Paging Arthur Schlesinger
Eggheads who embrace Obama should be wary of the dangers of hero-worship.


Intellectuals on the Right are routinely accused of selling their souls to the devil and sacrificing their independent judgment in order to give conservative leaders cover. But which province of egghead-land is suspending disbelief now in order to indulge a high-brow hysteria not seen since Harvard decamped to the Potomac under Good King Jack?

Camelot-fever is raging out of control among the high-minded dilettantes of the Republic.

“Barack Obama is not the Messiah,” concedes Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, “and Biden is no Simon Peter, but it stretches credulity to say that Obama is no more qualified to be president than Palin is.”

Why is that, Jon?

Meacham puts weight on the Katie Couric interview in which Palin flubbed the question about Supreme Court cases. But Biden thinks F.D.R. went on TV to rally Americans after the crash of ’29. If such gaffes are disqualifying, then Obama’s own qualifications are in doubt. Bloggers have pointed to his interview with Tim Russert two years ago:

MR. RUSSERT: You write in your book this: “I also think my party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times. I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised.” Which programs?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that if you look at how our health care system is structured right now — I’m, I’m a big supporter of Medicaid and Medicare, but I think that there’s no doubt that we could squeeze more efficiencies out of those, those systems there. Simple example, we don’t, we don’t use electronic billing for Medicare and Medicaid providers. Now, the—there’s no other business on earth that still has people filling out paper forms to get reimbursed, especially for a system that large. We could drastically reduce the costs of those systems.

Well, you know, I think that if you look at the answer, you will find that boilerplate about computerizing records evades the question. Though he thinks that the billing systems of Medicaid and Medicare can be improved, he clearly believes that the programs work, and is unable to name any that don’t.

What drives the intelligentsia’s hero worship of the junior senator from Illinois?

Could it be his experience of high office, that intimidating 23-month advantage he enjoys over Palin? The independent spirit and good judgment that led him to acquiesce for years in the iron rule of the Daley Machine and in the fashionable America-hating mores of radically chic Chicago?

Of course Obama, unlike Palin, has a graduate degree. (I always forget where Reagan and Truman got theirs.) He was president of the Harvard Law Review. Question: Have you ever read (all the way through to the end, no skipping) a leading article in the Harvard Law Review?

When Franklin Roosevelt returned to Groton in 1934 as president, one of his classmates, pondering the rise of the hero, said that he never could understand “this thing about Frank.” Like many conservatives, I continue to be puzzled by the mandarin classes’ “thing about Barack.”

True, he can give a good speech. So can Sarah Palin. He was a community organizer and a state legislator. She was a mayor and has experience in business. He inspires his base. She inspires hers. Why do so many intellectuals pronounce him supremely qualified, her not at all?

It must come down to the books. She hasn’t written any. He has written two. And intellectuals, who are all too easily seduced by certain kinds of poetry, reflexively adore literary style.

One of the books can be dismissed. The Audacity of Hope recites, in a manner calculated to give as little offense as possible to the tender-minded, a history of the policy debates of recent years. A lot of people bought the book, but how many read it cover to cover, no skipping? What is interesting in it is lost in deserts of tedious prose; you sense that a bunch of research memos prepared by the staff were reworked by the author into a book. As a specimen of assisted authorship (take a look at the acknowledgements page) it falls considerably short of the pièce de résistance of the genre, Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.