Milbank: Obama just too smart to be a popular leader, or something

posted at 12:55 pm on April 27, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Worth noting mainly for its unintentionally comedic spin, Dana Milbank’s column extolling the unappreciated subtle genius of Barack Obama is also entertaining for its pop-psychology once removed.  After noting that one social-psychology professor thinks Obama’s brilliant and another thinks center-left politicians are naturally more complex thinkers than conservatives, Milbank then marries the two without any supporting factual data at all, emphases mine:

Seeking a template to understand the enigmatic president, I consulted three leading academics in the fields of psychology and behavior. With their help, I put Obama on the couch and came away with a reasonably coherent diagnosis: There’s too much going on in the poor guy’s head.

“What distinguishes Obama particularly is the depth and carefulness of his thinking, which renders him somewhat unfit for politics,” said Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia. “He is a brilliant social and political analyst, which makes it harder for him to play hardball or to bluff.”

Obama’s strengths and weaknesses come from his high degree of “integrative complexity” — his ability to keep multiple variables and trade-offs in mind simultaneously. The integratively simple thinker — say, George W. Bush — has one universal organizing principle that dominates all others, while the integratively complex thinker — Obama — balances many competing goals.

Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, found that politicians on the center-left (where Obama dwells) tend to have the highest degree of integrative complexity, followed by politicians on the center-right. Politicians on the far left and far right are the most simple.

Though Tetlock hasn’t applied his methodology to Obama, the 44th president would seem to be the very model of the complex thinker. Among the complex thinker’s advantages, says Tetlock, is the ability to see quickly the trade-offs among policy options, to update his beliefs after finding evidence that disproves his preconceptions, and to predict probable outcomes with accuracy. Among the disadvantages: The complex thinker can suffer from “analysis paralysis” and confusion; he can be perceived as unprincipled or disloyal to the values that elevated him to power; and he can be seen as too willing to make trade-offs.

Yes, even though Tetlock hasn’t bothered to do any research on Obama at all, and even though Milbank is anything but an expert in the field, Milbank feels totally comfortable in applying Tetlock’s methodology and reaching the conclusion Milbank desired all along.  There’s nothing wrong with columnists having opinions, of course, and Milbank is perfectly entitled to stating his belief in the unimaginable brilliance of Barack Obama.  But offering up scientific theses as support while not having anyone actually do any research is transparently manipulative, an attempt to pass off Milbank’s opinions as science.

There seem to be a number of unquestioned assumptions in this piece as well.  For instance, Milbank assumes that George W. Bush was a “simple thinker,” which is certainly the common belief, but offers no support for that assumption.  Somehow, I doubt that Milbank knows Bush well enough to diagnose his cognitive processes.

At the same time, Milbank also labels Winston Churchill as an example of a “simple thinker,” an analysis that would astound anyone who has taken the time to read Churchill’s massive, nuanced volumes on history and his memoirs of the Second World War, or at the very least Churchill’s own highly nuanced political history.  Churchill had many virtues and at least a few flaws, but describing him as a “simple thinker” is laughable on its face.  There are plenty of differences between Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, but among them is not a tendency towards “simple thinking” in either man, especially not Churchill.

Basically, this is just another attempt by the liberal commentariat to expound on how stupid the American people are for not falling adoringly at Obama’s feet.  Like other attempts, this one falls embarrassingly on its face.


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Proof that Obama is an idiot of the highest degree – the moronic Panetta will be Defense Sec. soon.

Schadenfreude on April 27, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Pretty funny-Newsbusters reports that Millbank forgot to disclose in this puff piece that 2 of the 3 “Professors” cited in his article were O’bama donors in 2008.

Del Dolemonte on April 27, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Living proof that Obama is a midget in the brain – Panetta to Defense.

Schadenfreude on April 27, 2011 at 2:08 PM

The regularity with which stupidity haltingly drops in a disjointed stutter from this deep-thinker’s pie-hole is enough to regularly entertain us in another great column on this site (OOTD). Then let’s look at:

Uemployment
The Debt
The Deficit
Obamacare
Illegal Immigration

Yeah…he’s a friggin’ genius!

Tim_CA on April 27, 2011 at 2:08 PM

It’s good to see that Dana come up for air periodically.
It’s really hard to have the brownest nose in DC

J_Crater on April 27, 2011 at 2:08 PM

Part of Noel Sheppard’s post at Newsbusters about the “Professors” Dana cites:

“If the logic of a threat doesn’t make sense, it can still work if [your opponents] think you will be in the grips of an emotional reaction that’s not under your control,” says Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University who specializes in behavior and emotion. “With Obama, it doesn’t seem there would be any emotional reaction that is not under his control.”

Here’s Frank’s FEC record:

FRANK, ROBERT
ITHACA, NY 14850
CORNELL UNIVERSITY/PROFESSOR

MOVEON.ORG POLITICAL ACTION
08/12/2004 225.00 24971684705
09/03/2004 650.00 24971684705

OBAMA, BARACK
VIA OBAMA FOR AMERICA
12/25/2007 500.00 28930540570
01/09/2008 500.00 28930636292
04/30/2008 500.00 28991058731
07/31/2008 700.00 28932577143

So Frank not only gave $2,200 to Obama, he’s also given money to MoveOn.org

Del Dolemonte on April 27, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Those poll numbers really have them spooked. Battle Stations Everyone!

a capella on April 27, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Sure Milbank. And that chick at the bar who blew you off was probably a lesbian too…

Hey, sometimes reality is just to brutal.

Ampersand on April 27, 2011 at 2:13 PM

I read this column before Hotair posted it, and I’ve read Milbank’s drivel before. Obama is a communist idiot, and Milbank is an even bigger idiot! The real trouble is that these leftist/communist morons are just too damn stupid to realize how stupid they are! Milbank is nothing but a knuckle dragging, drooling, brain dead fool. This Joseph Goebbels wanna be is just too far gone to see how much of an idiot Obama is!

Confederate on April 27, 2011 at 2:17 PM

These people are not Scientists. They are Theologians.

A Balrog of Morgoth on April 27, 2011 at 2:19 PM

Aaahh. You must listen to Bernanke.

eaglesdontflock on April 27, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Sure Milbank. And that chick at the bar who blew you off was probably a lesbian too…

Hey, sometimes reality is just to brutal.

Ampersand on April 27, 2011 at 2:13 PM

LMAO!

So true.

Tim_CA on April 27, 2011 at 2:21 PM

If you X-rayed 0bama’s head, this is what you’d find.

UltimateBob on April 27, 2011 at 2:22 PM

the 44th president would seem to be the very model of the complex thinker

Yeah Dana…. and I hear that in his spare time he’s curing cancer, performing complex physics experiments, and discovering new prime numbers.

No wait….he plays golf, vacations on my dime and brews beer.

nevermind

Tim_CA on April 27, 2011 at 2:30 PM

Obama is dumber than Carter.

History will prove Carter Einsteinian, relatively speaking.

Schadenfreude on April 27, 2011 at 2:32 PM

Sometimes “simple thinking” is the best approach to problem solving. The truly intelligent person should be capable of both “simple” and “complex” thinking. And, Prof. Haidt, Obama is most certainly not a “brilliant social and political analyst.” Not by a long shot.

When it comes to a problem like the economy, I don’t see that a whole lot of “thinking,” be it simple or complex, is required. We have a historical record showing us what has worked to reverse an economic downturn, what hasn’t worked and what has made the situation even worse. Sure, economics is an ever-evolving discipline and some tweaking will always be required, but the basics remain the same. If Obama is so damn smart, why can’t he understand that the approach he’s taken so far is an abject failure? In fact, if he’s so awesomely brilliant, why didn’t he know in the first place that his approach has never worked and can never work? I mean, plenty of us lesser, more stupid mortals knew that going in. Explain that one, Dana.

SukieTawdry on April 27, 2011 at 2:35 PM

Here’s a simple thought:

If you must continually tell people how smart you are, you are probably not actually as smart as you think you are.

petunia on April 27, 2011 at 2:39 PM

I’m eagerly awaiting Tom Shipley and crr6 to condemn Milbank for this ad hominem complement. We need to stick to the issues instead of pretending that Obama is defacto brilliant and therefor his administration and it’s policies are too!

gwelf on April 27, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Since when was socialogy, psychology or anything related to it really science?

gwelf on April 27, 2011 at 2:40 PM

How smart is it to try pass off an embarrassing display of obsequiousness as serious scientific analysis? Not very.

Milbank has managed to make himself look like a bigger fool than David “creased pants” Brooks and Chris “leg tingle” Matthews.

RadClown on April 27, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Those poll numbers really have them spooked. Battle Stations Everyone!

a capella on April 27, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Drrrrr! Drrrrrr! Drrrrr!

/sound effects!

Key West Reader on April 27, 2011 at 2:42 PM

You can only make excuses for poor performance for so long…

zoyclem on April 27, 2011 at 2:45 PM

And the reason that Obama’s college transcripts have not been released is that his grades were so awesome that any mere mortal who sees them in their awesome awesomeness would immediately go insane.

Really Right on April 27, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Scientifically speaking I don’t know how anyone can conclude that President Street Flunky thinks about anything at all. On the evidence. Dana Milbank looks awfully cute in his l’il cheerleader outfit.

curved space on April 27, 2011 at 2:46 PM

I think the left is getting pretty desperate. The Milbank article is yet another very sad attempt to assuage the cognitive dissonance induced by his previous worship of the BO08 vs actual evidence.

So the BO08 is a complex thinker. Is that why he sucks at being President?

mr.blacksheep on April 27, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Milbank just showing more of his stupidity.

GarandFan on April 27, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Come on folks, little Bammie was in at least the top 76% of his class at Hahvahd. That’s gotta be worth something, ignoring the Double-A problem for political correctness.

slickwillie2001 on April 27, 2011 at 3:01 PM

That is absolutely the number one argument a narcissist makes when people disagree “you just don’t understand”. Because in their mind, if you “understand” you would naturally agree with them because (to them) it all just makes perfect sense. The notion that their judgment might be incorrect or in any way flawed just never occurs to them. It is YOUR fault if you disagree because you just don’t (or can’t) “understand”.

crosspatch on April 27, 2011 at 3:31 PM

The comments at the WaPo are classic, the vast majority are anti-Obama… when you’ve lost the lefties that normally post at the WaPo, then you’re in serious trouble.

WordsMatter on April 27, 2011 at 3:32 PM

The smartest people I’ve ever known are among the laziest people I’ve ever known.

WordsMatter on April 27, 2011 at 3:32 PM

The comments at the WaPo are classic, the vast majority are anti-Obama… when you’ve lost the lefties that normally post at the WaPo, then you’re in serious trouble.

WordsMatter on April 27, 2011 at 3:32 PM

Just curious, were any of them criticizing O’bama for “caving” to Trump by releasing a document? That’s what my Leftist friends were crying about this morning.

Del Dolemonte on April 27, 2011 at 3:35 PM

And the reason that Obama’s college transcripts have not been released is that his grades were so awesome that any mere mortal who sees them in their awesome awesomeness would immediately go insane.

Really Right on April 27, 2011 at 2:46 PM

The reason that these records have not been released is because he is certifiably stupid. So… What now? We have a stupid presentdunce? What’s new?

Key West Reader on April 27, 2011 at 3:47 PM

Milbank to later interview his own poo about Obama.

A sensitive portrait to be sure.

somewhatconcerned on April 27, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Milbank to later interview his own poo about Obama.

A sensitive portrait to be sure.

somewhatconcerned on April 27, 2011 at 3:50 PM

I hear poo is the “new meat”.
Yay. New meat.

Key West Reader on April 27, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Obama’s strengths and weaknesses come from his high degree of “integrative complexity” — his ability to keep multiple variables and trade-offs in mind simultaneously.

Yes, it’s all very complex for Obama: Should I tax or spend today?
Wait, I know let’s do both and attack America’s wealth creating companies and starve America of cheap abundant energy for good measure!

Whoa, that was a hard day’s work, where’s the limo to the golf course?

RJL on April 27, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Come on folks, little Bammie was in at least the top 76% of his class at Hahvahd. That’s gotta be worth something, ignoring the Double-A problem for political correctness.

slickwillie2001

Actually there was a study on grade inflation at Ivy Leagues and Harvard was one of the worst offenders. Something like 90% graduate w/honors. I’m not kidding!!

JAM on April 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

What’s with you people? Obama obviously weighs multiple variables every time he considers an action, assuming that by “multiple” one means “two.” He thinks: “Should I make this stupid country lurch more toward the left or get re-elected?”

Mr. Big on April 27, 2011 at 4:23 PM

slickwillie2001

Actually there was a study on grade inflation at Ivy Leagues and Harvard was one of the worst offenders. Something like 90% graduate w/honors. I’m not kidding!!

JAM on April 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Remember the story from December about the guy who cheated his way into, and almost all the way through, Harvard? He almost succeeded.

Del Dolemonte on April 27, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Jeepers, all this time I was thinking that Obama was just a cowardly, lying, lazy, racist, Marxist imbecile.

I feel so foolish now.

justltl on April 27, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Hey… Barry lost the battle of the birth certificate to the Donald of all people. That’s like losing the ‘fire melting steel’ argument with Rosie O’… How smart can he possible be?
-

RalphyBoy on April 27, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Milbank isn’t smart enough to be humiliated by his authorship of that gooey man-crush twaddle.

Cicero43 on April 27, 2011 at 5:51 PM

What Obama IS.. is a product of an absentee Father. He’s just like Clinton.. morally bankrupt. No matter how much a person tries, they can never totally undo all the damage bad parenting does to you. Its screws up your ability to think and feel things in a correct manner.

GoodBoy on April 27, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Though Tetlock hasn’t applied his methodology to Obama, the 44th president would seem to be the very model of the complex thinker. Among the complex thinker’s advantages, says Tetlock, is the ability to see quickly the trade-offs among policy options, to update his beliefs after finding evidence that disproves his preconceptions, and to predict probable outcomes with accuracy.

Ok, but does Milbank ever get around to some “complex thinker’s advantages” that Obama actually exhibits? Cause it sure as hell isn’t any of the ones he just listed.

Midas on April 27, 2011 at 6:06 PM

He is a brilliant social and political analyst …

Oh Dear Lord! Provide just one, ONE, example!

Inane stuff like this just makes me gag.

Rod on April 27, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Milbank removes all doubt that liberalism is a mental disorder and uses Obama as the perfect example to reinforce that fact.

volsense on April 27, 2011 at 6:22 PM

What Obama actually is the result of an 18 year old kid getting knocked up by a 25 year old Kenyan alcoholic. The fact that his two Muslim fathers brainwashed him from birth is a hard fact to disavow when taken into context with his racial hatred for caucasions who he has felt inferior to since birth. First Wright and now Smith, both flaming hatemongering racists that help him keep his focus on the true vision for destroying the exceptionalism on which this country was founded. We have been taken over by a movement to bring this country down led by a charismatic racist named Barry Soetaro.

volsense on April 27, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Obama=Center Left.

That is when I stopped reading the article.

neoavatara on April 27, 2011 at 6:37 PM

What are the vice laws in Milbank’s neighborhood?

His street corner needs a sweeping and his lamp post should be relocated.

viking01 on April 27, 2011 at 6:55 PM

Milbank, take that thing out of your mouth and try to pay attention.

SKYFOX on April 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Obama got played like a two dollar whore today by a master business tactician named Donald Trump.

Obama may have thought this gesture would shore up his ever dwindling base. Mostly insipid college kids right now, but I’ve a feeling this is going to backfire badly on T3h One.

No one, not even the Magnificent Moronic Milbank can paint this pig any other way.

The Schadenfreude is palpable and delicious!

Jack.

Jack Deth on April 27, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Actually there was a study on grade inflation at Ivy Leagues and Harvard was one of the worst offenders. Something like 90% graduate w/honors. I’m not kidding!!

JAM on April 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

I believe that when Lawrence Summers was the President of Harvard, the situation had gotten so bad that the school started looking into its rampant grade inflation.

mydh12 on April 27, 2011 at 8:15 PM

So Frank not only gave $2,200 to Obama, he’s also given money to MoveOn.org
Del Dolemonte on April 27, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Professors who make enough money to donate that much to politicians and PACs are WAY overpaid.

darwin-t on April 27, 2011 at 8:25 PM

LOL yeah right!

C’mon fool. Who you trying to zoom?

It’s called saving face because you were so stupid and fell for the fraudulent razzle-dazzle. If you think we don’t know that you are trying to save face, you better re-think that. We are not as dumb as you.

Oh, and that stands for your brother-in-foolery David Brooks. PUH-LEEZE. We know what a “save” looks like.

It’s also called lack of intregrity. You and your ilk have none because if you did, you’d admit you were wrong and were “played”. You can’t do either. We know what you are, too. Dopes.

Gob on April 27, 2011 at 8:28 PM

Wow ! How much longer can Prezz Imam hold in his goo with all these Mean Streak Media types 24/7 felatio !??

cableguy615 on April 27, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Whatever Dana. There may be a lot of stuff going on in Barry BAMSTAHHH !!!! YOU DA MAN !!! BAM !!! YAHHH!!WarEagle01 on April 27, 2011 at 1:02 PM

cableguy615 on April 27, 2011 at 8:46 PM

I want to thank Obama because he is going to remove my Alma Mater from the answer to the question: “What school produced the WORST President in history?”

Khun Joe on April 27, 2011 at 8:57 PM

Actually there was a study on grade inflation at Ivy Leagues and Harvard was one of the worst offenders. Something like 90% graduate w/honors. I’m not kidding!!

JAM on April 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

I believe that when Lawrence Summers was the President of Harvard, the situation had gotten so bad that the school started looking into its rampant grade inflation.

mydh12 on April 27, 2011 at 8:15 PM

The libs brought that on themselves, they created the race-feminism huckster industry. Now if they don’t give out magna cum laudes like candy at Halloween, someone sues them for discrimination or a protest lights up outside the dean’s mansion.

slickwillie2001 on April 27, 2011 at 8:58 PM

Actually, as far as Churchill is concerned, Chamberlain had to be the simple thinker. Anyone, after watch Hitler do what he did for 2 years and then comes home after giving up land and marks it as “Peace in our time.” is pretty simple, in my book.

bflat879 on April 27, 2011 at 1:16 PM

The first thing that Chamberlain did after he finished waving around the paper and declaring “peace in our time” was to jack up production of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire as well as expand the Navy.

Unlike Obama, ol’ Neville had a clue. To his dying day, Hitler denounced Munich as one of the prime lost opportunities of his conflict with the West.

ebrown2 on April 27, 2011 at 8:59 PM

I really can’t stand this arrogant $OB. 2012 can’t come soon enough. I really hope that Allen West runs…it will be a delight seeing COL West shove the teleprompter up Dear Leader’s butt.

Dingbat63 on April 27, 2011 at 9:06 PM

Yep. 57-states Obama sure is brilliant, isn’t he?

Grace_is_sufficient on April 27, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Yeah he’s to smart to be popular if “to smart” means ass-h#le!

MCGIRV on April 27, 2011 at 9:17 PM

BTW, anyone notice that Milbank is basically saying that Obama is too smart to be president?

William Teach on April 27, 2011 at 9:24 PM

The Lion of Libya is our shepherd, we shall not want.

Dhuka on April 27, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Is that chocolate on your nose, Dana?

ZK on April 28, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Millbank could have the decency to at least wipe his chin before going for another round on the keyboard

he gets paid for this too, what a world

deserves a beotch slap for this one

Sonosam on April 28, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Not JFK; Not FDR.

Obama is Adlai Stevenson?

locomotivebreath1901 on April 28, 2011 at 10:28 AM

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