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Burt Prelutsky / Mar. 27, 2010

The Great Obama Debate: Part I

I know someone who hosts a very popular radio talk show. Even though we’re friends and political allies, it’s been a very long time since he’s invited me on as a guest. That wouldn’t be so bad, but when you realize that nobody at Fox, where I have no friends, has ever invited me on, you might better understand why my wonderful books don’t tend to wind up on best seller lists.

I know someone who hosts a very popular radio talk show. Even though we’re friends and political allies, it’s been a very long time since he’s invited me on as a guest. That wouldn’t be so bad, but when you realize that nobody at Fox, where I have no friends, has ever invited me on, you might better understand why my wonderful books don’t tend to wind up on best seller lists.

But let us get back to Homer, an alias I’m saddling him with because he asked that I not use his real name. It all began a week ago when I was driving on the freeway and, for what seemed like the millionth time, I heard Homer refer to Barack Obama’s brilliance. In the past, I have taken Bill O'Reilly to task for this very same offense, but I don’t know Mr. O'Reilly and if I wrote to him for any reason other than to rave about “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” or to buy some of his paraphernalia, he would ignore me. But because I’ve known Homer for several years, I decided to send him an email. He replied. Then I replied to his reply and he replied to mine. Because he’s a good guy, he agreed to let me devote an article to our exchanges.

He only asked that I change his name. The way he put it was that “It’s better to keep it anonymous because otherwise it’s another pointless feud between prominent people who agree on everything important.” I would only disagree about our both being prominent people. Honesty, not modesty, compels me to say that while Homer is prominent, I am not. I should be. I should also be rich and handsome, but you play the hand you’re dealt.

It all began with my writing “Although I generally agree with you, I found myself agreeing with the caller who took you to task for constantly referring to Obama as brilliant. I understand that you don’t wish to be seen as an Obama-basher and that you simply wish to give him credit whenever the rare opportunity offers itself.

"I do agree with you about brilliance not necessarily being a prerequisite to winning elections or being president. I also agree with you that Eisenhower was smarter than Adlai Stevenson, a man I always felt was born to play Hamlet in real life.

"Still, I don’t think you need to keep calling Obama brilliant in order to prove that you’re not overly partisan. Okay, he graduated from Harvard. But if attending an Ivy League school is proof of brilliance, then, as Mandy Patinkin’s Montoya said to Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini in The Princess Bride, I don’t think the word means what you think it means.”

By the next day, I hadn’t heard back from Homer, but on his radio show, I heard him lash out at a caller who dared call Obama’s brilliance into question. That led me to send along the following email: “Perhaps my earlier message set you off because you sounded angrier than I had ever heard you when you took on the caller who disagreed with you.

"But for the record, I have never heard any conservative claim that Obama is stupid. That isn’t the basis for their reasonable objections to him and his administration, so when you and Bill O'Reilly keep insisting that Obama is off the charts when it comes to brains, it has an air of condescension. It’s similar to Joe Biden’s assuring the world that Obama is clean and Harry Reid’s announcing that Obama doesn’t sound like a Negro.

"However, if your defense of his brilliance is based, as you indicated on today’s show, on Obama’s having been a professor, I think you’re wandering off on a very slippery slope. Bill Ayers, after all, is a professor; Ward Churchill, the faux Indian, is or at least was a professor; Angela Davis is a professor. If these folks are your idea of brilliant people, I would have to assume that you and I speak different languages and that in your native tongue "brilliant” is a synonym for asinine.“

In the following, I have combined Homer’s comments along with my rebuttals.

"No,” Homer began, “your email didn’t set me off.” (I’m glad.)

“What sets me off is the utter inability of some conservatives to understand how foolish they look, and how foolish they make us all look, when they take truly absurd public positions suggesting that A) Obama is less intelligent than he is or B) Obama wants the economy to tank and thereby destroy the country.” (A: I haven’t heard conservatives say that Obama is stupid; and B) Perhaps he doesn’t want to destroy the economy, but if that’s the case, one has to wonder why he is pursuing a course that seems to have no other possible result. To be fair, he has never announced that his goal is to destroy America’s economic system, but he has often declared that it’s his intention to radically transform it. In the case of Obama, it’s always prudent to judge him by his actions, and not merely by the words he reads off the omnipresent teleprompter.)

“Concerning all the people you mentioned – Ayers, Churchill, Angela Davis – all are clearly bright, if not brilliant.” (I’m really at a loss, Homer, when you say these people are bright. What is your basis for believing that? If it’s simply that they were hired by numbskulls to teach, I can’t argue with you; they were definitely hired. But I find it hard to believe that you regard that as proof of their extraordinary intelligence. It’s reminiscent of Hollywood, where any schnook who is hired to direct a movie is automatically granted genius status.)

“As Jimmy Carter memorably proved – and as I’ve said repeatedly on the air – there is a world of difference between intelligence and smarts.” (I’ve heard you say it and I agree completely.)

“The difference in the academic record with Obama (and Ayers or Davis or Churchill) was that he taught Constitutional Law (not "Ethnic Studies” or Marxist Philosophy" or “Educational Policy”) at a top five law school and even his conservative colleagues thought he was good.“ (What conservative colleagues did he have at the University of Chicago? And when Obama says that the problem with the Constitution is that it didn’t deal with the redistribution of wealth and when, in nominating Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, he said that a justice should be, first and foremost, compassionate, I have to wonder if you really believe that indoctrinating youngsters with left-wing propaganda is the appropriate role of a constitutional law lecturer. He wasn’t actually a professor.)

"More to the point, his first book (not so much the second one) is beautifully written, which means the only way to go on denying the guy has a first class mind is to claim he didn’t write it – an absurd proposition given that he got his contract before he even graduated from law school, before he achieved any celebrity status, and in a situation where a ‘ghost writer’ would be very weird, if not unthinkable.” (For openers, he got the book deal in 1989 when he received national media attention as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. The book was supposed to be about race relations in America. Somehow it morphed into a personal memoir, but wasn’t published until 1995. I don’t know if he wrote it or not. Heck, John Kennedy even won a Pulitzer Prize for a book he didn’t write and may never even have bothered reading. But the main reason that people are aware of Obama and his beliefs is because of his life in politics, not because of his non-fiction. So far as I can tell, his belief system hasn’t changed at all since he was a pot-smoking nitwit, seeking friends and mentors among revolutionaries and communists, as he wrote in that book you so admire.)

“The deeper point here is that those who cry racism on this issue actually have a point. Imagine if the president were named Baruch Schwartz, and he had the same credentials – Columbia, Harvard, acclaimed books, twelve years as lecturer in Con Law at the University of Chicago. If someone called President Schwartz a dummy, it would be laughable. But because Obama is black, people can claim that he’s merely the beneficiary of affirmative action, etc. In other words, they are responding to him differently, more negatively, because he is black. And what do we call that?” (Again, I have to repeat that I don’t know anyone who has taken him to task over his intelligence or lack thereof. I hear from a great many conservative readers and in the past two years, I have not had a single one of them question his intelligence in the way you mean. I don’t know where you are running into all these people who give a damn about Obama’s brain power, although I personally find it difficult to regard anyone who parrots left-wing claptrap and pursues a leftist agenda as being truly intelligent. It certainly indicates that he lacks wisdom, horse sense and the ability to recognize that the policies he’s pushing have failed everywhere they’ve been tried. Far from proving he’s intelligent, that sort of behavior suggests he’s insane.)

“The main question here is, what’s the point? Arguing over Obama’s intellect doesn’t make him look bad, it makes us look bad. Could any sane observer doubt that the President has at least 25 IQ points over Goveror Palin? That doesn’t make her a bad politician and him a great one, but it does suggest how pointless and pathetic it is to even raise the issue.” (I don’t pretend to know what either of their IQs happens to be. Moreover, I don’t care. It was annoying enough when because of my own lofty IQ, high school teachers and counselors made my life hellish, constantly nagging me, insisting that I should apply myself more strenuously in classes that bored me to tears. God, how I came to hate the importance they attributed to that number! However, I happen to agree with you about raising the issue of Obama’s intelligence, which is why I wonder why you keep raising it. Frankly, I don’t know if Obama is brighter than a 40-watt bulb, but what difference does it make? The bottom line is that he’s a disaster in the Oval Office, and a menace to America.)

“Well, conservatives do raise the issue, and they harp on it. You should see my mail.” (Obviously, it is much different from my mail. But perhaps that is simply because you keep bringing up his alleged brilliance. I never do and, so, I never get that kind of feedback. I am willing to wager that if you ever go an entire week without saying “Obama” and “brilliant” in the same sentence, your mail will soon begin mirroring my own.)

To be continued.

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