October 23, 2004


Brainy Candidates Need Not Apply (Ariel Dorfman, October 22, 2004, LA Times)

Is John Kerry too intelligent to be president of the United States?

It was what I felt instinctively the first and only time I met him, at a lunch at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 1998. He was subtle, full of cultural and historical references, elaborating each fine argument at length, with perception and nuance. I commented to one of his aides afterward that I regrettably thought his brains could turn out to be the biggest impediment to a man like him ever occupying the White House.

All these years later, with most polls still showing George W. Bush ahead of his opponent after three debates in which Kerry proved himself more articulate and thoughtful and flexible and able to understand an increasingly dangerous world, I am afraid I may have been right. Yet it still seems inconceivable to me that someone as incompetent, incoherent and obtuse as Bush could possibly command almost half the votes of his fellow countrymen.

Is it that Americans actually like Bush's know-nothing effect? Or is it that Kerry strikes Americans as too highbrow? As pretentious? Do they see his complexity as excessive effeminate suppleness?

This anti-intellectualism has, unfortunately, a long history in the United States.

Unfortunate? That blessed anti-intellectualism--rejecting Rationalism, Secularism, Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, Nazism, Existentialism, etc.--is the single most important reason that America has avoided most of the damage that intellectuals have done to the rest of the West.

Mr. Dorfman is more right than he realizes when he speculates that Mr. Kerry is too much an intellectual to be elected--in every presidential election since at least the turn of the 20th Century (except where an incumbent was involved or a significant 3rd party candidate, and often even then) the candidate perceived as less intellectually gifted has won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2004 11:07 AM

And there's no certainty that Kerry is any smarter than Bush, anyway:


Posted by: PapayaSF at October 23, 2004 12:48 PM


Intellectuals aren't smarter, they just believe more in reason and intellect than in experience and tradition.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 12:51 PM

That whole piece made me think, "Oh, boo hoo hoo." That smug petulant sniff: "Kerry's too smart to be president!" That's like people saying that Carter was too nice to be president, except that they saved their sour grapes until after Carter had lost.

Posted by: Governor Breck at October 23, 2004 1:48 PM


They thought the nuclear physicist was too smart for the cowboy too.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 1:59 PM

The fact that Democrats think that giving incomprehensible answers that refuse to commit one way or the other is a sign of great intelligence has always been inexplicable to me. I've always been told, and agreed, that if a scientist can't explain his research to a layman in about two sentences, he doesn't really understand it himself (sounds like something Feynman may have originated?).

If Kerry's meandering answers don't make sense to John Q. Public, it's not because Mr. Public is stupid.

Posted by: brian at October 23, 2004 2:10 PM

What the hell does 'being an intellectual' mean?
If it means the idiotic navel-gazing that one sees from the Dorfmans on liberal arts faculties across the world, then it's more useless than a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

Carter was not a 'physicist.' He did not have a master's degree in the field.

Posted by: Bart at October 23, 2004 2:21 PM

No, but he said he was. Intellectuals believe in the power of the individual's mind.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 2:24 PM


I have a great deal of trouble considering pedants who waste time on nonsense like Scholasticism or metaphysics or Kabbalah to be intellectuals. If it has no real world applicability, who needs it? If you have a mind you should try to use it, to learn facts which you can then mold and employ as needed. If you have ideas and theories but no facts, you have nothing.

Posted by: Bart at October 23, 2004 2:53 PM

Facts don't mold--they are. The Scholastics were right.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 3:01 PM

Hoping to find a vaguely remembered famous quote, I hopped on a link in one of this website's 5,200,064 pages, which brought me to an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (October 18, 2001) and these lines:

"As Tocqueville wrote, in words that remain as true today as when they were written . . ." The banquet hall clears, or, if it does not actually clear, it clears out mentally. There is no bore like a Tocqueville bore, no game quite so easy to play as the game of saying that Tocqueville saw it all before it happened.

Heh. Um... never mind.

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 23, 2004 4:32 PM


The Left first tried to claim de Tocqueville as one of their own, but when Harvey Mansfield and others made that risible they decided to try and discredit him instead.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 4:45 PM

Ariel Dorfman, whose main contribution was 'Donald
Duck is the vanguard of the CounterRevolution' this was 1971, two years before the coup,

Posted by: narciso at October 23, 2004 5:15 PM

Facts do get molded, OJ. We use them like grains of sand in a sand painting. We shape them, color them, emphasize them, arrange them as needed.

Posted by: Bart at October 23, 2004 6:18 PM

Yes, but then you molders always have to come back to the Truth in the end. We've learned to be patient.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2004 6:20 PM

It's not that Kerry's too smart, it's that he's too foolish.

He can analyze any problem six ways from Sunday, bringing considerable knowledge and brainpower to bear, but in the end he has a long history of making poor choices.

I don't care if Bush is a drooling moron who flips a coin to decide whether to invade other nations or not; so far, so good.

"It's smarter to be lucky, than lucky to be smart" -
Bob Fosse, "Pippin"

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 24, 2004 3:32 AM

Ariel Dorfman's book on Donald Duck was inadvertently one of the funniest books ever written.

In any case, liberals are in favor of more brains ... until it's time to actually test brain power.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at October 24, 2004 3:54 AM

There's a lot of things you could say about people who still believe, in this day and age, that socialist programs are a good idea. That they're more intelligent than the rest of us ain't one of 'em.

Posted by: Tom at October 24, 2004 10:25 AM

I wouldn't think that Bush and Kerry represent the entire spectrum of knowledge and application in this country.

Michael thinks Kerry a fool. I see him more as an opportunist. No resting point, nothing for him to come back to when doubts assail.

Bush is the obverse of that. Orrin's sermons on faith-based ignorance are amusing, but I wouldn't take my car to a mechanic who operated on that principle.

I don't think Bush is stupid, and he's certainly centered. But he's incurious.

He's like Joe Sixpack in that he knows as much as he feels like he needs to know.

Very American and very dangerous.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 24, 2004 2:34 PM


Why dangerous? The most successful politicians in democracies are those without intellectual pretensions who have two or three simple and sound core ideas they run with. They do not allow bureaucracies to overwhelm them, but they don't shut them out either. And they stay clean.

A good undergraduate should be curious about the world. Why a President? And why is Joe Sixpack so dangerous?

A lot of people do think politics is some kind of intellectual challenge and intercultural workshop, but those they elect are the dangerous ones.

Posted by: Peter B at October 24, 2004 5:06 PM

Our best presidents have all been incurious in at least recent times--Coolidge, Reagan, Bush--there's nothing we'll learn that our elders didn't know already.

Posted by: oj at October 24, 2004 5:51 PM

Because there are lions in the bush, Peter.

Orrin's ideas of what makes a good president don't match mine. I sure hope that whoever wins the election next week does not leave us a 1929 economy in 2009, for example.

Some kind of a middle way seems best. The failures of the pure intellectuals, who tend also to be pure idealists, are well known around here. Even to me.

That the people Orrin admires are equally idealists, just with different ideals, cannot absolve them from the danger of idealism.

I'm not Jewish, but one thing I learned from reading the experiences of 20th century Jews was to distrust idealists. Not a congenial lesson, but it was forced on me

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2004 12:55 AM

The one thing that a president can do, that no one else can do, is make the ultimate decisions.

Bush is a man of action. Kerry is a man of words. Bush gets the best information he can, then acts on it. Kerry is critical of the "rush to war." (We should have attacked in September 2002, not March 2003.)

Patton said, "The best is the enemy of the good... a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week."

With Kerry, perhaps a perfect plan to win the war against the Islamo-fascists can be devised by the end of his four years in office. We'll all be a lot safer then...

Posted by: at October 25, 2004 2:50 AM

That's just what I think Bush doesn't do, get the best information he can. He's got a closed mind when religion comes up, and if I'm right, that's the one subject he needs to understand in the present contest.

That doesn't make Kerry any better.

They're both incompetent, but in different ways.

Kerry's ideal, if that's the right word, is the UN marching (again, as so often before) to smite the dictators just like in 1935. Bush's is a liberty-loving, democratic Islam.

What if both ideals are mythical? We already know about the failure of collective security. And I say we already know about the lack of desire on the part of Muslims, and particularly Arab Muslims, for popular self-government.

As Bassam Tibi, the Syrian exile Muslim political scientist, puts it, "Arabs care nothing for democracy."

Either he's right or he's not.

It matters.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2004 3:01 PM


No, it doesn't. Even if Islam isn't naturally democratic--which Sunni isn't, but Shi'a is--the tide of history will make it so.

Posted by: oj at October 25, 2004 3:13 PM

As a guy with 160+ IQ, I can attest intellect is as much a liability as an asset. In D&D we used to have a saying: "Intelligence 18, Wisdom 3".

Just because you have the brains doesn't mean you know how to use them; in many ways, it's even harder because while growing up you never reach your limits and have no idea what to do when you top out and hit the wall. I was well into my thirties before I learned NOT to over-react to a hardship.

Especially hard when you're a fast-tracked kid genius; your IQ is the only part of you that's acknowledged and rewarded while the rest of your personality atrophies. It's not unusual to be an 18-year-old genius with an emotional and personality age of about 6.

That's how kid genius Dallas Egbert III ended up a suicide (after being passed around the local gay community as a boy-toy). I never self-destructed like that, but I know I'm not wrapped all that tight.

Posted by: Ken at October 25, 2004 7:15 PM

Hard to quantify wisdom.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2004 8:02 PM


See, and I always envied hi-IQ people like you.

So what line of work are you in now?

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 26, 2004 7:26 AM