On the flip side, the recent president most ridiculed for his alleged lack of brains (think “nucular”) was George W. Bush, yet he is the only president who earned an M.B.A., and from Harvard Business School no less, having done his undergraduate studies at Yale. His critics, then, would surely say that a top flight education doesn’t make you “smart,” and yet Bush was smart enough to become the co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, the governor of Texas, and a two-term president of the United States.
But there’s more. You can have a solid education and be brilliant and still have serious ethical and moral flaws, which are certainly major weaknesses for a leader. Richard Nixon earned his law degree from Duke University, yet that didn’t stop him from falling headlong into Watergate. (In the words of James MacGregor Burns, “How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?”) And does the name William Jefferson Clinton ring a bell? Being an Oxford Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a law degree from Yale simply meant that his academics outpaced his morals.
As for our current leader, Barack Obama, often praised for his intellect (his reference to 57 states notwithstanding), his plummeting approval rates point to the real possibility of him being a one-term president, suggesting that you can be well-educated and “smart” and yet not be a good president.
And, outside the world of politics, let’s not forget the corporate geniuses who dropped out of college, like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Michael Dell (Dell), and Larry Ellison (Oracle), or men like Richard Branson (Virgin), who dropped out of high school, or philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who dropped out of elementary school.
In sum: 1) You can be well-educated and not “smart”; 2) You can be “smart” and not well educated; 3) You can be lacking in formal education and still be a great leader; 4) You can be well-educated and “smart” but that doesn’t guarantee strong ethics or morality; 5) You can be well-educated and “smart” and not be a good leader.
So, the question we should ask is not, “Is this candidate smart (or dumb)?”, but rather, “Would he (or she) make a good president?” In fact, ask yourself this question: “What are the top five qualities I most value in a president?”
Your answers will be enlightening. Feel free to post them here.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.