Yes, Obama is an intellectual

Like one of those smoldering Pennsylvania coal mine fires far underground that can’t be extinguished, the argument among conservatives about whether or not Obama is an intellectual keeps smoking up my rabbit hole.  And with only a few months to go before the guy has to go out-of-pocket for Michelle’s hair extensions, you’d think these people would let it go.

But some conservatives just won’t.  Instead, they see themselves as Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator, determined to have their revenge in this world or the next.

Fine.  But conflating the terms intellectual and intelligent just because they share their first two syllables is exactly the mistake humorist Mark Twain warned us about making with lightning and lightning-bug.  But while the former muddle-up is just as silly as the latter, it’s much more dangerous to our civilization.  It fact, it may even destroy it, because the error concedes to the left-wing liberal what they see as their natural right to rule us: their superior (sic) intelligence.

Yet as Paul Johnson explains, what the term intellectual actually describes is not smarts, but a class of people “who ... assert that they [can] ... diagnose the ills of society and cure them with their own unaided intellects: more that they could devise formulae whereby not merely the structure but the fundamental habits of human beings could be transformed for the better.”

Key phrase – “unaided intellects.”  This explains why the intellectual Karl Marx could dogmatically insist that his theories of industrial development were correct despite never once having visited a factory, mine, mill, or shipyard.  Or that the intellectual Jean-Jacques Rousseau could write eloquently and convincingly about the love, care, and education of children while essentially murdering his own.  Or that the intellectual’s intellectual Mohandas Gandhi could preach poverty while subsidized by Indian merchant princes and sleep with a succession of young women while insisting upon his celibacy.

Or, for that matter, it explains why Barack Obama can thump his chest over the illusion that his own personal stew of wacky social justice and antediluvian economic theories has gotten the American economy booming.  And if we can’t see it the way he does, why, that’s just because we’re not as smart as he is.

Smarter than the law of supply and demand, smarter than Lord Kames, Edmund Burke, or the prophet Isaiah’s wife Deborah.

And of course smarter than Einstein. 

Poor pathetic Einstein, who humbly endeavored to prove his theories with carefully constructed real-world tests of their validity. 

But there is no alternate reality.  Just as a professional soldier will tell you that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, no social or economic theory unhooked from reality and experience ever survives a meeting with the real world.  It’s matter meeting anti-matter.  This is why we might add parenthetically that intellectuals could never have invented the telephone, the electric light, the computer, airplanes, the pencil, toilet paper, or anything else you can name.  And their obsession with their own thoughts and beliefs go a long way to explain why they have destroyed so many countries, killed so many people, and reduced whole populations to misery and starvation.  Because while an eight-year-old might believe he is Superman but remain sensible enough not to jump from an upper-story window, not only will the intellectual jump, but he’ll throw you and me out first.

And so if that eager willingness to see you hurt rather than admit he’s mistaken doesn’t qualify Obama as an intellectual, I don’t know what does.

Finally, please don’t confuse the intellectual with a scholar or engineer, mathematician, the medical doctor, or any of the other really useful and very practical people in this world who really are pretty damned smart.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD.  See it here.  He lives and writes in the colonial-era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York; blogs here; and can also be reached at

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