core Bush voters to judge the president harshly. "The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it," he wrote in Novum Organum (1620). "And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises…in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate." To maintain our former conclusions inviolate we will ignore, deny, even despise numerous and weighty instances that chafe up against them. Most of us would rather be ourselves than right.