I originally posted this article on April 29, 2011 at Confederate Yankee in response to a ridiculously fawning article on the brilliance of Mr. Obama by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. If anything, it seems even more pertinent today, so I thought readers that missed it the first time around might enjoy a second chance.
Among the most fundamental differences between Progressives and Conservatives is the tendency of Progressives to be distinctly uncomfortable with everyday reliable principles, values and obviously common-sense solutions. So “war” becomes a “kinetic military action.” The Second Amendment means precisely the opposite of what it says. Terrorists captured on the battlefield should be given show trials in New York City rather than far less expensive, secure justice at Gitmo. An out of control budget deficit can only be fixed by even more borrowing and spending, and economic hardship brought on by rapidly rising gas prices can best be healed by proper tire inflation, high speed rail, and buying Chevy Volts at $41,000+.
Before continuing, it’s important to understand that when I use the term “Conservative,” I’m referring to every day Americans, people who have to live and work in the real world, where honesty, industry, reliability and day to day performance matter. They tend to care a great deal less for paper credentials than for demonstrated ability. They know stupid and they know smart. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they don’t have much patience with people who don’t, particularly when such people are pretending to be smarter than they are. So in effect, I’m including conservatives, probably most independents, and even some Democrats under the “Conservative” umbrella.
Perhaps the most inexplicable manifestation of this tendency is the need of Progressives to call weakness and indecision a sort of calm strength and reflection, or to call a complete and obvious lack of accomplishment and practical intelligence signs of unimaginable ability and prodigious intellectual depth. A case in point is a recent April 26 Washington Post article by Dana Milbank, titled “Obama, Lost in Thought.”
Mr. Milbank begins, of course, with a gratuitous swipe at George W. Bush, bewailing his lot at now having to cover such a brilliant, enigmatic man as Barack Obama, compared to the ease of covering the simpleton Bush. It’s tempting to suspect that Milbank is engaging in parody. Surely he must be making fun of stereotypically befuddled Progressive thinking, but alas, too many of the common markers of that thinking are present. Milbank is serious:
The political right is befuddled as it tries to explain him: First, Obama was a tyrant and a socialist; now he’s a weakling who refuses to lead. The political left is almost as confused, demanding to know why Obama gave away so much on health care and in budget negotiations. Nearly everybody puzzles over Obama’s ad hoc responses to Egypt, Libya and now Syria, grasping for a still-elusive Obama Doctrine.
For the conservative, there is little head scratching. Socialism is a form of tyranny and it’s entirely possible for socialists to be weaklings and poor leaders. Communism has proved that over the bodies of untold millions. In truth, Mr. Obama has given away relatively little in health care and budget negotiations, but what he has given away is due to a complete lack of consistent principles and forethought. No Conservative is puzzling over his lack of leadership regarding Egypt, Libya and Syria, and no conservative is looking for a “still-elusive Obama Doctrine.” Conservatives know that Mr. Obama has no real principles, is not representing America’s interests, is an inexperienced weakling, and in fact has recently developed the brilliant mantra of “leading from behind” in foreign affairs. Mr. Obama and his advisors apparently think that to be a brilliant strategy. Conservatives know it to be the very opposite of leadership.
To help the unenlightened (Conservatives) understand Mr. Obama, Mr. Milbank enlisted the aid of “three leading academics in the fields of Psychology and behavior.” With their help, Mr. Milbank has explained it all for us:
There’s too much going on in the poor guy’s head.
“What distinguishes Obama particularly is the depth and carefulness of his thinking, which renders him somewhat unfit for politics,” said Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia. “He is a brilliant social and political analyst, which makes it harder for him to play hardball or to bluff.”
Obama’s strengths and weaknesses come from his high degree of “integrative complexity” — his ability to keep multiple variables and trade-offs in mind simultaneously. The integratively simple thinker — say, George W. Bush — has one universal organizing principle that dominates all others, while the integratively complex thinker — Obama — balances many competing goals.
Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, found that politicians on the center-left (where Obama dwells) tend to have the highest degree of integrative complexity…
From this, Mr. Milbank extrapolates that Mr. Obama “would seem to be the very model of the complex thinker.” Mr. Milbank allows that simple thinkers, like Winston Churchill, have their occasional uses [such as saving the world until the US reluctantly joined WWII]. His summation continues the theme:
In an ideal world, complex and rational thought would be virtues. But in politics, these attributes can make Obama seem ambiguous, without toughness or principles. ‘It isn’t because he lacks a moral compass — it’s because he understands there are a lot of moral forces at play,’ U-Va.’s Haidt says. ‘This is why people get frustrated with him. The more of a partisan you are, the more simple-minded you are.’
What’s a complex guy to do? Simple:
‘It is important,’ Haidt says, ‘for the president not to be rational and fully honest.’
Ah! So that’s the problem! Mr. Obama has been too “rational” and “fully honest!” If only he would be more irrational and dishonest to the simple thinkers out there in flyover country, he wouldn’t so confuse them! Perhaps if we apply a bit of every day, Conservative analysis to the “problem” of Mr. Obama’s abilities and intellect, a better, more “integratively complex” understanding can emerge.
Conservatives tend to judge people’s character, ability and intelligence on tangible, rather than supposed or assumed, accomplishments, past and present. Let’s begin with Mr. Obama’s term as President of the Harvard Law Review. This is a prestigious post indeed. Many Presidents of the Law Review have gone on to distinguished legal careers, but all have had one thing in common: A real record of legal scholarship and writing. There is substantial evidence that Mr. Obama was chosen for this status as a minority under an alternate procedure for filling the post, the more usual procedure consisting of considering only candidates of the highest academic rank and ability. But there is no doubt about one thing: Barack Obama produced not a single scholarly legal article for the Harvard Law Review. This is most unusual–every other known Law Review President has contributed significant publications–and certainly does not indicate any degree of intelligence or ability as a writer, scholar or thinker.
Mr. Obama’s tenure teaching law at the University of Chicago is equally unrevealing of intellect and ability. Mr. Obama and his supporters have been less than precise in describing his time there, alluding to various formulations that would lead people to believe that he was a “constitutional law professor.” However, respected scholar Richard Epstein says otherwise:
“Obama applied for a position as an adjunct and wasn’t even considered [for a full-time teaching position]. A few weeks later the law school got a phone call from the Board of Trustees telling them to find him an office, put him on the payroll, and give him a class to teach. The Board told him he didn’t have to be a member of the faculty, but they needed to give him a temporary position. He was never a professor and was hardly an adjunct.”
In academia, teaching rank is important and is taken seriously indeed. Unless one is a full professor, one does not, for a moment, claim that they are or allow anyone to believe that they are. Adjunct faculty are teachers who are hired, on a contractual per-class basis, to teach a limited number of classes. They may be fine teachers, but they have no benefits, little pay, no tenure and no tenure track. They commonly aren’t afforded so much as an office. So it appears clear that the “constitutional law professor, wasn’t actually a fully-fledged adjunct. Again, intellect, responsibility and ability are not present.
But what about Mr. Obama’s years as a “community organizer,” a vocation–if it can be called that–that has no apparent job description or qualifications? Legend has it that Mr. Obama selflessly labored for the good of the people of Chicago who were apparently in need of “organization.” There is no known record of actual accomplishment during those years, but there is one very interesting, and carefully concealed, matter: Mr. Obama’s only executive experience, his tenure as the Chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.
Stanley Kurtz has been instrumental in exposing this issue. Hired by unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, with whom he worked closely despite his statements to the contrary, Mr. Obama led the CAC from 1995 to 1999 and remained on the board until 2001, shortly before it became defunct. Funded by the Annenberg Foundation, Mr. Obama was responsible for the finances of the CAC, whose declared purpose was to improve education in Chicago. During his tenure, Mr. Obama burned through $100 million dollars, handing it out in grants to other community organizers and radical education activists, and accomplished exactly nothing. Annenberg Foundation internal audits revealed not the slightest evidence of improvement in Chicago education for all of Mr. Obama’s efforts.
All of this has been studiously ignored by the mainstream media, and by Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign–and his administration since–despite persistent questions about his lack of executive experience and accomplishment. Considering the amount of money wasted and the utter lack of accomplishment, that’s hardly surprising. No conservative would consider such utter failure to be anything other than utter failure, and surely would not consider it to be revealing of “integratively complex thinking.”
Mr. Obama’s eight years in the Illinois State Senate where he repeatedly voted “present” in an apparent attempt to leave no political fingerprints, and his very brief term in the US Senate (which time he nearly entirely spent running for president), are commonly known for their utter lack of real legislative accomplishment. His 20 years as a parishioner in the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church, a church steeped in black liberation theology and all of its trappings of Marxism, racism, paranoid conspiracy theories and outright hatred do not speak to intelligence or integrity, particularly when Mr. Obama admitted to attending hundreds of services, yet claimed to know nothing of Rev. Wright’s true beliefs.
Mr. Obama’s teleprompter readings have become the stuff of legend among the media and progressives, yet without his teleprompter, without a script to read, Mr. Obama is commonly halting and tongue-tied, and particularly mistake prone, as when he claimed to have visited 57 states, or more recently claimed that Texas has always been Republican controlled. Mr. Obama’s liberties with history are the stuff of minor legend, and again, tend not to convince Conservatives that he is, as he has been breathlessly billed, the most intelligent man ever to occupy the Oval Office.
As the inevitable burdens of the office have manifested themselves, Mr. Obama has proved unequal to the task. In foreign affairs, he insults America’s friends and embraces her enemies. He cannot bring himself to name our enemy in a war over the future of civilization, and while claiming to be Christian–a claim that Conservatives–and most Americans–tend to take at face value–his actions show a highly unusual and unconcealed support for all things Islamic. Take, for example, his complete snubbing of Easter in 2011. Take also his meddling in the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israel where even Mr. Abbas has admitted that Mr. Obama’s intervention has been destructive to, rather than supportive of, peace. His statements and actions in the most recent Middle Eastern/African upheavals have been not only directly contradictory, but fundamentally incoherent.
It is on the domestic front that the fundamental difference in the Progressive and Conservative approaches to problem solving and significant issues are most clearly seen and most keenly felt. Gasoline prices are skyrocketing, as candidate Obama hoped, and Mr. Obama’s response has been to blame George W. Bush and Republicans, to wage class warfare, and to relentlessly push “green” technologies that don’t exist and/or cannot possibly replace oil. Despite our sitting on the largest energy reserves in the world, Mr. Obama chooses to repeat the lie that we have only a fraction of the reserves, and his bureaucrats are constantly frustrating exploration and development of those reserves while helping Brazil produce oil–so American can buy it from them–and loaning billions to Columbia to upgrade a petroleum refinery while no American refinery has been built since the 1980s.
While America faces an unprecedented budget crisis, a crisis in large part brought on by Mr. Obama’s incredibly profligate spending, he implements a health care entitlement that was unsustainable before he signed it, and wants only to implement even greater taxes, more borrowing and more spending.
So we are left with a fundamental conflict. Progressives see all that I have outlined here–and far more–and see a man possessed of boundless intellect, a careful, deliberative thinker whose intellectual processes are so advanced, so unfathomably complex that he cannot be adequately understood and appreciated by lesser beings. His entire lack of conventional accomplishments, the fact that the common, routine records of so much of his past, records that can be easily found for anyone else, are essentially invisible and impossible to find or access is, for the Progressive, compelling evidence of Mr. Obama’s unique, extra-human status.
Conservatives, as Progressives commonly assert, are much more simple, less nuanced beings. They look at Mr. Obama’s lack of accomplishment, his almost non-existent grasp of the facts and lessons of history, his dithering, his pouring of gasoline on our national financial fire, and his utter failure in foreign affairs as clear evidence of incompetence, a lack of experience, an inability–indeed an unwillingness–to learn from experience, and simplistically, rigidly foolish rather than complex thinking.
‘It is important,’ Haidt says, ‘for the president not to be rational and fully honest.’
Few conservatives would argue with the proposition that Mr. Obama has enthusiastically taken Professor Haidt’s advice. Even so, Progressives will still tend to be uncomfortable with reality and rational solutions to problems. If they win in 2012–one of the two visions of reality I’ve presented will win–Americans will almost certainly be introduced to discomfort few can truly imagine. One need not be an “integratively complex thinker” to understand that simple truth.