It is one of the more ingrained myths of the modern American political experience that the more liberal you are, the more likely you are going to be seen as intellectually gifted or even brilliant, the more conservative, more likely the dummy with persistence. Quick – name our “intellectually gifted” presidents of the last fifty years: Kennedy, Carter, Clinton ,and Obama -the “intellectually challenged”: Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush. Our current President Obama was noted to be “brilliant” by commentators as diverse as Peggy Noonan and Joe Klein, without a single released college transcript revealing assessed capacity, or a single legislative accomplishment as a state or federal senator. David Remnick, Obama’s biographer, states, “Its certainly a relief to a lot of people that Obama shows no signs of the incuriosity displayed by his predecessor (Bush). Obama has proven his intellectual and literary firepower.“ The power of liberal insight is it transforms people from being intellectually capable to being intellectually “gifted” on the solitary basis of the righteousness of the idealistic liberal cause. President Obama in his righteousness has struggled with the inability of the segments of the American public to see the obvious benefits of his well thought out positions. Instead they “cling to their guns and their religion”, and inconceivably deny the merits of the stimulus and health care packages he has produced, so clear to any thinking person. In juxtaposition are the two identified presidential “dullards”, Reagan and George W. Bush. Mr. Reagan the obvious C student at Eureka College and B-movie actor, was assumed to be incapable of the decision making capacity and policy conceptualization that led to a spectacular economic boom and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Yet his diaries and writings show a depth, assuredness, and farsightedness based on bedrock principles that defy the attempted dismissiveness of his critics. George W. Bush holds an especially pilloried position in intellectuals’ hearts when it comes to dullardness. He is the king of the incapable conceptualization, the crown prince of incuriosity. Yet of the three combatants for the Presidency, in order of intellectualism- Gore, Kerry, Bush- which had the SAT score in the top 20% of takers, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and the intellectual competence to fly jet fighters? Ummm, that would be the dullard Bush. No matter – the guitar playing Kerry was a clear intellectual heavyweight compared to the thick thinking Bush according to the media definitions of 2004, and Bush’s structural clarity in his decision making style and firm support of his management team were seen as profound mental rigidity bordering on -that’s right, dullardness.
Intellectuals remain flummoxed by the unwillingness of people or events to conform to their version of the facts. The sceptics of global warming were denounced as “flat earthers” for being unwilling to accept the “overwhelming evidence” of global warming, even as the 2009 East Anglia debacle showed data manipulation and out right fabrication at the base of the arguments. President Clinton insisted that engagement with the North Koreans worked “under my watch” even though the North Koreans themselves admitted they brazenly lied regarding all elements of the Clinton era benchmarks, and successfully achieved a nuclear device. Now President Obama is flummoxed by Iranian leaders engaging in evangelical self interest in nuclear development, when it was clear to him the failing of the Bush team was their anti-intellectual obstinance about accepting the Iranian theocracy as the legitimate expression of the Iranian people, even as Obama observed as hundreds of thousands of Iranians bravely protested and hundreds died defining for all time the regime’s illegitimacy.
The “unfortunate” conclusion of all this smart vs dumb presidential nonsense is that the components of leadership – organizational skills, temperment, intuitiveness, insight, principled logic and ability to instill passionate trusting involvement of a people- are hardly gaged by an individual’s grade in first year law school or his or her media savvy. It is hard earned, ‘ boots on the ground’ performance that shows a politician’s true smarts, and our ability to find leaders who can solve some of the bigger issues of our time will determine our own success as a people, and our survival as a civilization. We may want to consider a more diverse assessment of leaders as they come before us, such as the contrasting leadership styles under pressure of people such as Sara Palin or Hillary Clinton, before we dismiss one, and anoint the other. The great educational institutions of America have produced some great leaders, but no more than the training ground of the school of hard knocks and personal challenge.