Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Smartest Man in the Room?
Harry S. Truman did not have a formal college education and George Washington acquired enough education to become largely self-taught thereafter. All the other presidents had a diploma.
In his youth Truman was too busy working the family farm, fighting in World War One, and failing at business. Hardly the most encouraging resume at first glance, but after learning politics at the knee of Tom Pendergast, the famed Kansas political boss, Truman went on to have a distinguished career in Congress and to be selected to be vice president on the ticket with Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Then, on April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died. Truman would become the president who ended World War Two in the Pacific with two A-bombs on Japanese cities even as the emperor and his advisors were still set to resist an invasion that would have cost the lives of an estimated half million or more American fighting men. Truman then set in motion the resistance to Soviet aggression—the Cold War—and in general made a succession of very good decisions at a very critical time in U.S. history.
By contrast, Herbert Hoover had earlier made his way to the presidency by demonstrating the application of his skills as an engineer and administrator, but the onset of the Great Depression defied his efforts to reverse it, lacking as he did much background in economics. Historians agree that Roosevelt, who replaced him, was a poor student and lacked any judgment whatever in economics. This contributed greatly to his prolonging the Depression to an interminable ten years that were ended only by the onslaught of World War Two; a kind of full-employment program.
An earlier brainiac was Woodrow Wilson. He received a Ph.D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University in history, became president of Princeton University, and was elected Governor of New Jersey before assuming the U.S. presidency. By any academic measure, Wilson seemed ideally prepared for the job, but he was a progressive and an ideologue. His failed struggle to get the U.S. Senate to ratify membership in the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations, may have led to a stroke that disabled him, rendering his final year in office a charade.
Ronald Reagan, who was widely derided by his critics as an amiable dunce, had earned a BA degree from Eureka College, Illinois, in 1932 but never stopped educating himself, particularly regarding conservative principles of governance. His election came in the wake of the disastrous single term of Jimmy Carter, an engineer by education, a peanut farmer by occupation, and an embarrassment to the nation by embracing every dictator he ever met.
George W. Bush holds two degrees, a BA from Yale, 1968, and a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University in 1975. He, too, was constantly portrayed in the press as a fool, often because of his syntax, in contrast to Reagan who was hailed the great communicator. Saddam Hussein underestimated Bush and his father. So did others.
I cite this history only because, during the campaign, and during his first year in office, Barack Hussein Obama was constantly hailed the most brilliant man to have ever ascended to the presidency. A graduate of Columbia University and later Harvard Law School (neither transcript of his grades is available), Americans were reassured time and again that he was the proverbial “smartest man in the room” and there is little doubt he still believes that.
Obama surrounded himself with academics in his cabinet and among the many “czars” he selected to advise him and set policy, the latter without the benefit of being vetted by Congress. Of those who had experience in the private sector, Wilson’s cabinet constituted 52%; Hoover’s 42%; Roosevelt’s 50%; Reagan’s 56%, George W. Bush, 55%, and Obama? A mere 8%! His initial advisors on the economy have already departed for their respective ivory towers, still baffled by an official unemployment rate of 9.6%.
It became noticeable early on, particularly during press conferences (which became few and far between), that Obama was unable to answer a question in anything less than several minutes of tendentious and wandering effort.
He was, we were told, an academic who had taught the U.S. Constitution at the University of Chicago, but he was no professor. He was more like an adjunct, a part-timer brought in to relieve the faculty of minor teaching chores; in his case teaching a course about the Constitution.
Despite this, Obama has demonstrated an abysmal lack of understanding of the Constitution, regarding it as being more a “charter of negative liberties.” Apparently, the Bill of Rights that restricts government from denying freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right to peacefully assemble are “negative” things in his view.
More specifically, Obama does not “get” America. He does not understand its entrepreneurial spirit. He has a low regard for the power centers of capitalism, Wall Street, the insurance industry, the giants of pharmaceutical, medical, chemical and technological innovation; those who have brought about computer and Internet-related advances.
At the time of the nation’s birth, America was blessed with some of the finest minds available for the task. They included, in addition to Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and a certifiable genius, Benjamin Franklin. When the original Articles of Confederation didn’t work, they and others got together in Philadelphia, shut the doors, and hammered out the Constitution.
When one looks at the array of men and women in high public office today, it is hard not to conclude that most are imbeciles.
The mere thought that the nation’s security has been entrusted to Janet Napolitano or its health to Kathleen Sebelius is enough to keep one up at night, but what is most obvious is that Barack Obama is just not smart. Not street smart. Not academically smart. Not people smart. But smart enough to have gotten elected, the politician’s idea of smart.
We are left to hope the nation can survive him long enough to repair the damage he will leave in his wake.
© Alan Caruba, 2010