Stupid (P.J. O’Rourke)

Stupid – P.J. O’Rourke

“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.”

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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.

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P.J. O’Rourke: Dear Mr. President, Zero-Sum Doesn’t Add Up

P.J. O’Rourke: Dear Mr. President, Zero-Sum Doesn’t Add Up – Wall Street Journal

Given that hypocrisy is an important part of diplomacy, and diplomacy is necessary to foreign policy, allow me to congratulate you on winning a second term.

I wish I could also congratulate you on your conduct of international affairs. I do thank you for killing Osama bin Laden. It was a creditable action for which you deserve some of the credit you’ve been given. Of course the intelligence was gathered, and the mission was undertaken, by men and women who, although they answer to your command, answer to duty first. And it is difficult to imagine any president of the United States who, under the circumstances, wouldn’t have ordered the strike against bin Laden. Although there is Jimmy Carter. Thank you for not being Jimmy Carter.

But even though it violates the insincere amity that creates a period of calm following national elections, no thank you for the following, and it is only a partial list:

• Telling the Taliban to play by the rules or you’ll take your ball and go home;

• Leaving Iraq in a lurch (and in a hurry);

• Watching the EU go down the sink drain and into the Greece trap and wanting to take America along on the trip;

• Miscalculating human rights and strategic engagement in the Chinese arithmetic of your China policy;

• Being the personification of bad weather during the Arab Spring with your chilly response when you encountered its best aspects and your frozen inaction when you encountered its worst;

• Playing with Russian nesting dolls, opening hollow figurine after hollow figurine hoping to find one that doesn’t look like Vladimir Putin;

• Sitting and doing nothing like a couch potato watching a made-for-TV movie as the Castro and Chávez zombies continue their rampage;

• Hugging the door on your date with Israel;

• Putting the raw meat of incentives in your pants pocket when you go to scold the pit bulls of Iran and North Korea;

But the worst thing that you’ve done internationally is what you’ve done domestically. You sent a message to America in your re-election campaign. Therefore you sent a message to the world. The message is that we live in a zero-sum universe.

There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney‘s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got – with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners.

In this zero-sum universe there is only so much happiness. The idea is that if we wipe the smile off the faces of people with prosperous businesses and successful careers, that will make the rest of us grin.

There is only so much money. The people who have money are hogging it. The way for the rest of us to get money is to turn the hogs into bacon.

Mr. President, your entire campaign platform was redistribution. Take from the rich and give to the… Well, actually, you didn’t mention the poor. What you talked and talked about was the middle class, something most well-off Americans consider themselves to be members of. So your plan is to take from the more rich and the more or less rich and give to the less rich, more or less. It is as if Robin Hood stole treasure from the Sheriff of Nottingham and bestowed it on the Deputy Sheriff.

But never mind. The evil of zero-sum thinking and redistributive politics has nothing to do with which things are taken or to whom those things are given or what the sum of zero things is supposed to be. The evil lies in denying people the right, the means, and, indeed, the duty to make more things.

Or maybe you just find it easier to pursue a political policy of sneaking in America’s back door, swiping a laptop, going around to the front door, ringing the bell, and announcing, “Free computer equipment for all school children!”

However, domestic politics aren’t my first concern here. The question is whether you want to convince the international community that zero-sum is the American premise and redistribution is the logical conclusion.

I would argue that the world doesn’t need more encouragement to think in zero-sum terms or act in redistributive ways.

Western Europe has done such a good job redistributing its assets that the European Union now has a Spanish economy, a Swedish foreign policy, an Italian army, and Irish gigolos.

Redistributionist political ideologies, in decline since the fall of the Soviet bloc, are on the rise again. Will you help the neo-Marxists of Latin America redistribute stupidity to their continent?

The Janjaweed are trying to redistribute themselves in Darfur. The Serbs would like to do the same in Kosovo. The Chinese have already done it in Tibet. Al Qaeda offshoots are doing their best to redistribute violence to places that didn’t have enough.

And Russia and China would like the global balance of power to be redistributed. Since China has plenty of money to lend and Russia has plenty of oil to sell, your debt and energy policies should go a long way toward making the balance of power fairer for the Russians and Chinese.

While redistribution – or “plagiarism,” as we writers call it – is a bad idea, zero-sum is even worse. Zero-sum assumptions mean that a country that doesn’t pursue a policy of taking things from other countries is letting its citizens down. That’s pretty much the story of all recorded history, none of which needs to be repeated. It has taken mankind millennia to learn that trade is more profitable than pillage. And we don’t have to carry our plunder home in sacks and saddlebags when we’re willing to accept a certified check.

The Chinese don’t seem to understand this yet. They think trade is a one-way enterprise, the object of which is for China to have all the world’s money. They’ve got most of ours already. Mr. President, validating China’s economic notions isn’t a good thing.

A zero-sum faith in getting what’s wanted by taking it can extend to faith itself. In some places there is only one religion. If other people have a religion of their own they must be taking away from my religion. Give up that faith, infidels.

Speaking of infidel faiths, Mr. President, please consider the message of this Christmas week – a message of giving, not taking. And consider your prominent position as a messenger of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. When you embrace a belief in the zero-sum nature of what’s under the Christmas tree and propose to redistribute everything that’s in our Christmas stockings, you’re asking the world to go sit on the Grinch’s lap instead of Santa’s.

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