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May 28, 2013

P.J. O'Rourke: Obama Is Stupid

I don't know if I'd say "stupid," if I were interested in being technically accurate.

I'd say "not very intelligent" and certainly not very "intellectually curious."

But we usually say "stupid" in politics when we mean those things. Even when we don't say it, we mean it.

As far as the political lexicon, he's right, Obama's "stupid."

He wonders why people won't call a not-very-intelligent man not very intelligent. Here's his guess:

Maybe we pundits don’t tell President Obama, “You’re stupid,” because we are proudly showing off our sensitivity to the negative stereotypes that hurtful language engenders in a way that we didn’t feel was necessary when we were telling Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush, “You’re stupid,” even though actors, WASPs, and Texans are burdened with their fair share of negative lamebrain stereotypes.

More likely it’s because we pundits prize signs of intelligence. We take every opportunity to display our own signs, and President Obama exhibits the same wordy, wonky, academic intelligence indicators that we do, so we don’t call him stupid.

I've been much taken lately with analysis of people's self-definitions of themselves, and the external Signs they post to advertise those internal self-definitions. Before the long weekend, Allah spotted a dopey writer in the New Yorker all but admitting the only thing that matters to her is the signage, not the reality.

First, quoting Jane Meyer of the New Yorker, giving Obama a pass on drone-strike kills because he shows how anguished he is all about it, thus flattering Meyer's own self-conception as The Sort of Person Who Would Put on Shows of Anguish Over Drone Strikes (While Not Objecting To Them Terribly Much In Reality).

One first impression left by President Obama’s much-anticipated speech re-casting U.S. counterterrorism policy is that of the contrast between Bush’s swagger and Obama’s anguish over the difficult trade-offs that perpetual war poses to a free society. It could scarcely be starker. While Bush frequently seemed to take action without considering the underlying questions, Obama appears somewhat unsure of exactly what actions to take. That is not a bad thing: at least he is asking the right questions. ...

Obama agonized over other limitations, too..... Obama embraced both constitutional and international legal limits, at least in principle, even as he struggled to define them in practice. In fact, his speech was a paean to the theory of “just war,” which requires a balance between means and ends, demanding proportionality whenever the state resorts to the use of force. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced moral theory, on which the law of conflict rests. Obama has openly grappled with the most difficult questions posed by the most serious thinkers in this area…

Note Meyer's more-or-less explicit concession that while Obama talks up a limitations to his power to order assassinations, these limitations exist only "in principle" and Obama "struggles" to actually actuate them into reality. But hey, "it's a sophisticated and nuanced moral theory," and that ought to count!

Finishing up:

Obama’s evident pain over the [drone] program, whose civilian deaths he said would “haunt” him and his command “as long as we live,” seemed a telling change from the secrecy and winking smugness of the past.

Again, Meyer does not seem to care much that Bush's policies are not very different from the one Obama has adopted-- just that Obama puts on shows of Anguish (flattering her Tribe of People Who Pretend to be Anguished About Any Number of Things) and that Bush, on the other hand, didn't "seem" to show Anguish (which, in contrast, flatters the Tribe of People Who Are Sort of Sick of the Tribe of People Who Pretend to be Anguished About Any Number of Things).

I mention all of this because of O'Rourke's mention of the fact that Obama comes from the writerly class (well, Bill Ayers' book put Obama in that class, as far as appearances), and reporters and wordsmiths are themselves flattered when they flatter someone much like themselves.

Recall David Brooks' ruminations on the impeccable crease of Obama's trousers. And note that this is actually a reflexive boast on the part of Brooks himself-- praising Obama for having a terrific crease in his pants is also praising other people who have terrific creases in their pants, and people who can appreciate a jaunty bit of pants-creasing, a group which just happens to include one David Brooks himself.

When I tell you guys I appreciate you for your wit and no-bullshit attitude, think about what I'm really saying: I appreciate your wit and no-bullshit attitude because firstly I appreciate my own.

Thus it really should be no large surprise to find that a soi-disant (self-proclaimed) intellectual, proudly wearing all the Warrior Plumage of that caste but actually lacking all the achievements typically bestowing the right to wear such plumage should be excessively praised by those who themselves wear the signs of the Intellectual without themselves having done much at all to warrant such a display.

As they flatter him, they first flatter themselves.


What are these conspicuous howls about? Are they really about the tree?

Or are they really about the people howling about the tree?

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posted by Ace at 04:41 PM

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