Former Clinton subcabinet official and professional economist Brad DeLong was asking potential successors a key question in the summer of 2000, seven long years ago:

“I began asking Republicans I know–by and large people who might be natural candidates for short lists for various subcabinet policy positions in a Republican administration–how worried they were that the Republican candidate for president, George W. Bush, was clearly not up to the job: underbriefed and incurious. They were not worried, they told me. One of President Clinton’s problems, they said, was that the ceremonial portions of the job bored him–and thus he got himself into big trouble. Look at how George W. Bush had operated at the Texas Rangers, they said. Bush let the managers manage the team and the financial guys run the business, and spent his time making sure the political coalition to support the Texas Rangers in the style to which it wanted to be accustomed remained stable. Bush knows his strengths and weaknesses, they told me. He will focus on being America’s Queen Elizabeth II, and will let people like Colin Powell and Paul O’Neill be America’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

“By the summer of 2001 it had become clear to me that something had gone very wrong. Rather than following Paul O’Neill and Christine Todd Whitman’s advice on environmental policy, George W. Bush had rejected it. Rather than following Alan Greenspan and Paul O’Neill’S advice on fiscal policy, George W. Bush had rejected it. Rather than following Colin Powell and Condi Rice’s advice on the importance of pushing forward on negotiations between Israel and Palestine, George W. Bush had rejected it. And–we were all to learn later–rather than following George Tenet and Richard Clarke’s advice about the importance of counterterrorism, George W. Bush had rejected it.

“A strange picture of George W. Bush emerged from conversations with subcabinet Bush Administration appointees and their friends and their friends of friends. He was not just underbriefed but lazy: he insisted on remaining underbriefed. He was not just incurious but arrogant: he insisted on making decisions about things he did not know, and hence made decisions that were essentially random. And he was stubborn: once he had made a decision–even or rather especially if it was a howlingly wrong and stupid one–he would never revisit it.”

DeLong’s point is that the mainstream media failed to tell this story until the last year or so. What strikes me, looking forward to the most open election since 1952, is how difficult it was even for informed people to predict the character-based catastrophe of the Bush presidency before the 2000 election (the 2004 election is another matter altogether; MSM or no, the evidence was clear to those who cared to see). I know enough to vote only for a candidate who repudiates Bush and his policies, but how can I know enough to avoid getting the same empty-suit-takes-charge syndrome from some other quarter?