“You’re stupid,” is not something even his most severe critics usually say to President Barack Obama. But on Friday morning I picked up the Wall Street Journal and learned that the president had given a speech about the war on terror saying, “This war, like all wars, must end.”
That story was at the top of the front page. Immediately below was a photograph of flowers being laid at a makeshift memorial near the Woolwich Royal Arsenal where machine gunner Lee Rigby was hacked to death by terrorists.
This war, like all wars, must end when someone wins it. The president—speaking at the National Defense University, of all places—said, “the core of al Qaeda . . . is on the path to defeat.” And so it may be. But meanwhile, the core of al Qaeda, its aims and its beliefs, is also on the path to Boston and London and any number of other places.
On page 7 of Friday’s Journal was the headline, “Suicide Bombings in Niger Linked to Mali Islamist Group.” On page 9 was a report of terrorist Hezbollah militias aiding the terrorist Assad regime in attacking the rebel-held Syrian city of Qusayr where the rebels themselves are allied with yet more Islamic terrorists. And on pages 4 and 8 were more bad tidings from that perpetrator, abettor, and friend of terrorism, Iran. Iranian fundamentalists, in the chokehold they have on the country’s political system, are improving their grip. And, “according to current and former U.S. officials,” Iran has “escalated a campaign of cyberassaults against U.S. corporations. . . . The hackers were able to gain access to control-system software that could allow them to manipulate oil or gas pipelines.”
All that on a slow news day.
In 2001 Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a declaration of war on terrorists and nations that harbor them. In his speech the president said, “I look forward to engaging . . . in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate.”
I like the president’s use of the word “efforts” here, as though he’s merely trying to be stupid. He doesn’t need to try. Earlier in the week he signed new policy guidance for drone strikes. In the future we will use lethal drones only on terrorists who are a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people” and not on terrorists who are a “significant threat to U.S. interests.” Although, assuming tremendously stupid efforts will be made to tell the two kinds of terrorists apart, maybe I’m wrong about the president not needing to try. The policy guidance also stipulates that there “must be a near certainty” that civilians won’t be killed or injured in a drone strike. Imagine how stupid a WWII Army Air Corps briefing officer would have had to be to say that to his B-17 pilots.
Maybe we pundits don’t tell President Obama, “You’re stupid,” because we are proudly showing off our sensitivity to the negative stereotypes that hurtful language engenders in a way that we didn’t feel was necessary when we were telling Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush, “You’re stupid,” even though actors, WASPs, and Texans are burdened with their fair share of negative lamebrain stereotypes.
More likely it’s because we pundits prize signs of intelligence. We take every opportunity to display our own signs, and President Obama exhibits the same wordy, wonky, academic intelligence indicators that we do, so we don’t call him stupid.
As if the two things were mutually exclusive. I know quite a few fellow members of the news analysis and commentary business, and I have it from the highest-placed sources, on the record, that each and every one of our children is a genius. And yet, if we pundits were to gather together our sons and daughters, during their teenage years, and close them for a night in a dimly lit room full of beer and drugs and comfy futons, I can assure you that evidence of stupidity would be found the next morning.
But the most likely reason that we don’t call President Obama stupid is that it’s such a cul-de-sac of a word. Stupid gives the pundit nothing to perform punditry upon. Call a man ignorant and you have license to show the world your vast fund of knowledge and wise him up. Call a man misguided and you transform your column or blog post or TV appearance into a valuable and beneficent German shepherd with a handle on its back and you lead the poor soul in his blindness. Call a man, best of all, wicked and you get to don the sacramental vestments, climb into the pulpit and thunder forth with such a sermon as to bring him weeping to the font of righteousness or cause the Lord God Almighty to strike him with a thunderbolt in his pew or something fun like that. But call a man stupid and . . . there it is.
And there it is: Dopey stimulus, obtuse bailout, noodle-headed Obamacare, half-wit Dodd-Frank, damfool IRS Tea Party crashers, AP and Fox News beset by oafish peeping Toms and the Benghazi tale told by an idiot. One could go on. Stupid is a great force in human affairs. And the great force has a commander in chief.
P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.