The PJ Tatler

Dana Milbank: You know, maybe Obama's just too darn smart to be a good president

Because, if you take Milbank’s idea to its logical conclusion, effective leadership springs from muddled stupidity?

Seeking a template to understand the enigmatic president, I consulted three leading academics in the fields of psychology and behavior. With their help, I put Obama on the couch and came away with a reasonably coherent diagnosis: There’s too much going on in the poor guy’s head.

“What distinguishes Obama particularly is the depth and carefulness of his thinking, which renders him somewhat unfit for politics,” said Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia. “He is a brilliant social and political analyst, which makes it harder for him to play hardball or to bluff.”

Obama’s strengths and weaknesses come from his high degree of “integrative complexity” — his ability to keep multiple variables and trade-offs in mind simultaneously. The integratively simple thinker — say, George W. Bush — has one universal organizing principle that dominates all others, while the integratively complex thinker — Obama — balances many competing goals.

Or, and I’m just spitballlin’ here, perhaps Barack Obama is a lousy president because he’s a pointy-headed academic with no real world experience in leading or managing anything of any significance. You can make all the excuses for Obama’s awful record that you want, but, and again I’m just spitballin’ here, when the president knows his policies will make energy prices skyrocket, and he relentlessly pursues those policies, and energy prices skyrocket, you can’t say that he’s too complex or intelligent for the job. You can say he brought lousy policies to the job, those policies are hurting the country, and you’d be right. But you can’t say he’s too smart for the job.

You can also say he has been a failure at fulfilling many of his promises, among them the pledge to work with both sides, the pledge to be post-racial, and so forth. He broke those promises. It’s fair to point that out. It’s not fair, though, to just make excuses for him.

But this is what the press often does when a liberal fails: They make excuses, say he’s too brilliant for the job, find a way to blame Republicans, play the race card, whatever gets them through the night.