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Not even an adequate communicator

Posted by Richard on February 26, 2010

James Taranto's Best of the Web Today offered a brilliant commentary on the President and his performance in the health care debate entitled "The Great Condescender." Taranto quoted the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, who defended Obama against the charge of being condescending thusly: 

Podhoretz calls Obama "startlingly condescending at moments." How can that be avoided when you're trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?

Hmm. The brilliant Mr. Chait needs an editor/proofreader as badly as I do after a couple of adult beverages: "reply … on"? "either … and"?

Taranto responded: 

Actually, describing that as a defense of condescension is too charitable, isn't it? It's an example of condescension. If we didn't know better we'd think Chait was exaggerating in order to illustrate Podhoretz's point.  …

Chait actually makes two distinct claims about Obama: that he has a superior intellect and that he is a superior "communicator." The first claim could be true, although it is far from indisputable. But the second claim is so absurd as to be delusional.

Obama has spent the past year trying to sell Americans on ObamaCare. He has failed utterly, as Podhoretz notes. Now, maybe Chait is right that opposition to ObamaCare is a product of stupidity. Maybe ObamaCare would be popular if a majority of Americans were as brilliant as Jonathan Chait. But in a democratic republic, elections are not limited to the elect. Shockingly, half of all Americans have below-average IQs. They vote too.

By no imaginable standard can a politician be considered a great "communicator," or even an adequate one, if he is unable to persuade voters of average-or-below intelligence to back his policies.

Further, is there any evidence that Obama is especially good at communicating with those on the far right of the bell curve? Chait is persuaded, and we're willing to stipulate that Chait is brilliant. But Chait was persuaded before, and we know lots of brilliant people who oppose ObamaCare.

Obama is very good at making smart liberals feel superior. That is a communication ability, but not a terribly useful one for a politician in a democratic country.

Game, set, match.

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