Pot/kettle alert: According to Drudge, a senior White House official accused Barack Obama of "intellectual laziness":
As for Obama, a senior White House official said the freshman senator from Illinois was “capable” of the intellectual rigor needed to win the presidency but instead relies too heavily on his easy charm.
“It's sort of like, 'that's all I need to get by,' which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And a laziness, an intellectual laziness.”
Mr. Senior Official, you live in a glass (White) house. What a bizarre angle for the administration to attack Obama. If anything, the Illinois senator comes across as too academic, not intellectually lazy.
I'm also troubled by the use of "laziness" as the grounds to attack the first serious black presidential contender. I assume it was unintentional, but can't we talk about Obama without language that echoes racist stereotypes?
Update 9/24 11:33 AM: The Bill Sammon article in the Examiner that Drudge quoted is now online. It provides more details on the "intellectual laziness" charge (the first paragraph below continues directly from the passage quoted above):
[The senior White House official] cited an example from Obama's memoir, The Audacity of Hope, in which the senator complains that many "government programs don't work as advertised." Five days after the book was published last fall, Obama was asked to name some of those government programs by Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"And he can't give an example," the official said. "Look, if you wrote the book, you should have thought through what it was. But he's sitting there, fumbling around."
Obama did tell Russert that "we don't use electronic billing for Medicare and Medicaid providers." But the White House official said the vast majority of such transactions are indeed billed electronically.
...Nor does Obama know his facts very well, according to the senior White House official. The official said in March, Obama was flummoxed by questions about his health care plan at a Democratic forum in Las Vegas. Two months later, the candidate drastically overstated the death toll from Kansas tornadoes.
"Ten thousand people died," Obama told an audience, when the actual death toll was 12.
"Over time, we'll see other things like that," the White House official said. "I'm going to be validated on Barack. He's not done the hard work necessary to prepare himself. And it's too late to do it."
Since that prediction, Obama has made a series of foreign policy gaffes that has allowed Clinton to cast herself as the candidate of experience.
Obviously Obama has made mistakes -- it's hard to be fully prepared for every question on the campaign trail -- but, again, these are bizarre criticisms from an administration headed by a man who has misstated basic facts about his policies since 1999, didn't even write his own book, and touts his low grades in college.
Update 9/24 1:08 PM: Josh Marshall says the RNC is promoting a similar theme:
don't think this allusion to generations of stereotypes about black men was just some stray comment.
The RNC just shot off an email building on the slur. With the headline "Razzle Dazzle", the email continues the theme that Obama is just another black fancy-pants with a slick smile and nice turn of phrase but either without the candle-power or stick-to-it-iveness to actually get things done.
"Chicago Star Obama Continues His All Show, No Substance Campaign With Event On Broadway," the email begins.
Update 9/25 9:10 AM: Slate's Sonia Smith says "Duke political science doctoral student Brendan Nyhan sees racism in the Obama criticism," but that's wrong. I said that I assume the echo of racist stereotypes was unintentional, but that it should be avoided. The leap from racial insensitivity to racism is one of the problems with modern debate about race. For instance, here's what I wrote for Spinsanity about the debate over John Ashcroft's nomination to be Attorney General in 2001:
Ashcroft backers used a complicated set of rhetorical techniques to take control of the debate. These were aptly demonstrated by Rich Lowry in the National Review Online. Lowry begins by claiming that "the charges of racial bias... came from all liberal quarters". He cites three examples of these "charges of racial bias": the Jackson and Clinton statements above plus a 1999 accusation of racism against Ashcroft by Rep. Maxine Waters. Note how different these statements are - Clinton alleges differential treatment by race and gender, Jackson criticizes a political appeal to race, and Waters says that Ashcroft acts "like a racist". Yet Lowry defines them as essentially the same - accusations that Ashcroft is racially biased. And racism, he says, has a clear definition - "animus against individuals or groups based on race". Therefore, according to Lowry, Ashcroft's opponents are saying that John Ashcroft dislikes black people in his heart.
This rhetorical trick left Ashcroft's opponents reeling. By most accounts, Ashcroft is a decent person who does not personally hate people on the basis of race - and no one can definitively prove otherwise... But this does not mean that Ashcroft should be exempt from criticism for capitalizing on racial animus and being indifferent to civil rights in his political career. As Confessore puts it, "The problem is that the language of race in America is too cramped to adequately describe this brand of indifference. Terms like racist, bigot, and Nazi can't suffice; they imply questions of character and intent that are unanswerable."
In the end, Ashcroft's supporters created a standard that is effectively insurmountable, precluding race-related criticism of the more ambiguous political appeals, statements and positions that constitute the vast majority of American politics. Ashcroft's confirmation was therefore a major conservative victory in the debate over race.
The same principle applies here. I cannot prove -- and do not allege -- that the senior White House official is a racist. Indeed, his inner beliefs or intentions are irrelevant to my criticism, which is that his language inappropriately echoes racist stereotypes. Those are not the same thing!
Update 9/26 2:38 PM: Slate has deleted the offending language and published a clarification:
Clarification, Sept. 26: The article originally claimed that Nyhan saw racism in the White House official's remarks. As his post indicates, he thought the stereotyping was unintentional. We regret the confusion.