February 24, 2012

Obama v. Romney: Literate v. Numerate

If the 2012 election comes down to Obama v. Romney, it could be an interesting match-up of literacy v. numeracy. (That's assuming that Romney is as numerate as his success making money at Bain Capital suggests. At BYU, he was an English Lit major, and when he graduated in the top 5% at Harvard Business School in the 1970s while graduating with honors at Harvard Law, the curriculum wasn't all that quant. But still ...) Obama is very good with words, but I'm not familiar with a single anecdote about him suggesting one way or another how good he is with numbers. For example, I'm trying to think of Obama citing a sports statistic (he's an ESPN addict, so that's hardly an abstruse test for him). In contrast, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said that the biggest problem with President Reagan's rough drafts for his speeches was that he put in all sorts of statistics that the speechwriters had to take out because the public doesn't like numbers.

With politicians and the electorate, I would bet on power of words over numbers.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

Verbal and political skill is more important for high finance.

Grumpy Old Man said...

"If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bulls***."

RKU said...

Obama is very good with words...

Wow! I'm sure Obama writes his own mellifluous speeches (unlike every recent president) and also wrote his lengthy own books (unlike almost every other politician). But what I'd really like to evaluate is the vast corpus of his other writings---all the lengthy analytical articles, thoughtful op-eds, and brilliant law journal pieces he produced over the decades before he ran for high office. I think there's even a chance Norway might soon grant him the Nobel Prize in Literature, just as well-deserved as his previous prize in Peace.

I'll admit I don't really like Obama, but at least it's nice to have a brilliant thinker and thoughtful word-smith whom we can be proud of, after that sub-literate moron-puppet Bush...

Marlowe said...

Ross Perot used bar graphs & pie charts and look where it got him. Perhaps his example inspired Herrnstein & Murray a few years later?
The innumeracy of much of the voting pubic renders the numeracy of candidates moot.

Anonymous said...

the problem with Romney is WE can't be numerate with his record. We've lost count of how many times he's changed positions.

beowulf said...

"With politicians and the electorate, I would bet on power of words over numbers."

That's why politician like Reagan hire speechwriters like Noonan. A better example of a verbal ability upgarde (since Reagan was a natural storyteller) was Bob Dole's '96 nomination acceptance Speech, written by novelist Mark Helprin.

"Age has its advantages... Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action... To those who say it was never so, that American has not been better, I say, you're wrong, and I know, because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember."
http://www-cgi.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/news/9608/15/dole.accepts/

Dole should have added, "you won't know what this means until next year but I'm in the clinical trial for 'Viagra' and its amazing." :o)

anony-mouse said...

I doubt very many past Presidents were too highly numerate (excluding the West Point grads).

Hoover, the engineer? Carter the Annapolis grad?

Not exactly an endorsement.

Anonymous said...

A lot of this relates to a dichotomy in mental life that was noted, e.g., by Pavlov in his first and second signaling system,
by Arthur Jensen in an neo-Pavlovian adaptation to level I and
level II learning/intelligence, and
to the non-verbal IQ the verbal IQ.
BHO is almost a textbook example of the guy who can go into abstract verbal acrobatics about, say, Hegelian dialectics but can't figure out on his own throug a visual-motor basis how to change a damn flat tire. It "says it all" that such a verbal engineer is what is required in the District of Corruption. A "man" of the hour!!

candid_observer said...

I don't get how you can claim that Obama is not numerate.

According to the Washington Post,

"Obama analyzed and integrated Einstein's theory of relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as well as the concept of curved space as an alternative to gravity, for a Law Review article that Tribe wrote titled, 'The Curvature of Constitutional Space.'"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/26/AR2007012600970.html

I have little doubt but that, in an only slightly different possible world, Obama would have won the Nobel Prize in Physics, instead of his well deserved Nobel Prize in Peace.

Jacob Roberson said...

I think your analysis is right: Romney's reputed as a numbers guy, but Obama's tongue won't get tied and Romney will look inexperienced (!?) next to him. To me they both look steady enough to keep the world from disaster. Bigger question: When did the presidency become a democratic contest? "Communicating with the public"? Somewhere in here we need to check whether he can do the job.

(Brings us to Reagan: Call me crazy, but I think they cut his speeches down because he made things up. OTOH Reagan never suffered for the dishonesty that got left in, so why would they bother...)

Harry Baldwin said...

It's hard to separate what Obama actually doesn't understand from what he pretends not to understand for ideological purposes. Policies like "Cash for Clunkers" suggests a certain innumeracy, but maybe it's just politics. It was revealing, though, that during the healthcare debate Obama demonstrated that he didn't know the difference between liability insurance on his car and comprehensive coverage, demonstrating a surprising lack of practical knowledge.

Did the president ever take an economics course? How did he do in his math requirements? Alas, only the transcripts could tell us.

There's one element of math that Obama really excels in: division.

Anonymous said...

Huge numbers are convincing when broken down into small numbers. "Trillions" means nothing to the average person. 5$ at the pump means a great deal.

The GOP nominee needs a person on staff to work along side every speech writer. His whose only job is to take EVERY reference to numbers and convert those numbers into what they mean on an individual basis. Simple arithmetic will usually suffice.

To every college student, the nominee needs to say, "Before you have every gotten a job, you owe this (fill in blank). And, as soon as you begin working, the government in DC will begin taking it from you at this rate (attach to dollar figure for hypothetical dollar figure of a wage). For every wage increase you might get, we will take (fill in the blank with dollar figure).

Then, you will be paying for this program (mention Head Start and all the other programs that have proved to be dollars thrown away) and this program and this program.

Add, "Then, you will be asked to fund this: and we will take (give dollar figure) from you if you make this wage (provide dollar figure.)

Then add, "Don't forget too--if you get this job in a year or two, you will be funding the daily living of 50% of Americans who, unlike you, don't pay a dime of Federal income tax.

Any good elementary or junior high math teacher uses this technique.

I'd like to see Romney get his ass on as many college campuses as possible and speak to them about their futures, using only these dollar figures and speaking of what programs their dollars are thrown at.

Ever notice how America starts to think "cool" of those people who speak directly to the young? Ron Paul knows this. Obama does/did too.

Paul Mendez said...

With politicians and the electorate, I would bet on power of words over numbers.

Agreed. It is clear that the human brain is hard-wired to process emotional rhetoric faster/better than cold logic.

Kylie said...

"With politicians and the electorate, I would bet on power of words over numbers."

Yes, and the power of emotion over reason.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a citation for this. Perhaps it's in one of his autobiographies. I can't find it on the internet, but perhaps someone more resourceful can locate a source. But I very distinctly recall reading during the 2008 campaign that Obama had trouble with algebra in high school. Why am I so sure I recall this? I'm a high school math teacher. By the way, people who have trouble with high school algebra are rarely intellectually gifted.

Svigor said...

With politicians and the electorate, I would bet on power of words over numbers.

Nah, it's probably numbers. Read a comment recently, might've been here, where someone was saying 90-some percent of the time the candidate with the most money wins. I tend to believe that.

0bama's cruising for an upset, though.

jody said...

in 3 years, we haven't heard a single intelligent comment from obama which demonstrates he grasps topics in even a rudimentary mathematical way. so i wouldn't expect one now.

he's the least brilliant "brilliant" person ever. at least goofs like ben bernanke and steven chu do have a technical competence in their field, even if they're intellectual clutzes in general.

obama doesn't even have that. forget numeracy, he doesn't even have literacy. he has to be the constitutional scholar who knows the least about the constitution ever. fortunately, almost everything is so ludicrously slanted towards his favor that he can stumble and bumble through law predicaments that would have anybody else stopped cold, because everybody else in positions of authority allow it, as he's the half african prince.

Anonymous said...

Literate? I cannot think of a single episode of Obama dropping a literary reference that left anyone impressed.

Not only is Romney more numerate than Obama, but I'd wager he's probably done more casual reading than him, too.

Gringo said...

I'm not familiar with a single anecdote about him suggesting one way or another how good he is with numbers.

On the other hand, there are examples showing how innumerate Obama is.

But we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling if everybody was just inflating their tires? And getting regular tune-ups? You’d actually save just as much!

Not to mention indications of Obama being ignorant of basic economics.

"... what you're now seeing is profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it."

josh said...

I have to add the inevitable question:Whats so skillful about Obama? He is boring as hell,and I find his endless use of the word "everybody" annoying! O

Anonymous said...

If the public could do basic arithmetic, there would be a revolution tomorrow.

Geoff Matthews said...

Romney probably got exposed to some quant methods in business school, and I'm betting that more came while he was in the business world. Someone had to have done a regression analysis to predict the growth of Staples, and someone had to have presented this to the board.
So, I'd guess that he has some moderate skill in numbers, but more so, he knows the value of people who have this skill.

Old Pete said...

I think people in all 57 states would say that Obama is good with numbers.

California kid said...

I can remember when presidents used to do TV speeches to the American people with an easel of charts showing us things about the economy. I don't remember which president it was.
A long time ago when America was still a country.

Catperson said...

Obamas kindergarten teacher in Indonesia remembers him as having as sharp math skills, but the average IQ in indonesias is 89 so a math IQ of only 100 might have been enough to stand out. However obama's dad and half-brother both studied STEM at the university level, so it sounds like Obama has good math genes.

Camlost said...

Forgive the candor but blacks are not really known for being numerate, Obama certainly isn't an exception.

SGI said...

Do we know of a HLS grad who wasn't "with honors"?

Anonymous said...

High-IQ Blacks tend to be more verbal than quantitative. John Derbyshire noted that they tend to be especially good at oratory and mimicry.

Whiskey said...

Not necessarily. Obama is basically the Head Coach of America. He has to produce WINS. Simply spewing out bs won't do it. Look at Belicheck. That guy is not exactly Mr. Geniality, and yet he occupies the hearts and minds of New England fans because he produces wins, and three Superbowl victories.

Anonymous said...

The President's problems with,
successes with, math....etc.

I'd like to suggest a coordinated effort to forget all we think we know about BHO and just establish online 650 pages 8.5 x 11 inch pages, each devoted in sequence to a month of his life. THEN, to have facts anywhere online placed onto the appropriate page/s. Most of the pages would be stark blank and many of them would be 98% blank. It is unfortunate that so much enthusiasm has been given to finding meaning in the facts and the facts have been footnote to broad brush strokes about BHO's significance, etc. Never, never in American history have we had a President for whom so little factual information is accessible and for which so much of what is presumed to be fact can be traced back to his (his?) breezy self-serving autobiographies.

Anonymous said...

Harry Baldwin's entry--re liability insurance & BHO knowing the difference between liability and comprhensive coverage
*******************************
This may be relevant to BHO's
feverish aversion to vigorous, if
civilized, disputation. Although he is stellar from Harvard Law, he does not like verbal disputation. But vigorous disputation is revealing of just these sorts of
hidden oddities--not knowing the elements of insurance coverage. Will the real BHO please stand up!!

Anonymous said...

"High-IQ Blacks tend to be more verbal than quantitative."

I am surprised that nobody relates their ability to rap to women's ability to talk pointless stuff real fast.

And the slight problem of Obama not being really black, i.e. majority black.

Anonymous said...

" steven chu do have a technical competence in their field"

So having a Nobel prize in Physics and being a faculty member at Stanford Physics is just proof of "technical competence"?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Bear with me on this: Harry Baldwin, see if you agree with me.
Obama did well at HLS. That implies an SATV of 700 or better.

He was an affirmative-action candidate coming out of a good prep school, but he only went to Occidental, a good but not top-tier college.

Had he a combined SAT of better than 1200, he would have gone somewhere better than Occi.

Therefore, his SATM was very low 500's at best, and may even have begun with a 4. Which is why we've never heard about it. He transferred to Columbia, but didn't need math cred at that point.

OBH was in fact below average at math, with all that implies about his overall numeracy and reasoning ability.

Anonymous said...

If he were white or Asian, would ANYONE in the MSM ever have attached "brilliant" to this guy?

Anonymous said...

"John Derbyshire noted that they tend to be especially good at oratory and mimicry."

been to enough black churches to see this firsthand

David Davenport said...

Obama is very good with words ...

Steve, i simply disagree with your premise that the Halbblut Prinz is good with words.

His rhetoric hasn't won him many new fans. I have never heard him say anything erudite or scholarly.

I'm more and more convinced that Affirmative Action got the O. through law school. When has he ever cited any laws or legal precedents?

The O. strikes me as a typical black hustler who is deft at aping upscale white people's tastes and mannerisms, without actually knowing anything in depth. ... Can't say the say thing about his wife, who might as well go by a name such as Shaniqua or Latonkeisha.

Again Steve, I don't agree with your premise. Please give us one or two examples of Barry Soetero's word power.

David said...

>"Obama analyzed and integrated Einstein's theory of relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as well as the concept of curved space as an alternative to gravity, for a Law Review article that Tribe wrote titled, 'The Curvature of Constitutional Space.'"<

Only Stalin rivals him as a universal scholar.

42 Long said...

Romney does not seem like a mathematical thinker to me, not at all. Mind you that is not the same as having bedrock sense of business judgment. There are stories from the Bain period to back up Romney in that regard, but he's no quant.

If Obama is verbally oriented it's an SAT-Verbal, Davos Mad Libs kind of skill set. He can chop up the Washingtonese lingo and churn out smart-sounding news copy. However he is never poetic or theatrical speaker in extemporaneous setting.

Hunsdon said...

David Davenport said: Again Steve, I don't agree with your premise. Please give us one or two examples of Barry Soetero's word power.

Hunsdon replied: Right on, David. I think Steve's trying to push Obama into a box he doesn't fit. Black men can be quite excellent at persuasive speaking, but Obama strikes me as a powerful speaker on about the Al Gore level.

Jesse Jackson, even Al Sharpton, heck, Louis Farrakhan, all of them leave Obama, if you will pardon the expression, in the shade. (All have hit that phase now where, like Robert DeNiro, they're doing pastiches of themselves in better days, but in better days, they could drop the oratory like it was hot.)

Anonymous said...

"Obama is very good with words ..."

"Steve, i simply disagree with your premise that the Halbblut Prinz is good with words."

Obama does know how to turn the right phrase. I think blacks have a natural knack for orality, which is almost musical. Rap may be crap but has verbal rhythm. And blacks played a crucial role in development of Jazz. Obama is like lite-Jazz. But he has enough of smoothness to his talk to sound 'different' than most politicians.
It's like elegance eloquence, or elequence or elogance.
He also has an extra kick to his voice thanks to blackness. White voice sounds less commanding.

Gringo said...

Anonymous @ 2/24/12 9:13 AM

I don't have a citation for this. Perhaps it's in one of his autobiographies. I can't find it on the internet, but perhaps someone more resourceful can locate a source. But I very distinctly recall reading during the 2008 campaign that Obama had trouble with algebra in high school. Why am I so sure I recall this?

The Internet gets scrubbed, so it is possible that what you read in 2008 is no longer there.


I found this reference by Googling “Obama algebra Punahou.” The book gives no reference to Obama’s experience with algebra in high school, but his classmate Cheryl Lister discusses their experiences in seventh grade pre-algebra. From Our Friend Barry: Classmates' Recollections of Barack Obama and Punahou School: edited by Constance Ramos [click on the "page 75" link]:

We sat next to each other in Mr. Lee’s seventh grade pre-algebra class. Barry managed simultaneously to crack jokes and to absorb each math lesson of the day. I was better at paying attention to jokes than I was at math. At the time, I wore a curtain of long, sun-bleached hippie hair and I was pretty sure that Barry’s amusing jokes were a veiled compliment to me and another blonde who sat nearby. We laughed at my being blonde and not getting the math. At times I became frustrated with Mr. Lee’s ambiguous explanations, and Barry was sensitive enough to stop teasing. Instead he would pause and unassumingly explain the assorted x and y equations to me. I remember because it was rare for a twelve year old boy to be so emotionally intuitive and thoughtful. Barry was also a lot better at teaching me pre-algebra than Mr. Lee was!

We still don’t know how Obama did in high school algebra,, but the above recollection makes it seem less likely that he did have trouble with high school algebra. This book does at least shed some light on Obama’s childhood independent of his autobiography.

Anonymous said...

Watching the iSteve commentariat twist themselves into pretzels to convince themselves that Obama isn't actually a bright guy, despite the fact that he comes from a family of smarties and, you know, won the presidency despite being a black guy with a name that's nearly a homophone of America's number one enemy, never ceases to be hilarious. Even Steve thinks Obama's smart-- he just thinks he's fragile, self-absorbed, and a little boring.

jody said...

"Watching the iSteve commentariat twist themselves into pretzels to convince themselves that Obama isn't actually a bright guy"

we haven't heard anything smart from this guy yet, and he's been under the most intense microscope available - president of the united states. when does he get to the part where he starts saying something smart? to WRITING something smart, at least. basically he just gets to be dead wrong, somewhat regularly, then nobody calls him on it publicly. that whole business with stimulating the national economy and creating jobs by rebuilding roads and bridges with 800 BILLION dollars was some of the stupidest Fing BS ever spouted. that's moron level, "I have no idea AT ALL how ANYTHING works" stuff.

we had no problem bashing previous presidents when they said something dumb, which obama does more regularly than any president which i have lived through. in fact some of his major speeches, like his state of the union addresses, contain phrases and ideas which are head smackingly stupid. face palm stupid level stuff. he routinely demonstrates that he doesn't even have a layman's grasp on several basic topics - probably because he doesn't, as he's been isolated from the real world for most of his life.

he's even worse than GW bush as far as saying completely stupid stuff goes, and bush said some whoppers. although obama delivers his IQ 90, grade level 8 speeches without stumbling verbally - much. take away the text he reads from, which is written by other people, and then he reverts quickly back to um, uh, mumble.

jody said...

"despite the fact that he comes from a family of smarties"

like the 2 illegal alien deadbeats in the US he won't deport? we must have different definitions of smart. obama's father sounds like a classic affirmative action case. and we all know for sure now that obama is.

"won the presidency despite being a black guy with a name that's nearly a homophone of America's number one enemy"

yes well his jewish handlers are quite shrewd and crafty, aren't they.

GW bush was re-elected after initiating the worst military blunder in the history of the united states. i think it's pretty easy to get elected in america these days. for a democrat the formula now is, don't say much that's controversial, maintain your ongoing appeals to the growing democrat hordes by playing identity politics for them and attacking republicans mercilessly should they attempt that ever, and you can probably win an election for president now - all the demographic trends are on your side.

not to mention, it's getting pretty close to being illegal to criticize africans or people who are part african. which means, obama really can't make mistakes or screw ups, because he's not allowed to be attacked. he's an open racist - which is now apparently acceptable if you are african or part african. although, it looks like gingrich is willing to break the unwritten rule about not attacking them. a coward moron like john mccain sure wouldn't, although hey, you run john mccain, you're gonna lose. john mccain is an absolute brain dead idiot.

Anonymous said...

Verbal and political skill is more important for high finance.

Yeah, verbal skill is more important than mathematical ability for high finance! lol.

Anonymous said...

Obama does know how to turn the right phrase. I think blacks have a natural knack for orality


President's rarely "turn the right phrase". They have speech-writers to do that for them. President Telepromter is famously bad at speaking when he has to go off-script.



He also has an extra kick to his voice thanks to blackness.


Ear of the beholder, I guess. A lot of people go into raptures about Obama's voice so you're not alone there, but I just don't get it myself. I find his voice irritating and boring at the same time.

David Davenport said...

Yeah, verbal skill is more important than mathematical ability for high finance! lol.

A firm such as Mittens Rummy's Bain Capital can hire beaucoup quants. They're quite affordable hires. The USA is overstocked with 'em.

"Quant" -- a number-nerd Dr. of math, pysical science, or engineering who can't get a tenure-track teaching job.