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Hey, That Smarts!

Over at his web site, noted author (er... "writer of stuff") Peter David poses an interesting question: why is it so bad that Barack Obama essentially said "I'm smarter than you?" Don't we want a president who's smarter than we are?

The problem is that PAD (that's what we fans of his call him) doesn't quite get the question right. When he's discussing Obama's discussion of the folks who "cling" to their religion and their guns out of fear and bitterness, Obama isn't saying "I'm smarter than you."

The proper translation is "you're dumber than me."

That's a fine distinction, but a significant one. I, personally, don't mind people telling me they're more intelligent than I am. (Well, OK, I do mind it a little, but it helps a bit if they show me rather than just tell me. "It ain't bragging if you can back it up" and all that.)

But I, like most people, get irritated at being told "you're dumb." It rankles a bit, it engenders resentment and anger and tends to provoke a backlash of some sort. "Oh, yeah? Up yours, you arrogant prick!" is one of the more common ones, and the one I tend to have.

I've said before that the most powerful lesson I ever learned about writing was "show, don't tell." It swings both ways -- Obama didn't just tell some people they were dumb, he tried to show how they were dumb. That makes the message that much stronger, and that much harder for him to back away from.

Yes, Hillary Clinton and John McCain's responses are interesting, but largely irrelevant. They are trying to exploit Obama's statements for their own gain, and it's unknown how well it will work. But they wouldn't have anything to exploit if Obama hadn't made the statement -- utterly unprovoked and of his own will -- to those fatcats in California while trying to explain us small-town hicks to the movers and shakers.

This has tremendous potential to hurt him, and I really don't see a good way he can dig himself out of it. He didn't just "misstate" what he said. He didn't just say the poor folks were dumb, he showed it through examples -- and that's not something one does by accident.

Either he was pandering to the people he was speaking to, or he let his mask slip and show his true feelings. And that's old politics, not the politics of hopey changefulnesss.

And the last thing the country needs is an old-style Chicago Democratic machine party boss in the White House.


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Comments (19)

The problem is that PAD ... (Below threshold)
Peter David:

The problem is that PAD (that's what we fans of his call him) doesn't quite get the question right.

Nooooo, PAD was simply addressing the issue as posed by a Washington politico. He/she was the one who was commenting about Obama coming across as "smarter" than others, and that's what I was responding to. So your entire comment has nothing to do with what prompted my blog entry. Why did you not understand that? I don't know. Maybe you're just dumber than I am.

PAD

OK, so much for the Sir Apr... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

OK, so much for the Sir Apropos books on my Amazon wish list...

Rather than acknowledge tha... (Below threshold)
StephenG:

Rather than acknowledge that Pennsylvanians' core religious beliefs and other values are the principled result of philosophical reflection, Obama dismisses them outright as notions that Midwesterners presumably "cling to" as an expression of something else entirely: Frustration about their poor economic circumstances.

The Ivy League educated, Harvard Law Review editor's choice of language here can hardly be passed of as candidate misspeak since words are Obama s stock-in-trade. Moreover, his word choices clearly evince an opinion by Obama that Midwestern religious and political values are not "values" at all, but rather a desperate reaction to external forces through which these poor unfortunates express their frustration and bitterness at their lot in life.

It is my view that these very revealing remarks, uttered by Obama in an unguarded moment in the cloistered company of his most elite, liberal, and moneyed San Francisco financial backers, once they are understood by the national electorate are game changing. In one stroke, Obama has alienated the heartland of America by revealing that he does not respect their core values on religion, guns, fair trade, or immigration by attributing those values to a knee jerk reaction to outside events.

I am sure that Midwesterners view their own religious and other values as very bit as sincerely held and legitimate as, for example those of Barack Obama's personal mentor and close family friend the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

While the candidate has since maintained he "could have said it better", Obama has not bothered to repudiate his remarks or to explain precisely what he meant.

Nor can the candidate's patronizing views of the core beliefs held by millions of Americans in several key swing states be explained away.

This is huge, a game changer. And if the Democratic Party fails to realize it before it chooses between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the party's nominee, the DNC will be virtually conceding the White House to John McCain in 2008.

SPQR, put those books back ... (Below threshold)

SPQR, put those books back on your list. They're GREAT.

On the other hand, I can't really recommend his King Arthur books. The original "Knight Life" was great, but the reworking lost a lot of its charm to me.

PAD, I may have misinterpreted your piece a little, but it did catalyze something I found significant: the difference between showing "I'm smart" and "you're dumb." Obama's words about the Pennsylvania small-towners was definitely of the latter (well, more of a "they're dumb," as he wasn't talking to them), and that's the sort of thing that rarely goes over well.

And I'm hoping to make this year's Shore Leave again. (I was the guy with the duck at last year's. Thanks again for the great photo!)

J.

Jay Tea, uh, no. Thanks, b... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Jay Tea, uh, no. Thanks, but I'm off them now.

The REAL point Obama is try... (Below threshold)
!:

The REAL point Obama is trying to make is that the economic crisis is hard on the people of the U.S. and they are upset or "bitter" about the way it is being handles by the government. He is not trying to be patronizing OR call blue collar workers (or any of us for that matter) dumb! Mulling over Obama's comment and reading to far into it is just diverting our attention away from the true topic of the statement...THE ECONOMIC CRISIS AND ITS RELATIONS TO VIOLENCE.

Gee !, I live in rural Amer... (Below threshold)
David:

Gee !, I live in rural America with 6% unemployment, few guns, lots of church going, and I see little bitterness. And by the way I teach at a small local college so I see lots of folks.

Oh and as an amusing aside, the only lawn sign up is for Ron Paul. Go figure.

You know, I find the word "... (Below threshold)
COgirl:

You know, I find the word "bitter" the wrong word to be using. I think there's a lot of spunk in the American people. The ones impacted by economic slowdown may be downtrodden, but I doubt "bitter" is the right word to describe their feelings. I also believe that Americans will pick themselves up and do what they have to do to get by.

Religion and guns have nothing to do with being downtrodden. Both are rights guaranteed by our constitution and the bill of rights. They are our rights and so what if we turn to these privileges if we are downtrodden. There's no relationship and to suggest there is as Obama did is pandering, elitist and just mouthing words to sound like he has something to tell us. He doesn't. He's a phony.

Jay Tea is right - there's ... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea is right - there's a difference between "I'm smarter than you" and "You're dumber than me."

It has nothing to do with IQ, or Ivy League educations. I have an aunt who graduated from high school in a class of 13 in small-town Arkansas and never went to college. I guarandamnteeya she's smarter than me.

And Obama.

Ya KNOW what?! Barry is wor... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

Ya KNOW what?! Barry is worse than an "old-style Chicago Democratic machine party boss" he's a friggan LIBERAL!!! He has that elitist gun hating condescending attitude that he knows better than Joe public.

Got NEWS for you Barry, economic factors good or bad my GUNS mean something. Come election day gun owners will mean something to Barry also, it's called DEFEAT.

And the last thing... (Below threshold)
And the last thing the country needs is an old-style Chicago Democratic machine party boss in the White House.

You may be the first "major" blogger I've seen even mention that brilliant flash of the obvious. I grew up in Chicago. Senator Obama is my age. I just can't fathom any way that he's made it as far as he has as fast as he has without cutting some deals with some of those old style players. There's going to have to be some payback at some point.

Of course Chicago could have changed a lot in the 23 years since I lived there...maybe things are all done on the up and up...nope...can't even type that with a straight face.

Look up the story on the fi... (Below threshold)
Chuckg:

Look up the story on the first Democratic primary election that Obama participated in.

He hooked up with old Chicago political machine veterans and organized legal challenges to the signatures on the nominating petitions for every candidate running against him, allowing him to claim the nomination unopposed.

This was /his very first election/, note.

The Chicago Tribune has the story.

Obama isn't saying he's sma... (Below threshold)

Obama isn't saying he's smarter than us. He's saying he's BETTER than us.

No, we <a href="http://www.... (Below threshold)

No, we do not want a president who's smarter than we are -- or who thinks he is!

I enjoy the company of peop... (Below threshold)

I enjoy the company of people smarter than I am (not everyone does) and I have noticed something. I've argued education theories with Harvard professors and any number of other issues with those smarter than myself and vastly more knowledgeable than myself in whatever subject. (I point out the Harvard/education one because it's a specific real example that quickly comes to mind.)

In real life or on the internet there are two sorts... those who take me seriously, and those who take themselves seriously.

I've never seen a certain Stanford economics prof demand proof he's speaking to an equal, he just makes his case with the assumption that the person he's arguing with will and can follow it.

I've argued with others who are completely the opposite. I could have that argument/discussion with the PhD from Harvard, never having completed college myself, and be taken seriously and then the next moment get dissed by a BA Ed. graduate who thinks she knows more than I know about teaching children and expects me to defer.

And it's not that I'm claiming to be as smart as the various people I've mentioned. It's that I'm not *dumb*. And you know what? Nothing about city-water makes a population smarter.

Stereotyping people by where they live and making up reasons that they don't agree with you on economic or foreign policy issues or social issues as though they can't understand their own best interests or how the world works is pretty egregious bigotry.

Obama explained similar reasoning after 2004 when everyone was so perplexed about what was wrong with Kansas. This is the same thing. No matter the spin put on it.

(City water just makes your... (Below threshold)

(City water just makes your teeth harder because they put fluoride in it.)

(City water just makes y... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

(City water just makes your teeth harder because they put fluoride in it.)

Shhhh. You'll attract the Ronulans.

Re: That whole 'bitter' bus... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Re: That whole 'bitter' business

It seems to me, that if you want to see 'bitter' you should go to Obama's church. What a nasty, divisive organization.
Maybe he should explain why he has spent two decades in such a bitter church.

That's hilarious Synova, si... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

That's hilarious Synova, since I've found that there is little more useless than an education major.




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