So who's the real dunce?

Back when George W. Bush was elected President, an email hoax was circulated reporting that President Bush had the lowest IQ of any occupant of the Oval Office in the entire history of the nation, and that President Clinton had, by far, the highest ever recorded. Those my age or older may remember this one; like most such poorly informed and unsubstantiated hoaxes, it served the liberal narrative that only progressives are smart enough to truly understand what is good for the country, and therefore only they should ever be trusted with power.

That belief, that the Wise and the Smart should rule over us benighted idiots, has been one of the principle shaping forces of Western culture throughout all of its entire history. I say that it is a "shaping" force because a very great deal of the canon of Western thought concerning who should wield the sovereign franchise has revolved around the question of whether power should be restricted to the one supreme ruler, or distributed to all, or some measure in between.

As Thomas Sowell pointed out in A Conflict of Visions and expanded upon in The Vision of the Anointed, the views of those who presume to rule over the rest of us tend to fall into a continuum defined by two endpoints.

The first argues that Man is what he is- flawed, Fallen, broken, incapable of attaining any kind of perfection. The best that any ruler or ruling class can do is to try to restrain Man's worst impulses while encouraging his better ones. Based on this fundamental axiom, the only form of government that can or will work is one that is as restrained as Man himself is by his own failings. Such a government does not need the smartest and Wisest in order to achieve optimal results; it needs only those who are responsible and disciplined enough to acknowledge their very human failings to restrain themselves in the uses of their power.

That philosophy resulted in the American Revolution- one of the only instances in the entire history of Man in which the new class of rulers sought to limit their ability to rule over their fellows.

The second argues that "Man is born forever free, but lives everywhere in chains"- the philosophy of Rousseau and the bastard abomination spawned by him, the French Revolution. The logical endpoint of that philosophy argued that anything was permissible in order to reach Utopia, and that those who were Wise and smart and clever were to be trusted explicitly with absolute power, since they were best positioned to show the rest of us the way to live enlightened and happy lives, free of want and misery.

History has shown quite clearly which philosophy was right. But because the first requires intense self-discipline and restraint in order that men be free, the second holds far more appeal- as I have pointed out before, most men DO NOT WANT to be free.

And that is why we continue to see, in every single Presidential election, an insistence among the chattering classes that only the Wise should ever be allowed to wield the enormous power of the Presidency.

After all, surely only a Wise and highly intelligent man could possibly be qualified to hold the levers of power...


The actual record tells a very different story.

There are various tables floating around that show the best estimates of what US Presidential IQs were. They reveal a rather startling picture:

We can draw a few conclusions from this data set, subject to the various usual problems with studies like this, which rely heavily on analysis of subjective interpretations rather than objective facts.

First, there can be no denying that the Founders themselves were extraordinarily brilliant men. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and even George Washington were, for all of their many personal failings, men of astonishing learning, skill, and erudition. They governed as ably as they could, and have since gone down in history as legends among men. This, despite their many errors and lapses of judgement.

Second, the record clearly shows that having a high IQ is by no means a guarantee for a skillful or wise and temperate President.

According to this table, John Adams had an IQ of 160. Abraham Lincoln apparently had an IQ of 150. Woodrow Wilson and both Roosevelts had IQs north of 150. Yet all of these men committed acts that eroded the freedoms of the American people; in the cases of Presidents Lincoln and Wilson, they became the very tyrants that the American system of government was supposed to prevent.

They did such appallingly bad jobs that, in my book, at least, the top three spots for the worst Presidents ever are occupied, in descending order, by Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Third, it is of considerable interest to me to note that many of the greatest Presidents in American history had IQs ranging in the 140 band.

Calvin Coolidge- "Silent Cal", whose brilliance was exceeded only by his determination to keep it a secret from everyone, apparently had an IQ of "only" 142 or so. Yet he is a criminally underrated President whose quiet, calm character steered America through the crushing grip of the post-WWI depression in the space of just a single year, and set the stage for the greatest expansion of American wealth and power that the country had ever seen up until that point.

George Washington may not have been anything great as a commander and general- General Cornwallis did not, in fact, surrender to the Americans directly at Yorktown, and his subordinate General O'Hara initially attempted to present the sword of surrender to Count de Rochambeau, not General Washington. But he is remembered with good reason as the Father of the Nation, for keeping the newly born nation out of foreign entanglements despite the fondest wishes of his Cabinet, and- above all- for establishing the precedent that no President should serve more than two terms wielding executive authority. That precedent was never broken until the second President Roosevelt came along; it is not without good reason that I regard that President with such disdain.

And then we have Ronald Reagan. The clown, the cowboy, the idiot, the simplistic fool, the amiable dunce, the midwit showman actor playing the part that others had designed for him- who turned out to be the greatest President of the 20th Century, and whose titanic accomplishments have thus far dwarfed all who followed him. The man who the political chattering classes called a simpleton and a hick was constantly reading, could recite entire passages of Scripture and books from memory, and spent more than 40 years carefully and methodically crafting his own personal political philosophy before achieving the highest office in the land- and once he attained it, he proved to be resolute, principled, and able to make the seemingly impossible a matter of routine.

Ronald Reagan man apparently had an IQ of no more than 140- already making him an extremely intelligent man. While few would deny that his predecessor, President Carter, had greater raw intelligence, President Carter was nothing short of a catastrophe, while President Reagan became a legend in his own lifetime.

The lessons we can learn from these facts are clear.

First, raw intelligence is no measure whatsoever of fitness to rule. Remember that the next time the chattering classes try to hype up the "towering brainpower" of characterless midgets like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Carly Fiorina. The first has been an even greater calamity for this country than President Carter; the second would be a disaster beyond measure; and the third did such a terrible job as CEO of HP-Compaq that she was unceremoniously given the boot so that a male CEO could come in and repair the damage that she did.

And let it be remembered that we don't actually know what Barack Obama's IQ is, because he has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide his school and university records from the rest of us. Be it noted, though, that the best estimates we can come up with indicate that his IQ is probably somewhere between 115 and 130.

That, by the way, makes him a very strong contender for the dumbest man ever to occupy the Oval Office.

If you have been paying attention to his public appearances and off-the-cuff speeches for the last 7-odd years, this will come as precisely no surprise.

Second, principles and character matter. The great Presidents of the past- Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Grant, Cleveland, Coolidge, Reagan- had character and integrity in spades. These were good and decent men, called upon in extraordinary times to serve and to lead- and in so doing, they became great men that the rest of us remember and, rightly, revere.

Third, and most importantly, the real dunces are not Presidents like George W. Bush and Warren G. Harding. They are the Presidents like Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama- progressives who were narcissistic and stupid enough to fall for the trap created by their own belief system, who came to think that they really were smart enough to know what is best for the rest of us. In so doing, they made grave and terrible errors of judgement that doomed their people to lives that were less free, less happy, and less prosperous.

The choice facing Americans in this next election cycle will be portrayed in the media as a choice between the "smart and enlightened progressive" and the "backward, intolerant, stupid, bigoted conservative". The evidence tells us very clearly that it is the former that will lead us into disaster, and the latter that might just have enough humility and self-discipline to avoid taking the final step over the abyss that will plunge this country into eternal darkness.


  1. Abraham Lincoln as the worst president? That's a new one to me. It's kinda funny because most conservatives I know tend to praise Lincoln. Then occasionally I'll hear a someone talk about how horrible Lincoln was and they also tend to be really conservative. In school you learn he was an awesome president, so I'm curious what made him so bad? Really, I'm genuinely curious, not being sarcastic. Any books out there you can recommend about this?

    1. It's a perfectly legitimate question, and one that I didn't even ask until a few years ago. I'll answer it as carefully as I can tonight- should be able to give you some good reading recommendations in the process, too.


Post a Comment

NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. Anonymous comments will be deleted.

Popular Posts