Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.
So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.
Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.
Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.
And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.
This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.