Arrogance Is More Dangerous Than Stupidity For Politicians


Jonathan Martin of Politico posted an article yesterday entitled, “Is Rick Perry Dumb?

Another Texas governor who drops his “g’s” and scorns elites is running for president and the whispers are the same: lightweight, incurious, instinctual.

Strip away the euphemisms and Rick Perry is confronting an unavoidable question: Is he dumb — or just “misunderestimated?”

Doubts about Perry’s intellect have hounded him since he was first elected as a state legislator nearly three decades ago. In Austin, he’s been derided as a right-place, right-time pol who looks the part but isn’t so deep — “Gov. Goodhair.” Now, with the chatter picking back up among his enemies and taking flight in elite Republican circles, the rap threatens to follow him to the national stage.

“He’s like Bush only without the brains,” cracked one former Republican governor who knows Perry, repeating a joke that has made the rounds.

Martin goes on to cite various arguments for and against Perry’s intelligence, from political friends and foes.  Although he’s taken some heat for writing this article, it’s not a hit piece.  It’s a thorough and well-researched preview of an argument that would inevitably be made against pretty much any plausible Republican candidate.  No matter how horribly the super-State fails, its acolytes always view their opponents as presumptively stupid. 

Martin is even gracious enough to give Perry’s friend Cliff Johnson the last word:

The mistake, Johnson said, is to infer weakness from Perry’s style.

“The political graveyard in Texas is buried full of people who have underestimated Rick Perry,” he said. “We had a U.S. senator who did that and she didn’t even make the run-off. Sooner or later, they’re going to figure out that he’s not just lucky, he’s good.”

Martin also cites one of the quickest counters to the “Rick Perry is dumb” talking point, namely that Perry can fly C-130 aircraft, a convincing demonstration of intellectual capability.  Of course, George W. Bush’s piloting skills didn’t cut him any ice with the people who insulted his intelligence.  Many of those people strongly supported Senator John Kerry for president in 2004, and Kerry had lower college grades than Bush – something that didn’t come to light until after the campaign, because Kerry, like Barack Obama, took pains to hide his grades, trusting his faithful media allies to trumpet his supposed intellectual superiority.

Speaking of President Obama, he formally announced his nomination of another tedious Keynesian academic with zero private sector experience to become his chief economic adviser yesterday.  The announcement was delivered in the form of a three-minute speech… which Obama required two teleprompters to deliver.  From the Washington Examiner:

President Obama required two heavy-duty teleprompters on Monday during a three-minute speech in which he nominated Alan Krueger to serve as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers.

“I am very pleased to appoint Alan and I look forward to working with him,” Obama said, staring at the large, flat-screen monitor to his right, then shifting his eyes to the teleprompter on his left. “I have nothing but confidence in Alan as he takes on this important role as one of the leaders of my economic team.”

Also yesterday, Jack Cashill of the American Thinker, who has done extensive research into the provenance of Obama’s “autobiographies,” got his hands on a bona fide example of Obama’s writing during his tenure as president of the Harvard Law Review.  Cashill was not swept away by the elegance of Obama’s collegiate prose:

Obama was prompted to write by an earlier letter from a Mr. Jim Chen that criticized Harvard Law Review’s affirmative action policies.  Specifically, Chen had argued that affirmative action stigmatized its presumed beneficiaries.

The response is classic Obama: patronizing, dishonest, syntactically muddled, and grammatically challenged.  In the very first sentence Obama leads with his signature failing, one on full display in his earlier published work: his inability to make subject and predicate agree.

“Since the merits of the Law Review’s selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues,” wrote Obama, “I’d like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works.”

If Obama were as smart as a fifth-grader, he would know, of course, that “merits … have.”  Were there such a thing as a literary Darwin Award, Obama could have won it on this on one sentence alone.  He had vindicated Chen in his first ten words.

Although the letter is fewer than a thousand words long, Obama repeats the subject-predicate error at least two more times.  In one sentence, he seemingly cannot make up his mind as to which verb option is correct so he tries both: “Approximately half of this first batch is chosen … the other half are selected… “

It’s a messy autopsy, and a bewildered Cashill ends up splattered with steaming chunks of fourth-grade grammar, marveling that the same guy could somehow go on to write “what Time Magazine called ‘the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician’” only a few years later.

Now, one might object that writing skill is not the sole measure of intellect.  The world is filled with articulate dunderheads.  The political world groans beneath an especially heavy population of them.  Conversely, there are brilliant people who have difficulty expressing themselves, either verbally or in writing.

Fair enough… but it’s funny how fast that argument disappears when the individual under discussion is an eminent Republican, whose business acumen, political accomplishments, and complex technical skills are casually swept aside during attacks on his, or her, intelligence.  Likewise, we are surrounded by the failures of a fantastically destructive Administration, which we are constantly assured is filled with geniuses.

It all comes down to a question of arrogance versus humility.  Arrogance is what leads academics with no private-sector experience to conclude their wisdom and judgment far exceed millions of free people, who pursue opportunity using a wide variety of skills.  There are many ways to show intelligence, as well as many ways to make stupid mistakes.  All of them are on display in a vast marketplace that central planners should have the humility to admit they cannot understand.

All of the certified intelligence can be rendered worse than useless by arrogance, just as the most powerful weapons can become deadly liabilities when they are not aimed properly.  Humility is an important characteristic of true leadership, because it’s the searchlight that illuminates the proper limits of command.  The measure of Obama’s incompetence lies not just in what he does badly, but the many things he never should have believed himself capable, or authorized, to do at all.