Share

Opinion: Columnists

Intellectual hubris hampers presidential geniuses

By |
Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Barack Obama,President,History

It’s now two and a half years to the can’t-come-too-soon end of President Obama’s adventure, but his legacy seems to be settled already; he is the smartest man in all of U.S. history to screw up so many big things.

That he is brilliant is something we already knew. "This is a guy whose IQ is off the charts," Michael Beschloss said of Obama, who was the "smartest guy" to be president. Christopher Buckley said he was first class in temperament and intellectual prowess, boosting him two slots above Franklin D. Roosevelt in the gray matter arena. "You could see him as a New Republic writer," said David Brooks, closing the argument.

But fact that this genius has become a disaster became clear in mid-June when the Middle East imploded, matching his health care debacle with its foreign equivalent. The non-connection of political wisdom to what intellectuals think makes for intelligence was never more painfully clear.

Democrats are quick to lay claim to the mantle of intellect, at least in the more modern age: Jimmy Carter was said to be smarter than Gerald Ford, everyone was said to be smarter than Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis was said to be smarter than George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton said to be smarter than all except his wife, Hillary, and Al Gore and John Kerry much smarter than George W. Bush, whose SAT scores, the New York Times told us, had to be much, much lower than Kerry’s, until it was found they were not.

This does not explain how the Gipper (the "amiable dunce" in the Clark Clifford telling) turned out to be rated as the best president since Franklin Roosevelt, the man whom Oliver Wendell Holmes once proclaimed had a "first-rate temperament," though only a third-level mind. But with his "gentleman’s C" he was miles ahead of our two greatest presidents, whose formal schooling never passed what we would call middle school, and were widely mocked by elites of their day.

John Adams mocked George Washington; Henry Adams found little to like in Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt, and John Quincy Adams never got over his loss to Andrew Jackson, becoming irate when his alma mater bestowed a degree on his unlettered successor in 1833. As he wrote to the president of the university (who was his cousin), "I could not be present to see my darling Harvard disgrace herself by conferring a Doctor’s degree upon a barbarian and a savage who could scarcely spell his own name." The "savage," of course, knew how to get to the point of the matter in a way that scholars can’t master. "The only Latin I know is E Pluribus Unum," he said.

Is it coincidence that our three most intellectual presidents — John Adams, James Madison, and John Quincy Adams — were neither successful nor happy in in office, found it the least happy period of their long and productive careers?

Michael Dukakis, called a great brain because he took a book on Swedish land use policies to read on vacation, was never able to explain why it was prudent to give murderers unsupervised furloughs, an idea that elites found humane and progressive, and voters found mad. Similarly, Obama is in trouble because he could not get his brain around two base rules of politics so commonsense and self-evident as to need no explanation whatever: big and transformative laws cannot survive without deep, broad support from the public; the absence of power invites aggression, and withdrawing the carrots and sticks of American power from tense situations asks unbridled hell to step in.

Children should know this, which is why it eludes the more snotty among us — who should never be heard from again.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
View article comments Leave a comment

More from washingtonexaminer.com