Thursday, May 31, 2012

An intellectual illusion

Michael Tomasky from the Daily Beast attempts to explain Obama's latest embarrassment in the hyperbolically titled The Worst Thing Obama Has Ever Said. Tomasky is at a loss to explain how Obama could refer to the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland during WWII as 'Polish death camps':

For Obama to refer to a "Polish death camp" is just ghastly. How in the world could that happen? Some callow kid in the speechwriting office didn't know the difference? His or her boss also didn't know? And what of Obama? I will assume that he does know better.

Why? The assumption that Obama should have known better is without justification. Not only has he made these kinds of embarrassing geopolitical gaffes before, but the idea that he is among the more academically learned politicians, presidents or otherwise, is by now laughable. Whether general world knowledge (Austrians don't speak Austrian, Falkland Islanders find the term Malvinas offensive, to say nothing of being referred to as Maldives, Canada does not have a president, and Libya is not spelt 'Lybia'), or basic American knowledge (Hawaii is not in Asia, Illinois is closer to Kentucky than Arkansas, Pearl Harbor was not attacked by 'the bomb,' Lincoln was not the founder of the Republican Party, there is no 'p' or 's' sound in 'corpesman,' and the U.S. has yet to build an intercontinental railroad), Obama would make a poor Jeopardy contestant. His 'student of the world' upbringing and cultivation, combined with a half million dollars worth of Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard post-secondary education, has produced a very fact deficient intellect.

Obama's porous knowledge base is far from his only academic failing. He is sold as a deep and well educated mind, but he has yet to share anything in print remotely profound or philosophical. His university records are sealed under a million dollar legal lock and key, and there exists nothing since then. No post-academic scholarship (he was almost a professor), no professional articles or essays (he was a lawyer), not even a newspaper editorial anywhere has his name on it. His two autobiographies, both heavy in generic substance and prose, are suspected to be ghost written. Odd that such a brilliant thinker would have so little to write.

Obama's reading material is yet another example of his surprising lack of intellectual curiosity. For his August vacation last year, Obama took along the following books:
Daniel Woodrell: "Bayou Trilogy" (crime novels)
Ward Just: Rodin's Debutante (story of a boy from Chicago coming of age)
Abraham Verghese: Cutting for Stone (story of twin orphans from Ethiopia)
David Grossman: To the End of the Land (story of an Israeli mother)
Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns (non-fiction account of America's 20th century black migrations)
Though this is hardly the reading material of a dullard, there really isn't much weight here. Mostly politically angled fiction, perfectly in sync with today's bland and uninspiring university humanities departments where things like theory, emotion, and presentation are generally favored over facts, logic, and application. A book tote with no classics, no science, no philosophy, no great biographies, no reference or almanacs; nothing that other smart people seem to enjoy reading.

Without his well read teleprompter and the grand hype of a big stage, Obama is frequently at a loss for not only words, but also ideas. From what little he has tried to pontificate on, for example his thoughts on racism, socialism, or individualism, he usually just falls back on the standard collectivist and victimology rhetoric of today's far left. He ultimately ends up sounding like every conniving politician, phony accents and all, who like used car salesmen have no attachment to the empty words and cliched phrases they utter.

It would be unfair to compare Obama's academicism with recent presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Not only did Bush have better university grades than his 2000 (Al Gore) and 2004 (John Kerry) presidential opponents, he was such an avid reader that he held personal book reading contests with his staff. As for Clinton, his intellect was and still is legendary. One of the smartest presidents in recent times, he was similar to the also over intelligent Richard Nixon in that they may have actually been too smart to be president. Overlooking the academic capabilities of his predecessors, Obama as an embarrassing intellectual stands on his own. It would be nice to see America's next president bring back the spirit of academia to the White House.

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