30 Aug 2011

The Hardest-Working Member of Obama’s Administration

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Three minute speech: two heavy duty teleprompters.

Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt email today took another look at the relationship of the current president to his teleprompter.

Sigh. Yeah: “President Obama required two heavy-duty teleprompters on Monday during a three-minute speech in which he nominated Alan Krueger to serve as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers.”

Why does the teleprompter bug us so? (Nothing personal, TOTUS.)

I think it’s because many on the right are simply not that persuaded that Barack Obama is all that bright.

(There are a lot of people who believe that intellect is directly proportional to one’s ideological views, and many folks also believe that one’s moral character is directly proportional to them as well. I’ll bet some of you disagree, but I’ve met too many dumb and/or dishonest conservatives — and/or too many smart and trustworthy liberals — to believe that one’s voting record can tell you much about a person’s brainpower or conscience.)

Now, Barack Obama is not stupid. And there is something admirable about how he rose from what he was in his teen years — awkward, isolated, effectively abandoned by both parents, turning to drugs to tune out the pain — to what he was when he entered politics: a lawyer, a university lecturer, an author. (Please, no more theories that the sentence structure and aquatic metaphors prove that William Ayers really wrote Dreams from My Father.)

But if Barack Obama had the wind in his face for the first 20 or so years of his life, he had the wind at his back the moment he entered politics. He and his guys ensured he would win his first state-senate race by challenging signatures and getting all his rivals tossed off the ballot. His quixotic, failed bid to unseat a longtime U.S. House member did no serious damage to his career, and he faced no serious primary challenge afterward, despite a state-senate record that was nothing all that special. He represented a part of the state where the Republican party existed only in theory. When he decided to run for Senate, the Chicago Tribune dug into the divorce records of his top Democratic rival and then his top Republican rival — a sudden burst of groundbreaking investigative journalism that never extended to, say, Obama’s college transcripts. Jack Ryan’s implosion was so spectacular that Obama roared to victory against tomato can Alan Keyes, meaning he entered the U.S. Senate without so much as a genuine attack ad run against him. Then he faced the challenge of appealing to Democratic hopes and dreams more than Hillary Clinton did — and then running against John McCain as the economy imploded.

Moreover, despite his meteoric rise, Obama seemed to be awfully lacking in the categories of hard-won legislative accomplishments, ingenious compromises, crafty deal-making, anything resembling executive leadership, or suffering the consequences of telling his allies things they didn’t want to hear. We were endlessly told that he gave brilliant speeches, and he had a nice phrase or two — “there are no red or blue states, just red, white, and blue states” — but in the end they were generally predictable platitudes, and anybody who had spent about ten minutes watching the U.S. government in action would acknowledge that giving a good speech is really not the hardest part of politics. It might be the easiest or at least the most teachable. Heck, George Pataki gave a really good speech at the 2004 Republican convention. All it takes is a good speechwriter, a bit of practice in delivery, and actually believing what you’re saying.

So the teleprompter — a fairly standard-issue tool in politics, albeit one that seems to enjoy a particular devotion from Obama — has come to symbolize the notion that Obama is not really that bright, mostly good at delivering speeches that he’s reading off a glass screen, and more capable of delivering pretty phrases well than actually thinking through problems and making the tough choices. It’s a bit simplistic, but in light of the perennial Republicans-are-stupid meme — see below — grassroots conservatives are more than justified in doubting the much-hyped intellect and brainpower of the president. As Zip from Weasel Zippers responds to yesterday’s news, “And the left wants us to believe he’s the smartest man who has ever lived.”


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