Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reading Too Much Into It

On last week's NARN First Team radio show, John and Brian featured actor Eric Bogosian as the Loon of the Week for remarks he made at The 2008 National Book Awards. You can listen to the clip here. I must admit that I do enjoy watching Bogosian ply his trade on "Law & Order Criminal Intent," but the recognition of his looniness was much deserved.

Not only was his swooning over Barack Obama--describing him as a "reader," "virtually an intellectual," and "smart"--and the reports that Obama was using Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" for guidance in selecting his cabinet--describing that as "so cool" and "wonderful"--he also saw fit to run down President Bush for allegedly not reading and the American people for being "afraid of thinking." It was truly a bravura performance in left wing lunacy.

Had I been on the air last week, I would have offered these three observations on the matter:

1. There's an assumption that reading is always good and anyone who reads is smarter and therefore better than those who don't. The truth is that it's not that you read, but what you read. I run across a lot of people who like to talk about how much they read. But when you ask them they read, it's usually Stephen King, John Grisham, Grafton, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, or the latest dysfunctional family offering from the Oprah book club. Nothing wrong with the product those folks turn out. There definitely is a place for them. However, if that's all you read, you're hardly lifting yourself up to a higher intellectual plane.

2. Doris Kearns Goodwin is what I would call a popular historian. Like Stephen Ambrose and David McCullough, she writes books that are open and approachable for most Americans (and like Ambrose, she's had plagiarism issues). I'm not knocking this type of work. Lord knows we need history presented in a way that will get more people interested. But it's silly to pretend that the fact that Obama read "Team of Rivals" somehow proves his intellectual chops. I'd be more impressed if I heard that he read an obscure but highly regarded work on some particular historical event.

3. The idea that Bush doesn't read is absurd. There have been many reports over the years of him reading books and then either sending letters to the authors or inviting him to meet him at the White House. Three examples right off the top of my heard are Natan Sharansky, Mark Steyn, and Bernard Lewis. More on that here.

And check out this sample reading list from a 2006 story.Yes, there are a couple of baseball books, but plenty of more serious works. Did you know that Lincoln was Bush's hero? Somehow the media didn't seem to get around to mentioning that much in the last eight years while Obama's admiration of Lincoln has been front and center ever since he started his campaign.

It's entirely possible that Barack Obama will turn out to be a more successful President than George W. Bush. But it won't be because he reads and is smart while Bush was ill-informed and stupid. Give Obama credit for what he's earned and deserves. Just don't try to make him out to be something special for doing the same things that his predecessors have.