Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Obama the Professor?

Considering Bush’s decision-making style, and what many perceived as a reckless, ham-fisted approach to policy, it’s no wonder that the press is scrutinizing Obama’s style very closely.  And already, people are cautiously sizing-up Obama’s poised, deliberate way of addressing questions and problems.

Cambridge author Joan Hoff was recently interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education about his “professorial” style during discussions.

‘”He seems to be reflective when directly asked a question,” says Joan Hoff, a research professor of history at Montana State University at Bozeman and author of A Faustian Foreign Policy: from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush (Cambridge University Press, 2008). While academics might find that style of speaking “calming and reassuring,” she says, it might come across as too wordy to the general public.’

For Hoff, Obama shouldn’t “overdose on deliberation.” I guess I might fit into the “academic” category, and yes, “careful” and “deliberate” are words I’d use to describe my ideal president’s decision-making. But hordes of people didn’t flock to see Obama the professor.

Hoff is right, though, in that one of the constant criticisms of Obama throughout his campaign was his “wordiness.” That he talked circles around his questioners, without ever really saying anything. I’m not convinced of the validity of this criticism, but she is right to point out that around 55 million Americans think so. Really, I believe that those that accuse Obama of wordiness disagreed with his answers and his policies, but were unwilling to admit that he at the least made forceful arguments for them.

What if there’s a flip-side to this? What if a deliberative president opens up the general public to accepting a more thoughtful, yes, professorial political process, and making criticisms accordingly? That’s pure speculation, but we’ll see soon enough.

Meanwhile, you can’t assume that professors of bore the public. Just look at Charles Bamforth, who recently appeared in The Birmingham News.

‘Wine has gotten a reputation for its health benefits, but beer has all of them and more, Bamforth said. . .

‘Bamforth joked about a study in Europe that showed beer drinkers also tended to buy red meat and cigarettes [wine drinkers ate healthier food, giving the illusion of a healthier beverage].

‘”If they weren’t drinking beer, they’d be dead by now,” he said. “It’s the only thing keeping them alive.”‘

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