Thursday, December 22, 2011


On PJ Media, Victor Davis Hanson discusses the emptiness of various Obama mythologies. Here's the first: "Brilliant":
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, on no evidence, once proclaimed Obama "probably the smartest guy ever to become president." When he thus summed up liberal consensus, was he perhaps referring to academic achievement? Soaring SAT scores? Seminal publications? IQ scores known only to a small Ivy League cloister? Political wizardry?

Who was this Churchillian president so much smarter than the Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson, more astute than a John Adams or James Madison, with more insight than a Lincoln, brighter still than the polymath Teddy Roosevelt, more studious than the bookish Woodrow Wilson, better read than the autodidact Harry Truman?

Consider. Did Obama achieve a B+ average at Columbia? Who knows? (Who will ever know?) But even today’s inflated version of yesteryear’s gentleman Cs would not normally warrant admission to Harvard Law. And once there, did the Law Review editor publish at least one seminal article? Why not?

I ask not because I particularly care about the GPAs or certificates of the president, but only because I am searching for a shred of evidence to substantiate this image of singular intellectual power and known erudition. For now, I don’t see any difference between Bush’s Yale/Harvard MBA record and Obama’s Columbia/Harvard Law record -- except Bush, in self-deprecation, laughed at his quite public C+/B- accomplishments that he implied were in line with his occasional gaffes, while Obama has quarantined his transcripts and relied on the media to assert that his own versions of "nucular" moments were not moments of embarrassment at all.

At Chicago, did lecturer Obama write a path-breaking legal article or a book on jurisprudence that warranted the rare tenure offer to a part-time lecturer? (Has that offer ever been extended to others of like stature?) In the Illinois legislature or U.S. Senate, was Obama known as a deeply learned man of the Patrick Moynihan variety? Whether as an undergraduate, law student, lawyer, professor, legislator or senator, Obama was given numerous opportunities to reveal his intellectual weight. Did he ever really? On what basis did Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan regret that Obama could not be lured to a top billet at Harvard?

That his brilliance is a myth was not just revealed by the weekly lapses (whether phonetic [corpse-man], or cultural [Austria/Germany, the United Kingdom/England, Memorial Day/Veterans Day] or inane [57 states]), but in matters of common sense and basic history. The error-ridden Cairo speech was foolish; the serial appeasement of Iran revealed an ignorance of human nature; a two-minute glance at an etiquette book would have nixed the bowing or the cheap gifts to the UK.

In short, the myth of Obama’s brilliance was based on his teleprompted eloquence, the sort of fable that says we should listen to a clueless Sean Penn or Matt Damon on politics because they can sometimes act well. Read Plato’s Ion on the difference between gifted rhapsody and wisdom -- and Socrates’ warning about easily conflating the two. It need not have been so. At any point in a long career, Obama the rhapsode could have shunned the easy way, stuck his head in a book, and earned rather than charmed those (for whom he had contempt) for his rewards. Clinton was a browser with a near photographic memory who had pretensions of deeply-read wonkery; but he nonetheless browsed. Obama seems never to have done that. He liked the vague idea of Obamacare, outsourced the details to the Democratic Congress, applied his Chicago protocols to getting it passed, and worried little what was actually in the bill. We were to think that the obsessions with the NBA, the NCAA final four, the golfing tics, etc., were all respites from exhausting labors of the mind rather than in fact the presidency respites from all the former.
There's much more; read the whole thing.


Bob in LA said...

Carl, at first I thought maybe "Brilliant" was an editorial comment... it might as well have been.

Warren said...

This from Larry Elder on Bush.

If Bush is dumb . . . ?

"Does anyone in America doubt," said former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines before the 2004 presidential election, "that [presidential candidate Sen. John] Kerry has a higher IQ than [President George W.] Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead."
And, on March 6, 2004, a New York Times article called the way Kerry thinks through problems "the mark of an intellectual who grasps the subtleties of issues, inhabits their nuances and revels in the deliberative process." The Los Angeles Times dismissed Bush's achievements, and editorialized that he became president only as a result of an "accident of birth and corruption of democracy."

Get it? See, Bush is a dunderhead, while Kerry positioned himself as the thinking man's alternative. Really?'

After promising during the campaign and then refusing to do so, Kerry finally signed Form 180, which authorized the military to release all of his records. (One of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, John O'Neill, says the records are incomplete and mysteries still remain.) The recently released records appear to back up Kerry's account of his activities and injuries in Vietnam.

Why, then, didn't Kerry release his records during the campaign? After all, his refusal seemed like a cover-up. Now we know.

Kerry's military records also include his college grades. (The New Yorker printed Bush's grades in 1999, but Kerry consistently refused to release his.) It turns out that "dummy" and fellow Yalie George W. Bush made better grades than did brainy, intellectual John Kerry. Under Yale's grading system at the time Bush and Kerry attended, grades from 90 to 100 meant an A, 80 to 89 a B, 70 to 79 a C, and 60 to 69 a D. Kerry received five Ds, including four in his freshman year, with a D in political science! Bush, during his time at Yale, got one D, in astronomy. Overall, Kerry finished Yale with a cumulative score of 76. Bush finished with a score of 77. So who's the dummy?


Warren said...


Retired history professor Gaddis Smith taught both students, but only recalls Kerry. Smith remembered Kerry as a "good student." When informed, however, that Kerry received a 71 and 79 in Smith's history courses, the professor said, "Uh, oh. I thought he was [a] good student. Those aren't very good grades." Oh, what did the forgettable Bush get in history? 88.

Kerry and the Democrats clearly considered Bush stupid. During the campaign, when Bush injured himself by falling off his bicycle, Kerry snidely said, "Did the training wheels fall off?" And on 2004 election night, as the returns came in, a dejected Kerry said, "I can't believe I'm losing to this idiot."

What did some in the mainstream media make out of Kerry's now-released records?

A Boston Globe article began, "During last year's presidential campaign, John F. Kerry was the candidate often portrayed as intellectual and complex, while George W. Bush was the populist who mangled his sentences. But newly released records show that Bush and Kerry had a virtually identical grade average at Yale University four decades ago." The New York Times, too, ran a piece — on page 10 — about Kerry's grades. The Los Angeles Times, however, ran a page A-17 story, only about how Kerry's records refute allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans. Not one word was printed about Kerry's grades! "The long-awaited documents," said the Los Angeles Times, "contained no bombshells . . ." No bombshells?

A week after Kerry's grades were released, a Fox News poll found that only 27 percent of likely voters (about one in four) believed Bush had better grades in college, while 43 percent still believed Kerry had better grades. Does the contained-no-bombshells media play a role in voters' ignorance of current events?

Bush also performed better than Kerry on military intelligence tests. This came out during the presidential campaign. When Tom Brokaw told Kerry that Bush scored higher, the senator sniffed that, the night before the exam, he "must have been drinking."

After repeatedly implying that Bush lacked the intellectual goods, how could Sen. Kerry release his transcripts during the campaign? After all, what looks worse? A "brainy" intellectual who underperforms? Or the "dunce" who manages to outperform the "genius"?

In fact, Bush himself jokes about his mediocre grades. At the 2001 Yale commencement ceremony, the president said, "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students — I say, you, too, can be president of the United States." Can we expect similar self-deprecating humor from Kerry?

For what it's worth, Thomas Stanley, author of "The Millionaire Mind," says that most millionaires come from the ranks of B and C students. Their success comes from the "people skills" to manage, lead and inspire. That sounds like poor George W. He got elected and re-elected governor of Texas. And then elected and re-elected president of the United States.

Not bad . . . for a "dummy."

Warren said...

More from Larry Elder:


President George W. Bush – despite his post-Sept. 11 performance – remains dumb, says "West Wing" producer Aaron Sorkin.
Bush's stratospheric popularity, claims Sorkin, results from our collective refusal to admit Bush's stupidity: "That illusion [of a fully-engaged Bush] may be what we need right now, but the truth is we're simply pretending to believe that Bush exhibited unspeakable courage at the World Series by throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, or that he, by God, showed those terrorists by going to Salt Lake City and jumbling the first line of the Olympic opening ceremony. The media is waving pompoms, and the entire country is being polite."

Why, then, did "brainy" Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore lose to his obvious intellectual inferior? Sorkin offers this analysis: Gore, reluctant to demonstrate his superior intelligence, pulled his punches against Bush. In an upcoming "West Wing" episode, Sorkin intends to pit his fictional smart Democratic President Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen (who once called Bush a "moron"), vs. a less-than-bright Republican candidate. Sorkin explains, "Bartlet is going to be running against Gov. Robert Ritchie, of Florida, who's not the sharpest tool in the box but who's raised a lot of money and is very popular with the Republican Party. ... It was frustrating watching Gore try so hard not to appear smart in the debates – why not just say, 'Here's my f---ing resume, what do you got?'"

In this fictitious Gore vs. Bush II contest, President Bartlet's communications director, often portrayed as the White House's conscience, psychoanalyzes the boss and offers the following advice: "You don't want to lose as the smartest kid in class who's running against an everyman. But I'm telling you, be the smartest kid in your class. Be the reason why your father hated you. Make this an election about smart and stupid, about engaged and not, qualified and not."

Gore, according to Sorkin, possesses an impressive f---ing resume, but what about Gore's f---ing academic performance and his f---ing grades?

First, prep school. Although Gore received a SAT math score of 730, a former St. Alban's teacher called his performance in physics "terrible." What about chemistry? The former professor said, "He didn't do too well in chemistry."


Warren said...


After his graduation from St. Alban's High School, Gore entered Harvard. "In his sophomore year at Harvard," according to The Washington Post, " Gore's grades were lower than any semester recorded on Bush's transcript from Yale [emphasis added]." Gore, later the author of the environmental call-to-arms book, "Earth in the Balance," received a D in a Harvard science course. The Post described Gore's sophomore year: "[That was] the year Gore's classmates remember him spending a notable amount of time in the Dunster House basement lounge shooting pool, watching television, eating hamburgers and occasionally smoking marijuana."

On to graduate school. In 1971, Gore enrolled in Vanderbilt Divinity School. The Washington Times says, "It is said that Mr. Gore failed to hand in his book report on time. Thus, his incomplete grade turned into an F, one of five Fs Mr. Gore received at divinity school, which may well be a worldwide record." He later dropped out.

Gore then enrolled in law school, but also failed to finish. The Boston Globe said, "Nor did Gore graduate from Vanderbilt Law School, where he enrolled for a brief time and received his fair share of Cs."

Not only did Bush academically outperform the "intellectually superior" Gore, Bush scored a higher verbal SAT score than Rhodes scholar and former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, with Bush scoring 566 to Bradley's 485. True, Gore scored a higher verbal SAT at 625, but the "smart, engaged, and qualified" former vice president scored only 59 points higher than the allegedly intellectually deficient Bush.

Stupidity, it appears, flows from the ideological eye of the beholder. Reporters constantly asked the late JFK Jr. when he intended to run for president. The Kennedy glow never dimmed even when he flunked the New York bar twice before finally passing it. Recently in Los Angeles, leftist candidate Antonio Villaraigosa ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Los Angeles. Villaraigosa took and flunked the California bar four times, never passing it. Yet because of Villaraigosa's ethnicity, his opponents – fearing a charge of racism – refused to raise the issue.

Don't misunderstand. Time magazine named Albert Einstein "Person of the Century," and President Bush will not demand a recount. But Al Gore, while performing well on standardized tests, and reportedly possessing a high IQ, nevertheless underwhelmed academically. If Gore possesses more brain power than Bush, what's more impressive? A Gore-like bright kid who refuses to apply himself, or the less-than-brilliant kid who gets the job done?

Maybe President Bartlet can sort that one out for us.

Bob in LA said...

Warren thanks for posting this. In particular this "A week after Kerry's grades were released, a Fox News poll found that only 27 percent of likely voters (about one in four) believed Bush had better grades in college, while 43 percent still believed Kerry had better grades. Does the contained-no-bombshells media play a role in voters' ignorance of current events?"

When people say the MSMedia are not biased, this is proof of not only bias, but of the impact the bias has -- a powerful manipulation of public perception, alteration of reality to suit a political end. The MSM seeks power as the mouthpiece of the democratic party.

OBloodyHell said...

Along the same lines, I offer

Stop It Already -- He's not so smart

The author cites his chops: "I was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review..." and more. He points out that to become editor at Harvard, one would generally expect one to have written some seminally notable works that are, at least legally, cited regularly, if not publicly known. The Great Big 0 has no such visible accomplishments, and wonders why.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Steve Sailer did the research on this - the known SAT's and OCS tests and their IQ equivalents, and Bush was slightly ahead of Kerry, slightly behind Gore. Obama is slightly behind them all, by his estimate. All in the same range, with a notable difference. The three Democrats had better verbal scores, Bush had better math/performance scores. My personal estimate in terms of SAT's (not because they are so important, but because they are familiar) is that Obama is about 700V, 500M. Which is why we never saw those scores. And if, as could easily be, Obama's Math number was just a bit less and began with a "4," everyone in liberal-land would no exactly what that meant and he would never have made it out of Iowa and NH. (The reasoning for those numbers is long, but available on request.)

Glib. Shallow. Well-studied in the arts which hack into the appearance of intelligence, especially condescension.

Warren said...

Romney said he won't release his tax returns. He should make release conditional on Obama releasing his college records, including SAT's.

Is there a GQ, Geography Quotient. Often, Obama often doesn't know what city he's in.

Kurt said...

AVI--I think a verbal score in the 700s is likely way too high for Obama. A verbal score that high would suggest he was more of a reader than I suspect he is (or was). If he were more of a reader, he'd most likely make fewer of the glaring gaffes he does when he's off the teleprompter.

Furthermore, if he had a verbal score in the 700s (even with a math score in the 500s), I suspect that, as a minority, he would have been more likely to have been admitted to one of the Ivies out of high school--unless, that is, his high school grades at Punahou were terrible, which they might have been.

Carl said...

AVI: I haven't read Sailer's book, but in articles I've read, he classes Obama as "About as smart as Gerald Ford" and guesses that he "aced" the verbal half of the SAT and LSAT. Others disagree. Do you know where you saw Sailer's specific guess about Obama's verbal/math scores?

Personally, I don't think a politician has any obligation to release his transcripts, much less his test scores. But I do find it odd that, counting college and law school, we know of only a single article Obama published -- in Columbia's college magazine -- and it's not overly impressive. But, as you say, everyone knew smart John Kerry did vastly better at Yale than stupid George Bush--until it turned out to be false.