Sunday, February 14, 2010

Obama Too 'Smart' for Americans?

With Obama's fortunes sinking by the second, Mike Signer of the Daily Beast considers whether Americans are too, you know, dumb to appreciate a towering "intellectual" like Barack:
“[W]e need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.” That’s what Sarah Palin told Tea Partiers in Nashville last weekend, triggering uproarious cheers. A few weeks earlier, she had dismissed Obama’s State of the Union as “quite a bit of lecturing, not leading.” Meanwhile, John McCain just borrowed the “lecturer” line to attack Obama in the Financial Times.
Palin and her partners seem intent on turning one of Obama’s strengths—his thoughtfulness—into a liability. Such broadsides threaten to dominate political and policy debates not just in November’s mid-term elections, but the 2012 presidential election as well. The administration should take note and pivot quickly. The fact is that voters often need a bolder narrative, one whose plot turns on actions and victories, not just the calls to civil discourse and contemplation that have come to mark Obama’s presidency.

In a cage-match between nihilism and Niebuhr, who would you bet on? This all means Obama is going to need to fight—hard.
The intellectual has always held a hallowed, fraught place in American politics. In Saul Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift, set in the 1950s, Bellow’s slightly ridiculous poet-hero Von Humboldt Fleisher showers praise on Adlai Stevenson, the “great souled” intellectual Democratic nominee for a president whose “chief of staff would know Thucydides.” “Intellectuals are coming up in this country,” Humboldt says. “Democracy is finally about to begin creating a civilization in the USA.”

The mirage of a “great-souled man” who can help “create a civilization in the USA” still promises water in the desert, particularly to progressives. It played a significant role in Obama’s stunningly inspiring 2008 campaign. But this vision also rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Since our nation’s beginning, many Americans have viewed overt intellectuals with suspicion and disdain, as memorably documented by the historian Richard Hofstadter in his 1963 volume, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life...
Niebuhr? Bellow? Hofstadter?


Admirable intellectuals, one and all--and, boy, isn't that Mike a cleverboots for mentioning them? Much as one is impressed by his mighty intellect, though, there's a far simpler explanation for Americans' apparent rejection of Obama's hopeychangery. What's rubbing the ignorant knuckle-draggers, the unwashed hoi polloi, the wrong way isn't his overwhelming, overweeing "intellectualism". It's his overwhelming, overweening incompetence.

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