Are You Experienced?

by A. Jay Adler on September 30, 2009
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“Ah, have you ever been experienced?”

Despite the political space between us, I am a great admirer of Yaacov Lozowick. I link to him with praise and pleasure, and I offered a particular shout out here. He has written kindly of me. But yesterday he erred. He repeated the conservative mini-meme, in a post titled Novice or Underqualified, that President Obama is “in over his head.” There are those on the right who question whether Obama is really all that intelligent.

You could laugh if it didn’t make you want to blow up the box. This is the kind of absurdity, the kind of failure to think outside the narrow bounds of one’s own predisposition, that barack_pinmakes productive political debate so hard and rare. Can one support Obama while acknowledging he can, himself, err? The question and answer really shouldn’t be necessary. Can one perceive him in potential error and not believe him a fool? You’d like to think so, wouldn’t you?

Yaacov is Israeli, and like many – apparently most – Israelis, and other supporters of Israel, including me, he thought from the start that Obama made a significant mistake in the way he framed his original position on a settlement freeze. He didn’t acknowledge well-known verbal agreements between the Bush administration and Israel, and he demanded more, as a starting point, than the Palestinians had themselves been asking. Hope of progress stalled at the start. Combine that with otherwise verbal efforts to project a more balanced, mediating image to the Palestinians, and Israelis, thinking through the prism of their own interests, form a quick, I believe rash, judgment.

About other aspects of Obama’s foreign policy, I wrote a little yesterday, and I will write more next week.

However, to note that among those who wonder about Obama’s experience are those who praised, supported, or even tolerated Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential nominee is to return one to the acid trips of yore. Despite his brief gubernatorial years, George W. Bush was himself a complete novice on the world stage. Let us not forget the names he neither knew nor could pronounce, or that he advocated in debate with Al Gore a less arrogant foreign policy. It is only to describe the facts of known contradiction to say that George W. Bush, prior to taking office, had no coherently developed set of foreign policy convictions – did not know what he believed.

Obama has no greater, no less experience than Bush had. Originally, I reluctantly supported Hilary Clinton for just that reason. But a Clinton will always disappoint (see reluctantly). For me it was the moment when Steve Croft asked Clinton if she knew that Obama isn’t a Muslim and she said, no, he isn’t – and then, her lying eyes shifting in their sockets, added, “Not as far as I know.”

And experience is no guarantee, we should know. The dangers Obama faces are enormous, so it is possible, though not likely that any error he makes will be fraught with the danger of the only important decision the very experienced John McCain made.

Regarding intelligence, one might wish to rest one’s case with two obvious words: Palin and Bush. But that would be facile. (It is fun sometimes.) One can acknowledge the possibility of a person’s being right – making some good policy decisions – and his still not being, intellectually, you know, all that impressive. We know the right believes Bush pursued some good policies. We know that’s the position. Okay. But do we have to pretend he was, like, really, really smart? And Palin, we know she’s sorta the thrilling anti-intellectual-elite anti-matter, but, there, you see, really by definition….

In Obama’s case, well, you know – in contrast to Palin or Bush – normally a person who graduates magna cum laude from Harvard, serves as president of the Harvard Law Review, and teaches law at the University of Chicago Law School gets – normally a person with those creds get his automatic props, you know what I mean? Credit is given for significant credentialed achievement. That’s why we have CVs. I’ll let those who dismiss the CV this time around account for it themselves. But, hey, let’s not be superficial here. We’ve all met boobs with badges. So where the intellectual rubber meets its recognition road is in the encounter – with the mind itself. Smart people recognize other smart people, even people not as smart often recognize a superior mind.

Where I’m standing, I’m lookin’ at pretty smart. If you don’t see it, I …really…don’t … know… what… to …say.

And that’s how the conversation ends. You got different ideas, let’s debate. Let’s argue – in the real sense – and argue and argue and argue. You start talkin’ shit, and then people talk shit back, and then we’re all in a world of shit.




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