At the beginning of the month, Michael Ledeen crafted a pitch-perfect description of President Obama as “the stereotypical American undergrad at a stereotypical Ivy League college in the age of political correctness:”
He doesn’t much like America or Americans, or the “former colonial powers” like Britain. Like so many would-be intellectuals, he admires lefty writers and screenwriters and actors and actresses. He likes the downtrodden, like the Palestinians, but he’s overcome with awe for the occasional cool (non-Western) monarch or emperor (whether Arab or Chinese). He probably has a Che tee shirt tucked away in a drawer, don’t you think?
He doesn’t know much history (he thinks Muslims invented printing), geography (his America has 57 states), or economics (he believes you can reduce health care costs by adding millions to the public rolls).
The most important thing to this president is how you feel and what you say, not all those annoying facts (50 states, the Chinese invented printing, and you increase deficits when you spend more). And, like most students, when the debate goes badly for him, the president makes fun of his critics–when he actually lets them talk a little bit. Remember when he hosted a few Republicans in the White House so he could listen to what they might say about health care…and then talked twice as much as they did?
As a typical undergrad, Obama loves to talk, and loves to talk about peace and justice. You know, the really important things. His new nuclear policy is right out of a college bull session: “Why don’t we just promise not to use them?” Nukes are bad, ugly things. Doesn’t everyone agree that the world would be better off without them?
Well, grownups don’t necessarily agree. It all depends how you get there, and what the others do along the way. We do have real enemies, but our undergrad-president understands their ire and shares their pain. It’s up to us to make things right. And so he apologizes, worrying more about our nukes (about which he has done something) than Iran’s (we haven’t done a thing).
Finally, he doesn’t seem to realize what a mess he’s making. And when he gets his grades, he blames the professors (we the people, in this case) for being unfair.
That’s the sort we’ve been graduating for a generation or more, isn’t it? Did you really think we’d never get one as president?
There’s more than a little controversy over Obama’s grades, since, unlike the transparency of our previous chief executive, he’s never released them. But as, P.J. O’Rourke writes (and definitely RTWT; it’s a hoot), there’s no doubt that the guy screams teacher’s pet:
The secret to the Obama annoyance is snotty lecturing. His tone of voice sends us back to the worst place in college. We sit once more packed into the vast, dreary confines of a freshman survey course—“Rocks for Jocks,” “Nuts and Sluts,” “Darkness at Noon.” At the lectern is a twerp of a grad student—the prototypical A student—insecure, overbearing, full of himself and contempt for his students. All we want is an easy three credits to fulfill a curriculum requirement in science, social science, or fine arts. We’ve got a mimeographed copy of last year’s final with multiple choice answers already written on our wrists. The grad student could skip his classes, the way we intend to, but there the s.o.b. is, taking attendance. (How else to explain this year’s census?)
America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We’re still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: “A students work for B students.” Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, “B students work for C students—A students teach.”
It was a bunch of A students at the Defense Department who planned the syllabus for the Iraq war, and to hell with what happened to the Iraqi Class of ’03 after they’d graduated from Shock and Awe.
The U.S. tax code was written by A students. Every April 15 we have to pay somebody who got an A in accounting to keep ourselves from being sent to jail.
Now there’s health care reform—just the kind of thing that would earn an A on a term paper from that twerp of a grad student who teaches Econ 101.
Why are A students so hateful? I’m sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they’re smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? They are. You can look it up (if you have a fancy education the way our betters do and know what the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is). “Smart” has its root in the Old English word for being a pain. The adjective has eight other principal definitions ranging from “brisk” to “fashionable” to “neat.” Only two definitions indicate cleverness—smart as in “clever in talk” and smart as in “clever in looking after one’s own interests.” Don’t get smart with me.
The other objection to A students is what it takes to become one—toad-eating. A students must do what teachers and textbooks want and do it the way teachers and texts want it done. Neatness counts! A students are very busy.
Such brisk apple-polishing happens to be an all-too-good preparation for politics. This is because a student’s success at education and a politician’s success at politics are measured mostly by input rather than outcome. Yes, one got elected. Yes, the other became class valedictorian. But to what end? It can take decades to measure the outcome of an education. Did the A student at architecture school become a respected partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, or did he become Albert Speer? Likewise with politics. Did Woodrow Wilson’s meddling in Europe wreak havoc upon the globe? We wouldn’t know for 20 years. Did Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal totally destroy the fabric of American society? We’re not absolutely certain even now. Meanwhile Woodrow Wilson, FDR, the class valedictorian, and Albert Speer were inputting like crazy.
The C student starts a restaurant. The A student writes restaurant reviews. The input-worshipping universe of the New York Times is like New York itself—thousands of restaurant reviews and no place we can afford to eat.
As Orrin Judd notes in his headline, and O’Rourke hints above, America’s worst presidents of the last 100 years have always thought they just had to be the smartest guys in the room: Wilson, Hoover, Nixon, Carter, Clinton and Obama. Whereas the men who could check their egos at the door (Silent Cal, Ike, The Gipper and Bush #43) fared much better.