October 8, 2003


No, California Is Not Falling Into the Sea (Christopher Scheer, October 8, 2003, AlterNet)

Intellectuals need not apply: The progressive left tried to take Arnold down for not being smart, drafting to oppose him an honest-to-god debating champ from Oxford. Duh! Americans, and Californians have made it abundantly clear: They do not like know-it-alls, except on "Jeopardy!" After all, most Americans don't have time or the willingness to read the front section of their daily newspaper, don't discuss politics beyond the bare surface in their social circles, aren't active in any political organization and see democracy as primarily a once-a-year ten-minute duty. Why would we want to elect somebody who makes us feel uninformed? If you're book smart, like Gore, you'd better do like so many women have done through the centuries -- hide it well.

It is not that Americans like stupid leaders, although we certainly have chosen plenty over the years.

Actually, we do at least prefer stupider leaders to smarter ones, on the entirely sensible assumption that the smarter ones will try to do more with their power over us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 8, 2003 8:50 PM

Um, if Arnold had ever actually debated things might have been different. But perhaps not.

Still the above quote without acknowledging that Schwarzenegger refused to debate is intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: Amdrew | BYTE BACK at October 8, 2003 10:02 PM

Huh? Doesn't his not debating feed into the notion he was the dumber?

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2003 10:35 PM

Hmm. Chris Scheer -- any relation to Robert?

Posted by: Twn at October 8, 2003 11:05 PM

It's interesting to note that 12% more voters voted for No on recall than voted for Bustamente.

That means that even this 12% who wanted to keep Davis voted for someone other than the Cruze man (probably for Aaahnold!) to replace Grayout Davis.

Posted by: Oswald Booth Czolgosz at October 9, 2003 12:36 AM

I think a major reason Americans distrust "brilliant" politicians is that they are more likely to have brainy, complex schemes for remaking society. The "dumb" distrust of such things is a virtue in disguise.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 9, 2003 1:13 AM

Papaya - Bingo. I do NOT want left-wing superbrainiacs running the government. Period.

Americans have a great deal of "horse sense," and they know enough to distrust people with grand schemes for re-making society.

I'm a history major in college. These people are dangerous. Trust me.

Posted by: Matt at October 9, 2003 4:48 AM

Hey Matt..

You wouldn't be referring to one Hillary Cinton, would you?!

Posted by: John J. Coupal at October 9, 2003 7:24 AM

Try naming the men who historians consider the five "smartest" presidents of the 20th Century, and then try naming the men most people consider the five worst presidents of the 20th Century. The corrolation of the two lists isn't exact, but it's pretty close (and the reverse -- naming the five so-called "dumbest" presidents of the last century and the five best presidents -- corrolates pretty closely as well).

Posted by: John at October 9, 2003 7:44 AM

Well let's see:


1. Woodrow Wilson
2. Richard Nixon
3. Herbert Hoover
4. Bill Clinton
5. Eisenhower


1. Warren Harding
2. Ronald Reagan
3. Calvin Coolidge
4. Harry Truman
5. George W Bush

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 9, 2003 8:02 AM

Generally (excuse the pun), I agree with you.

There seem to be revelations about the Eisenhower presidency coming to light.

The thought had been that Eisenhower was a lightweight, and presided during a period of national tranquility and conformity.

It seems Ike actually implemented some brazen covert national defense initiatives that are now coming to light.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at October 9, 2003 10:57 AM

I would have swapped Carter for Eisenhower on the "smartest" list, based on the general public perceptions that still exist to this day. Ike's gotten more credit in the past 15 years, but he's still seen in many parts as an affiable ex-general who spent lots of time at Burning Tree; Jimmy, as we were incessantly reminded during the 1976 presidential campaign, was both an engineer and a nuclear submarine expert compared to Gerald Ford, who could take GWB's place on the "dumb" list if you confine it only to presidents who served in the 20th Century.

Posted by: John at October 9, 2003 12:33 PM

I sort of figured most people in the States would think the man in charge of the Allied war effort in Europe and North Africa would be a pretty smart guy as opposed to a Georgia peanut farmer.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 9, 2003 3:33 PM

Well, Ike and Wilson were university presidents.

Intelligence is not the quality that is of most interest to me, though. It might be more instructive to list the presidents who were obviously, clinically and seriously mentally ill:

Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan. Coolidge was either a norcoleptic or had disabling personality disorder, perhaps both.

Grit counts, too. I don't know how to compare overcoming polio and overcoming alcoholism.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 9, 2003 4:08 PM

Reagan & Coolidge? That's just asinine.

All polio did for FDR was teach him that no one should have to take care of themself, that government should walk you from cradle to grave.

Posted by: oj at October 9, 2003 4:11 PM


In America, military men are never considered bright. Ike compounded that by reading Westerns and speaking in a tortured syntax.

Posted by: oj at October 9, 2003 4:22 PM

Come on Harry, Coolidge liked to take lots of naps and didn't like flapping his mouth.

Doesn't mean he was suffering from any disorders.

Although Lincoln was probably a depressive and I've read that Washington was apt to cry when he was feeling particularly stressed.

oj: FDR was actually pretty self-sufficent for a guy stuck in a wheel-chair. And he'd abandon his pretence of not being a cripple when visting injured Allied soldiers which at least shows character.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 9, 2003 6:05 PM

Kennedy was mentally ill? Come on, he had a lot of physical problems and was a satyr, but he fulfilled his calling, both as a son and as a man of his time. Besides, he gave one of the best political quotes ever, about Eleanor: "She always hated me (and my parents), because the Kennedy kids turned out better than hers did".

Actually, the most important affect in a president is probably whether or not he learns to enjoy the job without being consumed. In this regard, Coolidge, Truman, Ike, Kennedy, and Reagan seem to be about the same. Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton would be failures. But none of them had much grit, either.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 9, 2003 10:23 PM

Not mentally ill, but if you read Michael Beschloss's Crisis Years and Thomas Reeves's Question of Character (?), he was no mentally competent at times, including during one summit, because of medications.

Posted by: oj at October 9, 2003 10:32 PM