Wisdom can be, but surely is not confined to, or even assured by, degree certification, rhetorical brilliance, or the ability to talk off the cuff about Niehbuhr — or the wit to write Brooks and advise him about his own ethical conduct, which Obama did and which now impresses Brooks:
“For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.”
This is sad — since everything from the faux-seal with its vero possumus pretensions, the Greek temple backdrops, the efforts to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, the mantra “we are the change we’ve been waiting for,” the messianic idea that the seas and planet will likewise heel to His wisdom, and the inane ‘hope and change’ banalities do not suggest real wisdom at all, but a dazzling veneer that overlays a great deal of megalomania.
Never mind the fact that by any reasonable standard, Obama has run a more substantive campaign than his opponent – Hanson is convinced (based on a faux-presidential seal and corny speaking podium) that he remains an empty suit. Here’s Hanson’s assessment of Palin’s debate performance:
In contrast, Palin was direct and perhaps repetitive in her focus on lower taxes, less government, and individual responsibility (especially for personal debt) — and I suppose what Brooks would call populist in her vocabulary, tone, and Fargo-mode of expression. But when they were through, Palin proved the more truthful and pragmatic, inasmuch as the glib Biden turned out to have misled in almost everything he professed, from our own Constitution to Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon.
He goes on to defend Bush’s “anti-intellectual” tendencies:
In the present financial meltdown, mostly caused by some of the brightest and most educated of our own on Wall Street and DC, it is not anti-intellectualism to wonder what the Harvard Law School educated Barney Frank was doing, when, as a key overseer of Fannie Mae in a now much viewed House Banking Committee session, he pompously waved off his moral responsibilities and gave the disingenuous Harvard Law School educated Franklin Raines a pass to continue to milk the venerable institution on its road to perdition.
In regards to Bush, it is now the standard fare of the times to offer the appropriate put-down, and Brooks paints him with the usual yokel, anti-intellectualism brush. Yet those who once supported the decision to go to Iraq (many like Biden or Fukuyama dating back to the Clinton days), were among our most educated and brightest. But like a chorus of a Greek tragedy, almost all of them not merely abandoned their once zealous support, but (again, like Biden) at periodic intervals prepped their ongoing commentary on (always changing) perceptions about pulse of the battlefield. Bush, to his credit, went with Petraeus and thus Iraq was stabilized — but not by a President’s seeking out the convenient position of the hour, but by supporting the surge and its ancilliary tactics when few others in the Bush coterie did.
Of course, Hanson isn’t against all intellectuals. He references Euripides, has written a (good) book on the Peloponnesian War, and collects his paycheck from a prestigious think tank. He also enjoys caricaturing his political adversaries as “out of touch,” “indecisive,” “too thoughtful” for the presidency, so “intellectual” becomes convenient shorthand for liberal defeatists who don’t understand what’s at stake. And because Bush and Palin happen to agree with Hanson’s politics, they’re automatically imbued with qualities like “truthfulness,” “pragmatism,” and “leadership,” and their very mis-steps are celebrated as profound indications of character.
Which is weird, because the surge – the Administration’s one unambiguous success of the past four years – was undertaken when Bush (belatedly) responded to outside criticism and fundamentally reoriented his approach to Iraq. Barney Frank and Barack Obama may have gone to Harvard Law School, but General Petraeus is lauded as an intellectual warrior by the exact same people who criticize Obama’s elitist tendencies.
Mindless credentialism isn’t the central objection to politicians like Palin or Bush. Plenty of formidable intellects have suffered from their same failings. Palin’s political tendencies, like Bush’s before her, suggest a startling lack of introspection, an imperviousness to outside criticism, and a general unwillingness to look down before leaping. In contrast, Obama’s cerebral approach is positively reassuring.
Hanson says Palin’s talking points are “repetitive.” Several less charitable adjectives come to mind. Take her answer to the global warming question. If global warming is caused (as Palin suggests it is) by “natural climate cycles,” then why in God’s name would we want to regulate human CO2 emissions? The entire premise of reducing carbon output is that global warming is man-made.
This scratches the surface of her many public inanities. The problem with Palin (and Bush) is that when they spout such obviously nonsensical talking points, I don’t see the wheels turning inside their heads. I see two gifted speakers more concerned with political expediency than empirical truth. I see politicians who are utterly impervious to self-criticism, introspection, and constructive dialog. Incidentally, I’d guess the Wall Street groupthink Hanson spends so much time decrying exhibited many of the same characteristics.
The problem is not that Bush and Palin are “anti-intellectual.” Populism, common sense and all that jazz sometimes function as a necessary corrective to rule by experts. The problem is that they’re unable to synthesize and incorporate other perspectives, reconsider deeply-held convictions when faced with contradictory evidence, or modify their own approach when it’s obvious it just isn’t working. Leadership is more than acting decisively, but Bush, Palin and the Victor Davis Hansons of the world have yet to figure this out.