Jennifer Rubin has a very good post today about the reasons that the “smart” Obama may be struggling so mightily to be a good president. She offers three basic reasons that may explain Obama’s ineptitude, whether it touches economics, diplomacy, or national security:
First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts.
Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders.
And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.”
I agree with everything Rubin says about the gross inefficiencies and thinking errors even smart people can display, except for one thing: I disagree with her fundamental premise. I don’t think Obama is smart at all. I think his reputation for smarts is one of the great cons foisted on the American people, greater even than the con that Gore and Kerry, both of whom were undistinguished college students, as their transcripts show, were smarter than Bush, whose transcripts reveal him to be a slightly better student than those two “men of genius.”
We have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Obama is smart. To begin with, we have no evidence at all of his academic abilities. (And I will concede that, while academic smarts don’t demonstrate functional intelligence, they are still a good yardstick of a brain that operates at a fairly high level.) We do not know how he did in Indonesia, his high school years are a blur, we do not know what happened during his stint at Occidental, we know nothing about his Columbia years, and the only thing we know about his Harvard years is that he made Law Review.
Liberals like to point to the Columbia and Harvard attendance (let alone the Law Review) as evidence in and of itself that the guy is smart. After all, only smart people go to those schools. Au contraire, my friends. Thanks to the poisonous influence of affirmative action, an influence alive and well during Obama’s entire academic career, only smart whites and Asians go to those schools. If you’re black and ambitious, you can into and stay in those schools despite less than stellar academic showings. Columbia and Harvard need black admissions, and neither can afford for those blacks, once they’re in the school, to appear to be failing.
Let me insert here that I very strongly believe that that blacks can qualify for Columbia and Harvard on their own terms. I am not publishing here a racist disquisition about black intelligence. Anyone who reads that into what I’m writing here is reading me wrong.
What I am saying, is that if you set the standards lower for one racial group than for others, three things will happen: First, the race that has the lower hurdles will stop trying as hard. After all, humans are rational creatures, and people working towards a goal are wise to work only as hard as they need, and no harder. Why expend energy unnecessarily?
Second, those members of the race who are fully capable of competing without a handicap will also behave rationally and conserve their energy, because it’s the smart thing to do. This means that the lower hurdles will deprive them of the psychology opportunity stretch and prove themselves.
Third, a lot of people who would not normally have been in the race at all will bob up to the top, thanks to that handicap. Worse, if there is a critical mass of mediocrity floating along on this tide of affirmative action, those mediocre people will inevitably, through sheer numbers, become representative of the racial group. In other words, if you give enough mediocre people in a specific racial group a head start so that they win, it looks as if all the winners from that particular racial group are mediocre.
The above realities mean that you end up with two dire situations for the racial group that affirmative action infantilizing: First, an enormous number of useless people become very poor representatives of their race. And second, people who are genuinely good and deserving of recognition end up being thrown in the hopper of useless beneficiaries who achieved high status without ability or effort.
My argument is that Barack Obama is one of the number of useless, mediocre people who, thanks to affirmative action, have been elevated to a position far above their natural abilities. The absence of grades is not the only indication of Obama’s intellectual weakness. (And believe me, if his grades were good, they’d be published in every paper in America, including the want ads.)
Everything Obama’s turned his hand to — except for using people to advance his career — has failed. The Annenberg Challenge was a $100 million disaster. His legal career was, to say that least, undistinguished. (I should add here that junior associates always have undistinguished careers. There’s just not that much scope there.) His tenure as an Illinois State Senator was marked by dithering indecision, coupled with the intelligent strategy, for a stupid person, of simply vanishing when the votes came around. The same holds true for his career in the United States Senator. If you examine those two tenures in political office without the gloss of the media love affair, all you’ve got is plenty of nothing.
Obama’s professorship at the U. of Chicago law school was equally undistinguished. He published nothing. His disquisitions on the Constitution show he knows nothing. That is, he doesn’t even have the true intellectual’s excuse of fully understanding, but nevertheless arguing against, the language of the Constitution itself or the standard interpretations of that language. I pity the students who had his class.
All that the liberals can hang their hat on is that one book: Dreams. And even that is proving to be a remarkably weak reed. Jack Cashill has argued compellingly that Bill Ayers was the book’s principle author. Cashill has a two pronged attack for this. He demonstrates first, that Obama’s known prose stylings at the time (wooden, obfuscatory, cant-like), are completely unlike the fluid, artistic prose that gets people so excited about Dreams. I personally find that argument compelling, because I’ve always been struck by Obama’s ugly language when he’s off a teleprompter. This is not a man with any love for English.
The stylistic argument is also an easy argument to bat down. It’s always possible to point to a moment of incredible inspiration, when everything in the brain clicks and things just roll out like magic. That’s why I have a tab at my blog with an old poem of mine. I like to have it there because it’s a reminder that when we are inspired, when someone makes incredible demands upon us, we’re all capable of great things.
Cashill, though, is too smart to stop with the “it doesn’t really seem like his writing” argument. In article after article, he’s demonstrated that, stylistically, the writing is just like Ayers’ writing; that in terms of world view, the writing is just like Ayers’ writing (including all the nautical references that sit so well with Ayers, the former merchant marine); that anecdotally, the narratives precisely track events in Ayers’ life, right down to the description of the lavish mansion in which Ayers’ one-time girlfriend lived. I won’t summarize everything Cashill writes, but I do urge you to read his whole series of articles on the subject, which you can find here.
Conspiracy theories, of course, are easy. More than thirty percent of the American public believes that the Bush government brought down the Twin Towers so that Cheney would have an excuse to get government contracts for Halliburton in Iraq. Never mind the death of 3,000 innocents, never mind the impossibility of keeping such a vast conspiracy absolutely secret, nevermind the fact that Cheney didn’t work for Halliburton, and nevermind that those government contracts were anathema to Halliburton, because it had contracted for them a decade before, in a different economy — to the conspiracy theorists, all of the dots always connect.
For conspiracy theorists, life is always like that scene in the movie A Beautiful Mind, in which the genius gazes at thousands of random newspaper clippings taped to his wall and, in an instant of inspired schizophrenia, sees them all connect in a vast network of relationships. Except . . . except that Cashill has one weapon in his arsenal that no conspiracy theorist would ever have: completely independent corroboration of the fact that a panicked Obama, sitting on a $150,000 advance and utterly incapable of writing, high tailed it over to Bill Ayers house, and got all the help he needed.
All of which gets me back to Obama. None of the apparent indices of brains pan out: no grades, no job record, no book. Nothing at all. His sole talent, and I have to say that it’s a spectacular one, is to be a con man. He has a deep voice, good looks, and a network of behind the scenes operators who have been deeply invested in his advancement. The only problem with running a con, as Harold Hill discovered when he had to produce that “boys band,” is that, if you stick around after you’ve run the con, people expect you to perform. And Obama, who has none of the advertised talents, is utterly trapped.
The great pity for the American people is that, unlike the clever con man in a Broadway show/Hollywood musical, there is no miracle at the end when faith and love suddenly operate to produce the strained tones of the Minuet in G. All we’re hearing now is silence, a few cricket chirps, and the scary drone of muezzins and nuclear bombers in the background.
UPDATE: Right on schedule, a link about the genius that is Al Gore. This is not the only example, of course; just the latest.