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How Smart Should a President Be?



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Politico asks, “Is Newt as smart as he thinks?” I liked Fred Siegel’s response the best:

“The intellectual level of debate in the Senate and the House is very low, and it’s in that context that Gingrich comes off as more profound than he really is,” Siegel said. “He is the tallest building in Wichita.”

A friend expresses this same idea differently, as “the best hockey player in Ecuador.” I’m sure there’s a whole raft of such comparisons, similar to “the world’s shortest book” genre (Italian War Heroes, for instance — it’s a joke!).

But seriously, how important is IQ to the success of a president? The Politico piece points out that, if elected, Gingrich would be only the second president with a Ph.D. But the first one was Wilson, which tells you a lot. I’m sure people have examined this more rigorously, but my sense is that our smartest presidents were probably J. Q. Adams, Wilson, and Hoover; none of them was terribly good at the job (though Adams and Hoover made great contributions in other capacities), suggesting that there might be such a thing as being too smart to be president. I leave the reader to decide whether this applies to our current chief executive, who tells people that he knows more about policy than his policy directors and is a better speechwriter than his speechwriters.

On the other hand, it could be that there’s an IQ threshold below which one is simply unsuited for the job, and one above which intelligence is no longer as relevant as other characteristics. I suspect this is the case for most of life’s activities, but if someone has something substantive to add, I’d love to read it in the comments.



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