Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why look for stupidity, when laziness is staring you in the face?

The floodgates have opened, and there's a torrent of opinion speculating on Barack Obama's intelligence. A recent example is Noemie Emery's Examiner column: What if Barack Obama isn't so smart?
Fortunately we have such a thinker, "capable to examining" things to perfection, and that is the problem: President Obama is their ideal of a thinker. He is president, and he has been -- how to put it? -- a bomb.

Based on results, Perry has been more successful as governor of Texas than Obama has been as president, or as anything else he has ever tried being, in the entire whole course of his life.

In 2008, Obama was hailed as a genius, a "first rate intellect," the smartest man to ever be president, and we know now the first part is true. He is the political genius who shed 30 points in his first years in office.

He's the political genius who blew up his coalition in his first months in office, who led his party to annihilation in the 2010 midterms (while showing utter indifference to the fate of congressional Democrats), and gave the Republicans -- who were on the floor, in a coma -- more than they needed to come roaring back from the dead...

And if Obama is brilliant, and Bush is an imbecile, how come the genius kept most of the things the dolt set in motion: the protocols for fighting the war against terror, the surge strategy, the timetables, and even, in Robert Gates and David Petraeus, some of his main appointees? Why couldn't the genius improve on the idiot's handiwork?

Maybe he isn't that bright.

Well, there's an alternate explanation for President Obama's record in office, one that accords better with Occam's Razor. We can't measure Obama's intelligence directly -- and he won't release his college or law school transcripts, so we can't use those as a proxy for an intelligence measurement. But we can directly observe one important aspect of Obama's behavior, and definitively state that he is exceedingly lazy.

Emery correctly points out that Obama has demonstrated mediocre to poor performance in each of the jobs he's held. He doesn't exhibit the perseverance to stick with a job until he masters it; instead, his pattern is to become bored or frustrated quickly and to seek some other opportunity.

But with that mediocre performance, Obama has achieved a rapid rise to the absolute pinnacle of political office. That brings up another pattern in Obama's career: his advancement has been largely independent of performance. His editorship of the Harvard Law Review, for example, seems to have required no body of work. His run for the Illinois State Senate was made simpler when his putative mentor was disqualified from the ballot, letting Obama take the Democratic nomination. When he attempted a competitive run for Bobby Rush's seat in Congress, he failed completely. And when he ran for the U.S. Senate, his Republican opponent's divorce records were somehow unsealed, again clearing Obama's path for him.

If you're not good at doing anything but you consistently meet with advancement, you tend to attribute your success to your own inherent awesomeness and you tend to discount the importance of hard work and persistence to achievement. Obama's cocky statements "I got this" and "Just give me the ball" early in his term reflected his belief that his mere presence would be sufficient to solve the thorny problems he would face as President.

So on taking office, he chose to employ a simple two-step strategy. Step one was to give Pelosi and Reid vague outlines of what he wanted and let them handle it. Step two was to deal with the things Pelosi and Reid couldn't or wouldn't get for him by reverting to continuing Bush Administration policies. It was effortless, and as far as Obama was concerned, it was supposed to be a slam dunk: if he ran into too much resistance, he only had to give a speech and the public acclaim would ensure that everyone in Washington (everyone who mattered) would fall into line.

He assumed that the auto-pilot ARRA stimulus would cure the nation's economic ills in one shot; when it didn't, his only fallback was to wait for it to "kick in" over successive "Summers of Recovery." When he ran into real, substantive resistance, as on ObamaCare, he found that speechifying had no effect; only because nationalized health care was a cherished goal of Pelosi and Reid were they willing to go to unprecedented lengths to pass it.

And as his policies proved to be ineffectual both in substance and politically, he became frustrated, bored and disinterested in his job. He sought out ways to avoid work -- golfing, fundraising, hosting celebrities -- because he has no realistic way to find another ostensibly better and more interesting job.

This pattern isn't necessarily symptomatic of intellectual dullness. Intelligence and perseverance aren't intrinsically linked. But as one of Ricochet's favorite Presidents once said:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

And persistence and determination are precisely the qualities President Obama lacks.

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