How Stupid is Obama?
We've long been aware that the One is not quite the superior intellect he was sold as. Obama, we were told, was the rare possessor of a mind with the profundity of a Socrates, the breadth of a Goethe, and the penetration of a Newton. An intellect unrivaled on the current American political scene, and possibly without equal in this country's politics since the beginning.
Events have certainly demolished that little trope. Within weeks of the inauguration, sometime between "I won" and the Air Force One trip to New York for a single night's outing with Michelle, it became clear that the American Solomon was no better than average. And in the immortal words of Harvey Pekar, "Average is dumb."
It's a difficult thing to judge the relative intelligence of presidents. Thomas Jefferson is widely considered to be the smartest individual to serve as president, and I'd be inclined to agree -- as long as his actual record in office is left out. The Jefferson presidency was a trail of one self-inflicted wound, missed opportunity, and unforced error after another. Many of them involved overlooking his own precepts concerning government, such as the Embargo Act, in which he attempted to solve the country's difficulties as a third-party neutral in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars by banning overseas trade with all the belligerents. So the grand prophet of distributed, egalitarian democracy put his name to one of the most dictatorial laws ever signed by a president. Somehow, difficult as the problem was (the Royal Navy was amusing itself by seizing American shipping while Whitehall openly accused the U.S. of assisting Napoleon), it's possible to envision a smarter solution -- one, at least, that didn't play a large part in setting the stage for the War of 1812.
At the other end of the intellectual spectrum, we have the real dolts. The winner here is supposedly Warren G. Harding, with Calvin Coolidge as close runner-up. The problem is that both were not unsuccessful presidents. While Harding ran a scandal-plagued administration due to his propensity for naming his sticky-fingered cronies to the cabinet, he also pulled the country out of a serious recession, which at least one more recent president has been unable to accomplish. As for Coolidge, his failing appears to be that he didn't have much to say, evidence of low intellect in some circles. But consider what he did say. At one Washington soiree a woman approached him and said, "Mr. President, I bet my friend that I could make you say three words."
"You lose," Coolidge replied.
This is wit, a form of humor found only in intellects of high order. Add the fact that Coolidge's hobby was translating The Divine Comedy, and we can see that the standards being used to judge presidents are of type that might displease Harvey Pekar. (To tell you the truth, the sole standard involved here is probably "Republican = dumb.") There are all sorts of useful measures of intellect. Someone once pointed out that you don't want a theoretical physicist working on your car. The same applies to politics. As presidents we've had sly dogs like Martin Van Buren and James Polk; sensible, no-nonsense types like Eisenhower and Truman; and true policial geniuses such as Lincoln and Reagan. We've never had an actual dolt, thanks to the filtering process required for a man to become president. The problems arise with the academic intellect, the sole type of intelligence respected in contemporary American society. As demonstrated by Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Carter, this is not the style of intellect you want in the White House. It's probably a good thing that Adlai Stevenson never served. (Though Stanley Kubrick patterned Pres. Merkin Muffley after Stevenson in Dr. Strangelove. In that one he only destroys the world.)
Which brings us back to Barack Obama, Columbia and Harvard grad, president of the Harvard Law Review, and Nobel laureate.
Events of recent days have called even the "average" rating into question. Consider the "debt crisis," so-called. It was actually no such thing. In Obama's own words, it was an "unnecessary crisis" -- that is to say, not a crisis at all. He should know, having triggered and shepherded it every step of the way.
What kind of mentality deliberately arranges a brawl over government finances in the midst of a sensitive and fragile recovery? Obama was obviously out to steal an issue from the GOP and wreck their 2012 campaign plans. But at what cost? Wrecking the national economy? This isn't thinking of any description -- it's the mentality of a street punk who spots somebody in another gang and decides to take him down at no matter what happens to passersby or himself.
The S&P downgrade was something he was warned about, which he knew was coming, and which was not all that difficult to avoid. But he did nothing to avoid it. His response was that of a dull-normal -- it never happened before, so it can't happen now. Quite apart from the economic cost, it's embarrassing and humiliating. From here on in, Obama is and always will be the president who wrecked America's credit rating. He can put that right next to his Nobel citation.
Then to top it off, we have the strange incident -- the latest of many strange incidents -- on Friday, August 5th, when Obama, about to give a speech, stood staring for a full minute while evidently waiting for the Teleprompter to switch on. Under such circumstances, the normal politician will joke, will tell a yarn or two, tease the audience, do anything but what Obama did: stare off into space after announcing, "We're waiting." Pharaoh hath spoken.
(Actually, what tops it off is the barefoot conga line he led at one of his interminable birthday parties last week. The country consumed by fear, the markets gyrating like a beheaded snake, his own policies in a state of uniform collapse, and the president, he's out dancing. Maybe he can do the limbo for the next crisis.)
These are all of that quality of event that, as I've put it several times before, you cannot picture any other president being involved in. With Obama they come one after the other -- several a week, at this point. The Obama presidency is utterly unique, unlike any other administration we have had in living memory, and perhaps ever. The events constituting this presidency have an air of unreality with no parallel in American history. It's like a Philip K. Dick novel in which the authorities have constructed a vast system of deception to contain a secret of horrifying and universal import.
And what is that secret? I think it's just a matter of intellect. It has become obvious, in a sense that cannot be denied, that Obama is a fundamentally stupid man. He has all the equipment, all the training, would probably do well on all the tests -- but it doesn't come together and produces no worthwhile results. He knows all the buzzwords, and how to get them across. He easily impresses crowds and onlookers so long as the questions don't get too detailed. But he can't turn any of this into action. Everyhing he touches, without exception, falls to pieces. He has no single political success to his record. His administration is one endless Gobi, lifeless and bare. Compared to Obama, even Warren Harding, the last man on everybody's list, looks like a beleaguered giant. What we have in Obama is the stupidest man who ever sat in the Oval Office. (And please -- no claims that this is some kind "master plan" to bring the country down. You cannot construct a workable plan by piling failure upon failure. Not even Saul Alinsky himself could have brought that off.)
This raises all sorts of questions that we'll be discussing for some time to come. To start the conversation, what does it say about Obama's "team"? Many of them, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Christina Romer among them, are smart people in any sense of the word. Obama's type is by no means rare -- universities have been pouring them out in herds since the "knowledge factory" days of the '60s -- and is easily recognized. And yet these intellectuals, acknowledged leaders of their discipline, did nothing to correct or educate Obama in their chosen field of economics, but instead bent over backward to implement his "policies," schemes that they knew were based on no form of reality and could not possibly work. They took these actions despite the damage they knew would result. One of them, Timothy Geithner, continues doing so to this day.
There's a phrase that describes this: the trahison des clercs, the "treason of the clerks," in which a society's intellectual class repudiates its duties and responsibilities to the larger community in search of political gain. Without such people acting as enablers, the damage that an Obama could cause would be strictly limited. Unfortunately, this type is no rarity either. (The phrase is derived from a 1927 book by the French philosopher Julien Benda, who saw such a process occurring in France. The French clercs traîtres wound up dumping the country into the laps of the Nazis. It could be worse.)
But look on the bright side. According to whispers from Washington, Geithner is on the way out. His replacment would be Jon Corzine, who put both Goldman-Sachs and New Jersey into near-bankruptcy.
Thank God 2012 is almost here.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and the author of Death by Liberalism.