More Racism Against Obama

April 14, 2010

It’s not like it’s hard to find loads of blatant racism against Obama, but I found a piece by Alan Bock entitled “How brainy is Obama?” over at to be an interesting specimen. (Note: I’ve not been to that site in ages. It’s a weird place.)

Surprise surprise! It turns out that Obama has “cunning” (animal cunning, perchance?) but nothing “resembling real learning”:

He undoubtedly has an IQ slightly higher than normal or he wouldn’t have made it through college and law school (though it might be interesting to see his transcripts, which to my knowledge he hasn’t released yet). But in retrospect what he seems to have displayed throughout his career is cunning rather than anything resembling real learning.

Holy cow! That’s nuts on any reading and pretty hard to read as anything but straight up racist. Note the description of George Bush:

George W. Bush was not quite the dunce some made him out to be, but one would be hard pressed to find evidence of intellectual curiosity, a philosophy of governance formed by much deep thinking, a willingness to dig into policy details, or a capacity to learn much from either study or experience.

So, Bush is brighter than all evidence adduces, but tends not to apply his (minimal?) smarts. Obama is cunning, but dumb. In particular, he’s not learned.

This is of a piece with claims that Obama isn’t a good speaker.

Please note that the prima facie evidence is all hugely weighted in Obama’s favor: It’s not just that he went to law school…he taught constitutional law for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School and, during that time, was promoted to Senior Lecturer. Here’s what the School has to say about him:

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.

Thus, he is, prima facie, at least as learned as a tenure-track professor in the Law School at the University of Chicago. That is, pretty damn. Definitely more (prima facie) learned that Clinton or Bush. (Note the “prima facie”s are because, of course, one can become a tenured professor and still be not exceptionally bright. I certainly don’t believe that about Obama: All evidence shows that he’s very smart; he was definitely a public intellectual, though qua intellectual not hugely influential; qua politician…that’s obviously different.

(Note that Judge Richard Posner is a “Senior Lecturer” at the same school! While Posner definitely is the “bigger” public intellectual by dint of his prodigious output (and definitely an influential legal theorist, whereas, AFAIK, Obama has had no impact on legal theory), quite a bit of what he’s pooped out recently is drivel (IMHO). The whole “Not a Suicide Pact” certainly made me think, “WTF”. But the cognitive problems I would diagnose would definitely not be “He’s got him some cunning, but no real book learnin’.”)

So, let’s through out all the evidence from interviews and interaction: The prima facie case from the bio is way stronger than presented. But what evidence is presented against Obama’s smarts? Well, uh, Bock disagrees with Obama politically:

But his reputation for being really smart is belied by so many of his actions.

What has me going this time is not health care, though there’s plenty of evidence there, but Afghanistan. His recent visit there cemented this war as “his” war. But the war makes so little sense that you would think almost any reasonably intelligent person – I suspect he didn’t take any international relations classes in college, and he certainly has not shown any special interest in that field heretofore, so maybe that’s a mitigating factor – would have been able to figure it out.

THIS is the evidence that Obama is “cunning” but “not smart”?!? This clearly proves waaaaay too much. I, for one, certainly think that the war in Afghanistan was a bad idea (Robert Farley notwithstanding) and that, as from a surprisingly complex moral case, the geo-political case is quite fraught (it’s not clear what the successful and politically achievable moves are). But even thinking that, I recognize that a ton of very bright people with far more expertise than me think otherwise. (Robert Farley to pick on example. A good chunk of the national security intelligensia in and out of government (which I guess includes Farley) for another.)

Sigh. This just is so obvious as to not really be worth refuting. The rest of the article is similar. A telling line: “Is he just cunning enough to realize that historians tend to rank American presidents who have presided over wars as “greater” than those who presided over peaceful periods?” So, Obama isn’t just cunning, he’s only “just cunning enough”.

This seems to be a settled pattern with Bock, as we can see from an article from 2009:

There is a great temptation to cut President Barack Obama a certain amount of slack over foreign policy just because he isn’t George W. Bush. He has a certain capacity for acknowledging and perhaps even thinking through complexities, and he was right about the Iraq war before the invasion, for reasons that went beyond the knee-jerk inclination to question Dubya just because he was a Republican.

A “certain capacity”? For perhaps EVEN “thinking through complexities”?!?!

These articles are so stupid that I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. But this clearly isn’t some weird confirmation bias wherein the author thinks that everyone who disagrees with him is super-dumb. After all, both Clinton and Bush almost certainly would have had relevantly analogous policies (i.e., continue the war in Afghanistan in some form). Yet, they don’t come in for the “at best just cunning enough” treatment. (And really, how cunning is it to want to be a wartime president? I see no evidence that Obama wanted to be one, whereas Bush really was quite different. And really, does Obama have to worry about being historically neglected? He’s the first black president!!! Even in Texas texbooks he will be mentioned. This is beyond silly.)

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