As the troubled Obama presidency winds down, the inevitable question is why so many people, including a few smart ones were so easily fooled. How did a man with such a fine pedigree—Columbia, Harvard—who sounded so brilliant pursue such political capital wasting and foolish policies as forcing schools to discipline students by racial quotas? Or obsessing over allowing the transgendered to choose any bathroom? And, of the utmost importance, how can we prevent another Obama?
I’ll begin simply: Obama is an imposter, a man who has mastered the art of deception as a skilled actor deceives an audience though in the case of Obama, most of the audience refused to accept that this was all play-acting. Even after almost eight years of ineptitude, millions still want to believe that he’s the genuine article—an authentically super-bright guy able to fix a flawed America. Far more is involved than awarding blacks the intellectual equivalent of diplomatic immunity.
When Obama first appeared on the political scene I immediately recognized him as an example of the “successful” black academic who rapidly advances up the university ladder despite minimal accomplishment. Tellingly, when I noted the paucity of accomplishment of these black academic over-achievers to trusted professorial colleagues, they agreed with my analysis adding that they themselves had seen several instances of this phenomenon, but admittedly failed to connect the dots.
Here’s the academic version of an Obama. You encounter this black student who appears a liberal’s affirmative action dream come true—exceptionally articulate with no trace of a ghetto accent, well-dressed, personable (no angry “tude”), and at least superficially sufficient brain power to succeed even in demanding subjects. Matters begin splendidly, but not for long. Almost invariably, his or her performance on the first test or paper falls far below expectations. A research paper, for example was only “C” work (though you generously awarded it a “B”) and to make matters worse, it exhibited a convoluted writing style, a disregard for logic, ineptly constructed references and similar defects. Nevertheless, you accepted the usual litany of student excuses—his claim of over-commitment, the material was unfamiliar, and this was his first research paper and so on. A reprieve was granted.
But the unease grows stronger with the second exam or paper, often despite your helpful advice on how to do better. Reality grows depressing–what you see is not what you get and lacks any reasonable feel-good explanation. The outwardly accomplished black student is not an Asian struggling with English or a clear-cut affirmation action admittee in over his head. That this student may have actually studied diligently and followed your advice only exacerbates the discomfort.
To repeat, the way to make sense out this troubling situation is to think of this disappointing black student as a talented actor who has mastered the role of “smart college student.” He has the gift of mimicry, conceivably a talent rooted in evolutionary development among a people who often had to survive by their wits (adaptive behavior captured by the phrase “acting white” or “passing”). This gift is hardly limited to blacks. I can recall tales of insecure Eastern European Jewish immigrants pretending to be WASPS.
But what if the observer was unaware of it being only a theatrical performance and took the competence at face value? Disaster. Russell Crowe as the Nobel Prize winning John Nash in A Beautiful Mind might give a stunning performance as a brilliant economist, but he would not last a minute if he tried to pass himself off as the real thing at a Princeton economic department seminar. To be blunt, Barack Obama was less “a president” than a talented actor playing at being presidential.
Those of us who have encountered this deception are usually aware of its tell-tale signs, though, to be fair, it may have been diligently practiced for so long that it has become a “real” element of the perpetrator’s core personality. For those unfamiliar with this deception, let me now offer a brief catalogue of these tactics.
Central is the careful management of outward physical appearances. In theatrical terms, these are props and depending on circumstances, this might be a finely tailored suit, wingtip shoes, a crisp white shirt, a smart silk tie and all the rest that announce business-like competence. Future college or foundation president here we come (Obama has clearly mastered this sartorial ploy). But for those seeking an appointment as a professor, this camouflage must be more casual but, whatever the choice, there cannot be any hint of “ghetto” style, i.e., no flashy jewelry, gold chains, purple “pimpish” suits, or anything else that even slightly hints of what blacks might consider authentic black attire.
Mastering “white” language is equally critical and in the academy this includes everything from tossing around trendy terms, for example, “paradigmatic,” to displaying what appears to be a mastering of disciplinary jargon. Recall how the Black Panthers seduced gullible whites with just a sprinkling of Marxist terminology. Precisely citing a few obscure court cases or administrative directives can also do the trick. Further add certain verbal styles common among professors or peppering a presentation with correctly pronounced non-English words. I recall a talk by one black professor from the University of Chicago who wowed my colleagues by just using—and correctly so—a few Yiddish expressions.
Ironically, self-defined conservatives are especially vulnerable to these well-crafted performances. No doubt, like all good thinking liberals, they desperately want to believe that blacks are just as talented as whites so an Obama-like figure is merely the first installment of coming racial equality. The arrival of this long-awaited black also provides a great opportunity to demonstrate that being “conservative” does not certify one as a racist. Alas, this can be embarrassing and comical if over-done. I recall one (white) colleague who gave a little speech praising a deeply flawed dissertation written by a black assistant professor up for tenure. He told the assembled committee that her dissertation reminded him of Newton’s Principia Mathematica (can’t make that stuff up).
Alas, the deception usually unravels when the imposter confronts a complicated unstructured situation lacking a well-defined script, hardly surprising given the IQ test data indicate that blacks usually perform better on items reflecting social norms, less well on abstract, highly “g” loaded items. In academic job presentations, for example, a job candidate’s intellectual limits often become apparent during the Q and A when pressed to wrestle with technical or logical abstractions that go beyond the initial well-rehearsed talk. Picture a job candidate who just finished reading a paper being asked whether the argument is falsifiable or how causality might be established? These can be killer questions that require ample quick footed intellectual dexterity and often bring an awkward silence as the candidate struggles to think on his feet (these responses may rightly be judged far more important than what is read from a paper). I recall one genuinely bewildered black job candidate who explained a complicated measurement choice with “my Ph.D. advisor, a past president of the American Political Science Association told me to do it this way.”
Obama as President repeatedly exhibits these characteristics. It is thus hardly accidental that he relies extensively on canned Teleprompter speeches. According to one compilation published in January 2013, Obama has used Teleprompters in 699 speeches during his first term in office. There is also his aversion to informal off-the-cuff discussions with the press and open mike who-knows-what-will-happen “Town Hall” meetings. Obama is also the first president I’ve ever seen who often favors a casual blue jacket monogrammed “President of the United States.”
Perhaps the best illustration of these confused, often rambling moments occurs when he offers impromptu commentary on highly charged, fast-breaking race-related incidents such as the Louis Henry Gates dustup in Cambridge, Mass (“the police acted stupidly”) and the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown shootings. You could see his pained look as he struggles with being a “good race man” while simultaneously struggling to sort out murky legal issues. This is not the usual instances of politicians speaking evasively to avoid controversy; he was genuinely befuddled.
Similar signs of confused thinking can also be seen in other spontaneous remarks, the most famous example might be his comment about those Americans clinging to their guns and Bibles. What was he thinking? Did he forget that both gun and Bible ownership are constitutionally protected and the word “cling” in this context suggests mental illness? Woes to some impertinent reporter who challenged the President to clarify his oft-repeated “the wrong side of history” quip or explain the precise meaning of, “That’s not who were are”? “Mr. President, can you enlighten us on how you know you are on the Right Side of History”?
I suspect that deep down Obama recognizes that almost everything is an act not unlike Eddy Murphy playing Professor Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor. It is no wonder, then, that his academic records (particularly his SAT scores) are sealed and, perhaps even more important, many of his fellow college students and colleagues at the University of Chicago where he briefly taught constitutional law cannot recall him. It is hard to imagine Obama relishing the prospect of going head-to-head with his sharp-witted Chicago colleagues.
Further add his lack of a publication in the Harvard Law Review, a perk as the President of the Law Review (not Editor) and the credible evidence that his two autobiographies where ghost written after their initial rejection as unsuitable for publication. All and all, a picture emerges of an individual who knows he must fake it to convince others of his intellectual talents, and like a skilled actor he has spent years studying the role of “President.” President Obama deserves an Academy award (which, of course would also be a step toward diversity, to boot) for his efforts.