The Obama-Is-Dumb Meme

by Jonathan Chait | August 9, 2011

One of the right-wing memes still floating around is that President Obama is not very smart. Michele Bachmann has played to this sentiment by promising never to use a teleprompter. (There's a ridiculous right-wing meme that Obama only sounds smart because he reads everything off the teleprompter, a premise that ignores the copious number of times he's expressed himself in unscripted settings.) Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens makes the point more bluntly today:

How many times have we heard it said that Mr. Obama is the smartest president ever? Even when he's criticized, his failures are usually chalked up to his supposed brilliance. Liberals say he's too cerebral for the Beltway rough-and-tumble; conservatives often seem to think his blunders, foreign and domestic, are all part of a cunning scheme to turn the U.S. into a combination of Finland, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
I don't buy it. I just think the president isn't very bright.

Stephens' "evidence" for this proposition consists essentially of a free-floating list of political taunts with a varying degree of connection to reality. For instance:

Then there's his habit of never trimming his sails, much less tacking to the prevailing wind. When Bill Clinton got hammered on health care, he reverted to centrist course and passed welfare reform. When it looked like the Iraq war was going to be lost, George Bush fired Don Rumsfeld and ordered the surge.
Mr. Obama, by contrast, appears to consider himself immune from error. Perhaps this explains why he has now doubled down on Heckuva Job Geithner.

So the argument here is that Obama has not moved to the center (notwithstanding his deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, which the Journal praised as evidence of Obama's move to the center, and attempted deal to reduce the deficits on far more right-wing terms than the Gang of Six offered) and, from this rickety premise, we should conclude that Obama is not smart. Clearly a lack of intelligence is at issue here, but I don't think it's Obama's.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/93396/the-obama-dumb-meme