Once Again, How Smart Is Obama?
April 01, 2011, 12:18 AM
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A novelist requests help from iSteve readers:

Exactly how smart is Obama? He is represented, by self and media lickers-and-kissers as "the smartest guy in the room." Yet as far as I can see, there`s absolutely no documentation for this claim.

Virtually everything he`s been given has been donated willingly on the basis of what he is—pan racial, seemingly articulate and forthright exotic who wears clothes brilliantly and is highly charismatic—than what he`s done. No grades, no scores, no actual accomplishments. So how smart is he? Is he really smart? He`s articulate but he uses his charm in any circumstance where he`s out-IQed, and if his charm fails, so does his confidence, and he lurches in gibberish, well documented.

Has he ever thought anything through in a conscientious way? Does he look under, through or behind the bromides that he so glibly produces on cue? There`s no evidence of any of this. He takes his time on making decisions, but to me that`s more a sign of fear, even panic, as he knows he must commit and defend, as opposed to simply being Obama, and that scares him silly. He`s not stupid; he`s certainly well above average, but at the same time far below distinguished. He`s smart enough to see nuances but he`s not disciplined enough to discriminate between them, ignore the inappropriate ones, and lead on, as Bush (also no genius) was willing to do, and take the heat, as the heat quite clearly bothers him. (As well it should; he`s never felt it before; he`s always been beloved.)

Anyway, for me, this calculates out to about a 115. What do you think/ Love to see your ruminations on this one, and your reader`s responses.

There is a remarkable paucity of publicly available analytical writing that`s clearly by Obama rather than the product of a committee process. His first memoir is only modestly analytical (for example, in his decision to reject Louis Farrakhan`s black nationalist capitalism because there is no money in it — but most of the rest is devoted to establishing quandaries for himself rather than in solving them). His more analytic second memoir was read over by 28 insiders before going to the publisher, so who knows what we can say about what that book says about him.

To my mind, the place to start is with the eight lengthy final exam essay questions (and two answer memos) from Obama`s "Racism and the Law" course at the U. of Chicago Law School (for links to them see the bottom of Jodi Kantor`s long 2008 blog post.

I`m presuming that Obama mostly wrote them himself, that he didn`t have a TA write them for him, or that he didn`t crib them from some other professor in another city. I was living in Chicago reading the same newspapers as Obama at the same time, and his questions are clearly ripped from the Chicago headlines of the day.

They are nicely done. They don`t represent original thought, but they do testify to Obama`s ability to understand and replicate various sides of fairly complex arguments. They don`t testify, however, to Obama`s ability to solve complex problems, which remains opaque. As I pointed out years ago, much of his appeal comes from his ability to project back to interlocutors: "I have understood you."