Magazine article The Spectator

The Professorial President

Magazine article The Spectator

The Professorial President

Article excerpt

Is Obama actually super-smart, or just academic?

Is Barack Obama really as clever as he looks? Ever since he first appeared in the public eye, it's been taken as read that he's a major intellectual. Liberals say, in fact, that brilliance is his greatest flaw.

He's too academic, too nuanced; too eager to understand both sides to be an effective leader. The right, meanwhile, regards him as a professorial Marxist, a tenured radical in the White House. Like or hate him, it seems, Barry got brains.

But does he? On Wednesday Obama faced Mitt Romney in the first of the three 2012 presidential election debates.

The expectation was that the P resident, the celebrated rhetorician, would come out on top. Romney is hardly the sharpest tool. But we shouldn't be too surprised if by the end of the debating season, those high expectations have turned to disappointment.

Obama's past debate performances have been anything but impressive.

Watch him closely during the next two debates, on October 16 and 22. You'll find he drones on a bit, and is slow to react to his opponent. Yes, he has charm - in the 2008 debates, he just about outsmoothed his adversary John McCain - though most commentators called it a 'bore draw'. Hillary Clinton, however, regularly outmanoeuvred him earlier that year as they argued over the Democratic nomination. And in 2004, even the mad right-wing autodidact Alan Keyes seemed at times more lucid than Obama in Illinois senatorial election debates.

It's easy to see where the idea of Obama as a deep thinker comes from.

He wrote (we think) those books about dreams and hope. He gives those highminded speeches about healing America.

He talks about theology, Islam and the novels of Marilynne Robinson. He edited the Harvard Law Review , for crying out loud.

But what if we've all misjudged him?

What if is his cool intellectualism is really just a brilliant bluff? Success in this world is no guarantee of merit or talent. Look at Ed Miliband. And while we all know that Obama can sound wonderful with a teleprompter in front of him and a good writer behind, the truth is his words fall flat as often than they soar.

Obama is most comfortable in the role of philosopher P resident, delivering moderate verdicts against the fringes of popular opinion. …

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