While most pundits and late-night comedians place President Obama far ahead of Sarah Palin in terms of intellect, perhaps Public Enemy’s best-known hit - “Don’t Believe the Hype” - is a fitting tribute to this myth.
Propped up by the mainstream media as the intellectual version of Superman, Mr. Obama with his eloquent, if not robotic, public appearances has fed into the perception that he is one of the most brilliant people in world history - a political Albert Einstein, worthy of the Nobel Prize.
Mrs. Palin meanwhile, has been mercilessly attacked by most in the media and chronically lampooned on late-night TV to the point where some believe she said things that actually were said by comedians.
Though Mr. Obama and Mrs. Palin are no doubt extremely skilled politicians and remarkably intelligent overachievers - hence becoming a president and a Republican vice-presidential candidate - the tale of the tape on their intellect is that it’s actually much closer than conventional wisdom might suggest.
In fact, given Mr. Obama’s track record in comparing his 2008 presidential campaign to the results of his presidency thus far and contrasting it with Mrs. Palin’s steadfast leadership of the Tea Party movement, which is changing the political landscape of the country, I would argue that she is actually smarter than Mr. Obama.
First, Mrs. Palin understands that lofty campaign promises don’t equate to good governance. Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign, centered around “hope and change,” has led to runaway spending in a roughly $800 billion stimulus bill, dramatically increased unemployment to roughly 10 percent - twice the rate of George W. Bush’s administration - and ushered in Obamacare, which the majority of Americans oppose.
Mr. Obama’s No. 1 priority, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as he mandated within hours of being sworn into office, went nowhere, as did outreach to Iran and now the Taliban fighting our troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, unilateral missile-defense cuts and world tours of apologies, complete with bowing to foreign leaders, have made the country less safe.
Given such factors, it should not be surprising that Mr. Obama’s approval rating has plummeted from 68 percent at inauguration to a mere 44 percent less than 2 years later. Mrs. Palin campaigned in 2008 for balancing the budget, creating jobs, promoting energy independence and supporting the troops, issues that have remained crucial over the past two years.
Unlike Mr. Obama, Mrs. Palin can relate to Main Street. While the Obama family jetted to Martha’s Vineyard, Maine and the Spanish Mediterranean coast last summer alone, the Palins have been connecting with the American public throughout the United States in dozens of speaking venues and other appearances, including “Dancing With the Stars.” In a recent California speech, Mrs. Palin pointed to the plight of Central Valley farmers who can’t get water for their crops while 37,000 jobs have been lost in the process - all to save a 2-inch fish (the delta smelt) which was rescued through an environmentalist lawsuit. “In Alaska, we call a 2-inch fish bait,” she said wryly.
Last but not least, mainstream media and late night-comedy portrayals are deeply flawed when it comes to Mrs. Palin. It is easy to look smart when surrounded by teleprompters like Mr. Obama. In those rare instances when Mr. Obama strays from the script, we end up with comments like “the Cambridge police acted stupidly” that precipitated the infamous White House beer summit with his friend professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley.
In contrast, Mrs. Palin relies heavily on speech notes during her public appearances and often speaks extemporaneously. Her folksy ways and plainspoken language are simply part of her charm and a reflection of her genuine character, not any indication of her intellectual capacity.
“Saturday Night Live” star Tina Fey’s uncanny impersonations of Mrs. Palin, including the infamous “I can see Russia from my house” have spun urban legends that Mrs. Palin actually said such ridiculous things. CBS Evening News’ Katie Couric’s condescending quiz about what newspapers and magazines - specifically - Mrs. Palin read to stay informed when she was governor of Alaska evoked similar mischaracterizations when Mrs. Palin declined to identify any by name, to her chagrin, simply noting that Alaska was not a foreign country.
Though the mainstream media and comedians can say what they will, Americans will have their say at the ballot box. When voters scratch below the surface of myths that have been constructed carefully around Mr. Obama and Mrs. Palin and compare the myths to the track records over the past two years, they just might reconsider who is smarter.
J.D. Gordon is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and a retired Navy commander. He most recently served as a communications consultant to the Liberty & Freedom Foundation Forum in California that featured Sarah Palin.