Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Presidential IQ: God Save Us from Genius

At the end of his column on presidential intelligence David Corn asks the one salient question: Does it matter? Link here.

After regaling us with accounts of the extraordinary intelligence of Democratic presidents like Carter, Clinton, and Obama and after dismissing Republican presidents like Reagan, Bush, and Bush as dimwits, Corn is forced, by his intellectual integrity, to ask whether high IQ makes for effective leadership.

In truth, however, Corn seems to be saying that the label of genius is a consolation prize for those who could not govern effectively.

If Jimmy Carter occupies the summit of presidential brilliance and Ronald Reagan is just some unenlightened fool, then, a quick glance at their respective records would lead us to believe that genius disqualifies a president.

Corn's reflections issued forth from his experience of watching Pres. Obama lead a health care summit last weej. In fact, as I mentioned at the time, it was more seminar than summit, and Corn should know that seminar leadership is not the same as presidential leadership, but that is off the point.

The amazing thing is that Corn still accepts that Obama is some kind of genius. Yet, if his genius had been evident in his test scores and academic records, I guarantee you that we would all know about it. Since we have never seen the smallest scintilla of evidence about Obama's academic achievements, the chances are very good that they do not entirely support the charge that he is a genius.

Surely, Obama delivers great speeches. His dulcet oratory is so smooth and soothing that it tends to hypnotize and mesmerize an audience, to the point where they cannot even ask whether he is right or wrong. The media, in particular, has been singularly unwilling to question the contradictions and misstatements that are sprinkled throughout any Obama speech. The same media seems to be constitutionally incapable of calling Obama out on his broken promises.

They, like David Corn, have been seduced by the great orator, the man whose music has led them very, very close to intellectual subservience.

As for Jimmy Carter, when Corn offers as evidence of genius the fact that Carter graduated in the top 10% of his class at the Naval Academy, we should note that being in the top 10% of a graduating class does not make you another Einstein.

But why then has a David Corn allowed himself to be duped into thinking that Democratic presidents are geniuses? How did he allow himself to be so thoroughly seduced by the myth of Obama's genius that he missed what was going on at the health care summit?

Corn imagines that Obama was masterful in his command of fact. Other less impassioned souls have noted that he got an awful lot of them wrong.

If the Democratic party is the party of genius why is it that every commentary on the summit asserted that the Republican Congressional leadership made the best presentation, based on facts and a thorough command of the issues, while Congressional Democrats limited themselves to anecdotes.

If we are measuring intelligence, why not notice that this health care summit, accompanying Obama's renewed efforts to get his health care bill passed, was his response to the recent Massachusetts senate race. When the voters of Massachusetts repudiate your signature domestic policy initiative, is doubling down a sign of superior intelligence or political obtuseness?

But what is this myth of presidential genius really about? I suspect that it is an effort to trick people into allowing others to make their decisions for them. When you say that these presidents are geniuses you are also saying that they are so much more intelligent than the rest of us that we should allow them to make decisions about matters that we cannot begin to understand.

When Obama willfully ignores the message of the Massachusetts senate race, he is displaying ignorance, not genius.

But that does not prevent him from presenting himself as the smartest kid on the block, the one who must make your decisions for you, whether you like it or not.

Surely, this logic appeals to a certain segment of the electorate, which consistently votes for these supposedly great minds. And that trusts them to make the most important decisions, regardless of what the rest of the population thinks. It surely represents something like a government-knows-best point of view.

Of course, liberal political thinking-- today's version-- comes down to us as a modern version of Plato's rule by philosopher-king. Plato believed that those who were most intelligent, most philosophical, and most impractical should be making decisions for the rest of us. Today that group would comprise professors, lawyers, and bureaucrats.


Robert Pearson said...

Just a few additional, hopefully amusing, observations: If I recall correctly, Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was Director of the CIA under Carter, graduated first in the same class that Carter was in "the top 10 percent" of. So by Corn's logic, perhaps Turner should have been President instead.

Regarding your statement "Obama delivers great speeches. His dulcet oratory is so smooth and soothing that it tends to hypnotize and mesmerize an audience, to the point where they cannot even ask whether he is right or wrong.--I was reminded of this obscure article I ran across that claims Obama uses Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and "Ericksonian" hypnosis techniques to somehow mind-control audiences. While these are real, and really useful, technologies that I am personally familiar with, there is also the fact that no amount of sophistry can change external reality. I find that strangely comforting.

Finally, I am a now a big believer in the idea that "genius" is the capacity to take infinite trouble (I believe it was Carlyle who originally said that, I've heard variations). I have a pretty high IQ but for the first 35 years of my life I accomplished little; life coaching from some very good books assisted me to know what to actions to take, rather just what knowledge to acquire. President Obama obviously has a lot of knowledge but has never been an executive before now, and I don't see his basic approach as changing rapidly enough to be a really successful President.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the comments and for the link to the "obscure article" about Obama's use of hypnosis techniques. Surely, this topic deserves more consideration.