By Robert Weissberg
President Obama's disappointing performance has indisputably brought enormous buyer's remorse to many of his fans, the feeling that the "purchase" (i.e., voting for Obama) was a mistake. And while little can be done until November 2012, it may be useful to analyze why thoughtful people were seduced and, furthermore, learn to avoid future hoodwinking. In a nutshell, the American public was lead astray by conflating outward appearances -- "he's seems so smart" -- with underlying substance -- "he is so smart." What we saw wasn't what we got.
Having spent four decades in top research universities, I questioned Obama's alleged stellar intellectual abilities from the beginning; he is smart, I said, but not that smart. Let me explain. These forty years of teaching and research has taught me that outward appearances do not necessarily signify exceptional intellectual talent. An "A" should never be given to students who just seem smart and faculty accomplishment is certified only by original research defended before knowledgeable peers. These are tough standards and professors regularly encounter seemingly promising students and job candidates who just can't get beyond clever glibness. Happily for over-matched student, however, tutoring or professorial kindness can push them toward a diploma, and when combined with their fine rhetorical skills, the diploma easily impresses non-expert outsiders.