Presidents and Their Intellect


  Presidents and their Intellect




That's great stuff- I am glad people still think seriously about the IQ and mental health of our leaders. It would surprise me greatly, and almost everyone else I know or have known, that GW Bush had an IQ near JFK. If GW Bush has IQ of 115 and that sounds reasonable, then Bill Clinton has one of 215. I know of no example that GW Bush has ever read a book and that he was by all accounts a barely passing student in college. I do not know what his core curriculum was or whether he just didn't care, as many rich boys (and poor boys) don't. But, all in all, it is the poor boys that must excel to succeed. Certainly Bill Clinton excelled, and was incredibly well read, and his language and overall skills reflected that intellect. Yes he was flawed, like many of us. Of course GWB was a ne'r do well swindler up to age 40 or so, but that takes nothing away from his mental health or supposed IQ. I am one of the vituperative people who think of GWB as a moron or in a nicer sense just a political do-nothing opportunistic flack that got elevated because of his name and money. Of course in his own words, at around age 40, when asked whether he thought about a political career, he stated (I paraphrase) that he had done nothing in his life up to then to justify public office. But good political leaders do not have to be intellects, and in a sense the public has a tendency to mistrust them. Certainly Stevenson was labeled an “egg head” and the country rejected him, by wide margins, over the affable, but non-intellectual Dwight Eisenhower, who favored Zane Grey western novels as a way to intellectually test his gray matter or just relax. He spent more days on vacation, and away from work then any President, except maybe Calvin Coolidge or GW Bush in his term up to 9/11.


Jack Kennedy was a bright, and talented young man, who had many more advantages, then most of his presidential peers. His great communicative skills were not hurt by his Hollywood good looks, and he had terrific political instincts fostered by his close connection to world events and the political theater of his upbringing. FDR raised himself to be President in the model of his cousin TR, but JFK, after the death of his brother, was fast-tracked to the job by the incredible heavy-hitting Kennedy political machine. Despite his incredible advantages he still had to produce, and he was quite capable of reflecting those skills on all of his campaign venues. As President he was inexperienced, a bit too young, and therefore pushed around by his own Congress. In a second term he would have had a short window of opportunity to succeed before morphing into lame-duck status. Certainly Michael Dukakis, who was and is quite bright, suffered from some of the same fear that the public has of intellectual superiority. In the modern era, only Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, two true intellects, were elected to the Presidency. Few people saw TR as an intellect and he was elevated initially by violence, and not the direct will of the electorate. Ironically Wilson, former President of Princeton, an intellectual reformer and a writer, besides being the popular reform Governor of New Jersey, was elected as a true minority President, when his eventual political enemy, the former president, Teddy Roosevelt, split the vote in a three- way election. So we do not have a long wonderful history of electing truly bright people. Maybe, in his own way, Nixon would be considered bright, a law school graduate from Duke, along with the highly educated and successful businessmen and engineers Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Certainly anyone smart enough to captain a nuclear submarine, and to pass Admiral Rickover's rigorous tests was no dope. But few give him good marks as a President, and he was never perceived by the public as an intellect. Most people saw him as a county-boy peanut farmer! Taft was an educated man, a lawyer, territorial governor, a cabinet official and also a Supreme Court Justice. But no one accuses him of being overly gifted as an intellect. Harding was a political hack, as was Ford, and certainly was Truman, who did not attend college, but was recognized as near-great President but an unpopular one. LBJ was a political animal with a minor college education, who was quite bright, and incredibly energetic and ambitious, but not an intellect. Coolidge was a dour fellow who slept through most of his five years in the job and had little vision or transferable ideals. Reagan certainly would never be accused of being well educated or bright, and was at best a line-reciting puppet with a primitive understanding of almost anything. His familiarity with the scientific world was appalling and his total inability to react with a spontaneous thought was embarrassing. Again he never had high marks regarding his reputation of being well read or even educated. Overall, for my money, he was one of the stupidest men to have held high office in this century. But he was popular, could deliver a quippish line and strangely remains popular today. But history will flay him to shreds and he will fall significantly in the mind of future generations of historians. Of course we are left with one President who has always confounded everyone. FDR, the most successful politician and statesman in the history of the western world, was not an intellect. Everyone remembers Oliver Wendell Holmes “supposed” remark that he (FDR) was “a second rate intellect, but (had) a first-class temperament.” He was reasonably better educated then most, and had very high communication skills. His great strength really resided in his exceptional “people” skills. He knew how to get good people to do good and loyal work. He engendered great loyalty and love from his staff, and even received grudgingly given respect from his political enemies. Even the Japanese, in the midst of the war and on the edge of defeat, offered moments of silence, over the radio, at the news of his death and recognized him as a “great” man. No man in history had the combination of domestic, worldwide and posthumous acclaim. He owned the office and almost no one, even his great and most vicious opponents, could discount his power and skills. In a sense, an eternally healthy FDR would have gone on and on. His supporters were never tired of him, and his opponents were plum worn out by his skills, charm and worldwide support. Today he remains an almost unchallenged icon, far above his contemporaries and all who have followed. Most collective memories of FDR are unique and reverential. Though he was secretive, at times vindictive, and often political too bold, his legacy remains unprecedented and will continue to grow. Where does John Kerry fall in this entire historical context, who knows? But for my money he will be the next President and we will find out soon enough.


RJ Garfunkel  



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