July 17, 2006


Is Bush Still Too Dumb to Be President?: You can't run a country on horse sense. (Jonathan Chait, July 16, 2006, LA Times)

WAY BACK when he first appeared on the national scene, the rap against George W. Bush was that he might be too dumb to be president. As time passed, questions about Bush's mental capabilities faded away.

After 9/11, his instinctive rather than analytical view of the world seemed to be just what we needed, and Americans of all stripes were desperate to see heroic qualities in him. (As Dan Rather announced at the time: "George Bush is the president; he makes the decisions; and, you know, as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.")

On top of that, Democrats decided it was politically counterproductive to attack Bush's intelligence. Bruce Reed of the Democratic Leadership Council said in 2002, for instance, that calling Bush dumb "plays directly into Bush's strength, which is that he comes across as a regular guy."

In fact, there's no better predictor of which candidate will win a presidential race between non-incumbents than which one is perceived as less intellectual (the sole exception in over a century being Herbert Hoover) and none better for predicting the likelihood for success of the ensuing presidency than that the new executive is perceived as a dullard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2006 10:56 AM

Yes, Bush is dumb, but what do you say about people who keep on losing to him? Smart? Stupid?

Posted by: ic at July 17, 2006 11:43 AM

Wilson, Hoover, Nixon, Carter, Clinton -- throw in Taft, LBJ and Bush 41 if you want to fill out the list of the top "intellectual" presidents of the 20th Century. Not a pretty picture, especially compared to all the "dullards" who made it into office.

Posted by: John at July 17, 2006 12:18 PM

I think the more optimistic candidate usually wins.

Posted by: Dave at July 17, 2006 12:25 PM

(1) of course the problem for the Dems is that if they wanted to run vs W's intelligence then they had to find someone more intelligent than Bush to run against him.

They tried their best and came up with Kerry, who both had a poorer academic record -- lower grades at Yale and an inferior BC law degree compared to a Harvard Business School MBA -- as well as, iirc, a significantly lower iq score when both entered officer training in the military.

(2) Will there ever come a time when Chait looks in the mirror as is embarrassed and repulsed by what he sees there?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 17, 2006 12:42 PM

Wouldn't Wilson count along with Hoover as being the more "intellectual" candidate and winning? He certainly is now regarded as smarter than Taft.

Posted by: Brandon at July 17, 2006 12:54 PM

No, TR was the smartest in that race.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2006 1:00 PM

Do you want to know why they keep saying W is dumb?

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. I Cor 1:18

That's why they keep saying W is dumb.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 17, 2006 1:01 PM

"You can't run a country on horse sense"

I think he just defined the difference between conservatives and liberals with a single word. A conservative would replace "on" with "without".

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at July 17, 2006 1:25 PM

Dave: Optimism is the virtue of the dumb. Luckily in America it usually turns out to be right.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 17, 2006 1:34 PM

So being wrong most of the time is a sign of intelligence?

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 17, 2006 2:02 PM

Being wrong all of the time is the lot of intellectuals. They question received wisdom.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2006 2:07 PM

"Intelligence", usually defined as IQ, does not equate to wisdom, shrewdness, or poker-playing ability. In fact, it doesn't equate to very many attributes of success outside academia.

Bush's opponents have never understood that the man WANTS to be underestimated. He and Rove are continually hatching schemes to encourage the opposition to think themselves superior. Given their egos, and frequent lack of common sense, they almost always fall for this ruse.

It's funny as hell to watch, and it's all a variation on the "country boy vs. city slicker" theme. Rope-a-dope and tar-baby are the dominant subthemes. Both hinge on the opponent thinking himself superior.

It is a rare politician who is willing to take the condescending abuse which inevitably flows from his betters. Rarer still a politician who knows how to turn that abuse into his own weapon.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 17, 2006 2:24 PM
Yes, Bush is dumb, but what do you say about people who keep on losing to him?
Nothing! You just blame the sheeple for being even dumber.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 17, 2006 3:06 PM

John -

Clinton ran as a good-ol-boy, not an intellectual.

Posted by: Shelton at July 17, 2006 3:24 PM

He ran as a Yalie/Rhodes Scholar.

Posted by: oj at July 17, 2006 3:30 PM

The average person is smart enough to know that being articulate is not a proxy for intelligence, hence the argument that "Bush is so dumb--just listen to him!" doesn't convince.

Of course, Bush has had the extraordinary good fortune of running against two men who were at least as inarticulate as he is. Oh, they could string words together a bit more smoothly, but they couldn't make them mean anything.

Posted by: b at July 17, 2006 3:59 PM

The default position of the media since the rise of television is that the Democrat is always either the equal to, or the smarter of the two major party candidates in any presidential election (hence they trumpeted Clinton's Rhodes status vs. Bush 41, and while Bill pushed his good-ol-boy roots when it suited his needs, the media was a wee bit nervous about the whole thing -- they knew it was probably contrived, but they couldn't be positive, and relied on his marriage to Hillary to reassure themselves he wasn't one of "those people").

Posted by: John at July 17, 2006 3:59 PM

John's theory is certainly true for '04. The media decided, with as far as I can tell no evidence whatsoever, that John Kerry was the smart candidate.

Oh, I'm sorry, there was one bit of evidence. His inability to make up his mind on the most important issues of our time was evidence of nuance. I'm surprised that his failure to achieve anything at all in the Senate wasn't cited as evidence of his judiciousness.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 17, 2006 5:54 PM

"Bush's opponents have never understood that the man WANTS to be underestimated. "

And the best part is.....Bush virtually says out loud that he wants to be underestimated! It never fails to amuse me that they are so sure of their opinions that they flat-out ignore what their opponent says he believes. This is true not only of Bush but of the Islamicists.

Posted by: ray at July 17, 2006 6:28 PM

The electorate doesn't mind smart politicians, but abhors smart asses(Kerry, Gore) who think they can talk over our heads without us realizing we're patronized.

Posted by: Pete at July 17, 2006 9:29 PM

Jim in Chicago:

Any source on that IQ score comparison between Bush and Kerry when they entered officer training? I have an acquaintance who takes it on faith that Bush is stupid; I'd love to be able to point to hard evidence indicating otherwise (this individual assumes that Bush got through Yale and Harvard essentially because of his pedigree -- a stupid argument but not one capable of disproof).

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 17, 2006 11:16 PM

The military stopped doing IQ tests sometime after WWII. They now give a vocational aptitude test called the ASVAB. A sub-component is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which tests your reading comprehension, spatial, and arithmetic skills. This makes it roughly analogous to an IQ test. (In the 1960s only the AFQT component was used; the rest of the ASVAB came later.) In the AFQT you are assigned a percentile ranking compared to your peers (0-99.9).

Bush took the AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualification Test), which is a variant of the AFQT used by the Air Force. He scored 85%-tile verbal and 65%-tile quantitative.

Kerry took the NOQT (the Naval Officer Qualification Test). According to documents Kerry posted on his website during the campaign, he scored in the 50% percentile. No breakdown was given.

The two tests are not exactly comparable, and two different groups were tested (AF vs Navy), but the percentile spread is interesting.


In the "Officer Quality" section of the AFQT Bush scored 95%-tile. Not an IQ section, per se, but relevant as a measurement of leadership ability. Bush's worst section was "Pilot Aptitude", 25%-tile.

Posted by: Gideon at July 18, 2006 12:33 AM

The Other Brother was 99th percentile when the Army tested him and he'd be a terrific president.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 9:20 AM



Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 18, 2006 11:27 PM