Is Obama ‘Intellectually Incurious’?

We’ve reached the stage in Obama’s presidency when he can’t seem to do anything right. Even his summer house is on fire.  At a similar point in Jimmy Carter’s presidency Carter collapsed in a road race.  (I urge Obama to refrain from strenuous athletics until his approval rating gets back above 44%.) Everyone’s piling on–from the left as well as the right and the center. It’s almost enough to make my inner contrarian demand that I defend the guy. Almost, but not quite.

Here’s the thing: When other presidents have reached this point–at least other Democratic presidents, Carter and  Bill Clinton–they have recognized the problem and tried to get fresh advice. Carter had a series of excessively well-publicized meetings with critics. Clinton met secretly and more effectively with non-liberal strategist Dick Morris. And Obama?

The president is in a situation in which virtually none of his considered beliefs–in Keynesian economics, in the power of redistributive populism, in coalition politics, in  his own oratorical skill–is being affirmed by the real world. It’s like the period Thomas Kuhn talks about in his famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions, when scientists are working along within the old “paradigm” but the data start coming back funny. Most scientists just ignore the discordant data and keep plodding along. A few start to question the “paradigm.” You’d want a President in tough times to be one of the latter, no? You’d expect someone like Obama to undertake some reevaluation.  As Bret Stephens noted recently, genuinely smart people know what they don’t know–or in this case they know what they used to know but now aren’t so sure about anymore.

Take Keynesianism. I’ve always assumed that Keynesian remedies–e.g. government deficit spending–worked. Certainly deficit spending seemed to work for Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. And Paul Krugman may well be right that the only problem with Obama’s stimulus is that it wasn’t big enough. But you can’t say that anymore with certainty, can you? The data–big stimulus,weak recovery–hardly reinforce the paradigm with anything like inarguable clarity. And there are some respected economists–Kenneth Rogoff, and Greg Mankiw, to name two–who question whether the classic Keynesian paradigm still holds in the current slump. Has Obama read them? Consulted them? No need to make a show of it like Carter. He can do it quietly. But has he?

Or is it possible that Obama is … what did they call his predecessor … intellectually incurious?

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  • loudog

    “The data–big stimulus,weak recovery–hardly reinforce the paradigm with anything like inarguable clarity.” 

    When’s the last time we had a housing depression take us into a recession? When’s the last time our manufacturing base was shipped to the third world during a recession? The only thing that prevented a depression and global economic meltdown was keynesianism. Just ask Paulson and Goldman Sachs.

  • Theogaster

    I was heartened to read S-man’s comment.
    I liked Obama a lot when he was running for office. I thought he was street smart, educated, and adaptable  Apparently I was hosed. (Fortunately I did not vote for him.)
    But I don’t worry about him anymore. What concerns me is the deep divide in our citizenry. The frictions are even greater now than in the 1960’s.
    When I think about the days when the left hated Nixon with a passion – and Nixon was the biggest socialist president since Roosevelt and Johnson – and I watch the left now, I think that HATE is the operative emotion for the left.
    Hate seems reserved for control issues where we want to be in control:’I hate you’ usually arises from power relationships of failed control. (The Left.)
    Anger seems reserved for control issues where we do not like to be controlled: “If that guy pushes me again ….” (The Right.)
    Maybe the divide in this country is as simple as “I hate you because you will not do what I want you to do.” Response, in anger: “Fuck you.”
    And the beauty of capitalism/markets: I can buy it or not, search for a better price. I have some bargaining power – direct and simple.

  • EnoughBS

    How can you consider this (W1ll1ars posting) drivel over anyone’s head?

  • Silence Nogood

    Assumed Keynesian economics worked? Why would you make this assumption? Why ASSUME it was deficit spending and not the lowering of tax rates that fueled the Reagan economic boom?

    And that’s why liberals aren’t smart no matter what they think of themselves. Liberals will never pop the bubble of their inflated self image to realize that they know nothing.

  • Anonymous

    I like your opinion Kaus, but I disagree that there has ever been any evidence of Keynesian remedies working.  It has never worked, anywhere.

  • Anonymous

    Gee, what if there’s no such thing as phlogiston? What if the continents really do skid around on the earth’s surface like curling stones? What if fat doesn’t make you fat, and we should all be worried about carbohydrates? What if climate change is mostly caused by cosmic rays and not by Lincoln Navigators? What if we should be reading Hayek and not Keynes?

    Nah, the experts all know better.

  • Rjschneider1967

    LMFAO!!!  “GREG MANKIW = RESPECTED ECONOMIST???”  You mean the IDIOT who was drummed-out of the GEORGE W. BUSH Administration for loudly defending outsourcing???  Mickey Klaus – please.  Just stop.  Just.  Stop.  You know NOTHING about Economics, and apparently your brain is just a wee-bit too small to discuss Big Boy issues such as this. 

    Look, the fact is that Keynesian Economics WORKS.  Worked quite well for the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. from 1932-1980, when we built-up the biggest, strongest, most fearsome Middle Class this world had ever seen; that is, before Ronald Reagan and his band of Ayn Rand-toting cronies systematically destroyed it.  Before Reagan successfully duped the American public in 1980, the United States had a National Debt of $900 billion.  By the time he left office in 1988, it was $3.6 trillion.  Before Reagan, we were the world’s largest creditor nation.  In just 8 years, we became the world’s largest debtor nation.  The FDIC nearly became banrupt.  The S&L scandal starring his close buddy, and subsequently convicted criminal, Charles Keating bankrupted the FSLIC, resulting in the most bank failures in 50 years. 

    In general, the past 30 years of Voodoo Reaganomics have left this once-great nation bankrupt, lack of regulation has made us FAR more susceptible to market booms/busts, our complete lack of manufacturing has turned us completely into a Parking-Lot Economy that imports approximately 20 times more than we export, and we now have the greatest disparity of wealth we have had since 1995.  The fact is: This once-great nation is now hurting, and it has been the Republican laissez-faire policies that have deregulated too much of our economy and directly benefitted the super-wealthy that made this happen.  Enough is enough.

    • Anonymous

      Keynesianism has become an ideology that would be unrecognizable to its namesake. It’s almost a religious faith, based on hopes and dreams and not reality. The high priests should do it all, tell us all what to do and how and then everything will be fine. Market cycles will disappear and poop won’t smell.

  • Anonymous

    OMG. New study says: “Narcissists rise to the top because people mistake their confidence and
    authority for leadership qualities”Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2024577/Narcissists-rise-people-mistake-confidence-authority-leadership-qualities.html#ixzz1UpE7BgWd

    “They may be charming, confident and climb the
    job ladder with ease, but when they reach the top, narcissists are actually not
    very good at their roles.

    Such people are often too self-obsessed to do
    their jobs properly, according to a study.

    Those who love themselves and have vast
    self-confidence often impress others with their self-belief, dominance and
    authority, leading them to climb the career ladder

    ‘In fact, the groups led by the greatest
    egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. The narcissistic leaders had a
    very negative effect on their performance.

    ‘They inhibited the communication because of
    self-centeredness and authoritarianism.'”That’s science folks! We know how you Libs love science. ROTFL.

  • Gerry

    Obamacare was his first major failure.  He ignored what most American wanted to win one for his Progressive base.  It’s been fail-fail-fail, politically, ever since.  The reason is that he is so postmodern that he lacks commitment to anything that really works, and has so far failed to realize that reality is really much more than what you define it to be.

    • Anonymous

      “failed to realize that reality is really much more than what you define it to be.”

      Exactly. There’s a growing realization that these Obama people are dealing in a fantasy world where to them, they just believe it or say it and it’s real. In their minds, they haven’t convinced all of us reality dwellers not because it not real, but because they haven’t been persuasive enough. You hear them talk about the need to communicate better all the time, as if talking convincingly actually changes things or, even more likely, that we’re the crazy ones because we don’t see the unicorns up on the hill. To them, it’s all lions behind the wardrobe and games of quidditch and magical rings, and it’s frustrating because they can’t convince so many people of that fact. Many children have a similar manner of thinking at times, but its okay because they don’t have any power, they don’t have any experience yet to know otherwise and they will eventually get over that phase before they do ever have any power or have to take on responsibilities (if they’re not mentally ill, of course….)

      Reality is not just a concept.