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Taken for Granted

October 31, 2009

Joy Behar, host of The View and guest host of The Larry King Show, recently said that the country doesn’t know what to do with such a smart president.  John Kliese said he likes Barrack Obama because he is “as smart as a whip.” (Karl Rove used that same phrase for him).  Charles Barkely rejoiced “I’m so glad we have a smart president.”  A prosecutor on the Sean Hannity Show said that Obama was a step up from Bush if for no other reason than because he is so much smarter. 

On the other hand George Bush is frequently derided for his “lack of intellectual curiosity”,  when he is not being called flat-out stupid.  During the Reverend Wright controversy, Behar remarked “If George Bush gave a speech on race it would probably be about Nascar”.  Keith Obermann referred to Bush as the “idiot in chief” and questioned if he could even spell the word greatness.  Countless movies and cable comedy series spoof George Bush as an immature, simplistic cowboy that was being led around by the nose by Vice President Dick Cheney. 

But what is this based on?  During the 2008 presidential campaign Barrack Obama captivated audiences with riveting orations and his pop-culture friendly wit.  On the other hand George Bush’s speaking ability left much to be desired, offering an endless supply of material for his detractors. 

Obama spoke with the sophistication of a polished academic.  His posture was confident and his enunciation was strong.   Bush seemed  at times uncomfortable with public speaking,   and other times his projection of confidence came off as uninformed bravado and cockiness.

But these are all stylistic comparisons.  What about the content of their statements.  Here I find the taken for granted notion of Obama’s intellectual superiority over Bush more difficult to establish.

Though tremendously effective at delivering big event speeches, conservative critics soon began exploiting Obama’s reliance on the teleprompter.  And his lack luster performance at Rick Warren’s Values Summit revealed that his extemporaneous speaking ability did not match his flair for reciting prepared statements. 

And two of his answers in that summit were less than impressive.  First when Obama was asked about his position on abortion he said that the question was “above his pay grade”.  And when Warren asked him what income level made someone wealth he gave a contrived, dithering response.  And his definition of evil was noticeablely weaker than Mccain’s.

George Bush may have not been the most fluid speaker, but he had no problem defining himself in any setting.   We heard so much about his “lack of intellectual curiosity”, but throughout his second term Bush was clearly articulating his position on national  litigation reform and specifically medical tort reform. 

Tort reform is now the most powerful counter proposal to the Obama led drive to nationalized health care.  On this Bush was ahead of the curve.

When the health care campaign stalled due to grassroots response,  Obama’s  town hall stump tour actually hurt it even more.  He seemed not quite sure what was in the bill, often stuttering and tripping over his own words.   Bill O’Reily commented “Nobody has any idea what he is talking about.” 

The primary evidence used against George Bush’s intelligence is his tendency to misuse langauge.  Bush has coined phrases such as “strategery” and “space entrepeneurs” and has been lambasted to referring to Europe as a country.

But this is more a reflection of his inclination to informality in speech. The left has always defended culturally  divergent uses of the English language on the grounds of “cultural diversity”.   Likewise, Obama used the term “we-wed”, up to describe the political excitement caused by the resistence to his administrations initiatives. 

Obama’s problems are matters of substance.  He has committed numerous gaffs that involve being flat-out wrong.  These include:

Claiming doctors made $20-30,ooo per amputation performed, when in fact they make well under one thousand per operation.

Putting out a white house projection for the ten-year increase to the deficit that was found to be $2 trillion less than the actual figure.

Obama stated that “I don’t have all of the facts but, …. the police acted stupidly”, when trying to use the presidency to benefit his friend for Professor Gates, who clearly had antagonized the police.

Announcing that if the stimulus package was passed unemployment would not rise above 8%

 The above mentioned Bush errors were issues of  style.  Obama’s errors are issues of consequence.

Of course Barrack Obama is very intelligent.  He was successful lawyer, law professor, and is a very good politician.   George Bush is very intelligemt as well.  He is an Ivy League graduate,  former combat pilot and  business owner.

There are many different ways to be smart, and it’s easy to take mistakes people make as examples of them being stupid.  The fact is that both men have their intellectual assets as well as their shortcomings, just like everyone else.

As a black person, I am aware of people’s eagerness to identify  articulate blacks as being intelligent.   I also see the comfort with which many denigrate rural Americans and southerners as backward and rustic. 

 I do not see an appreciable difference in the intelligence of Barrack Obama and the intelligence of George Bush.  Nor do I think measuring such a difference is possible or relevant.

All I care about is if that person is doing their job well, in this case in this case leading the nation to a stronger and better future. 

I don’t think Barrack Obama is doing that.