Suzanne Fields

iFear and loathing of President Bush was the dish of the day, served piping hot with a side of contempt to the Democrats assembled in Boston's Fleet Center. They unanimously agreed that he's not smart enough to be president.

This belief in his lack of smarts has captured a large following, similar to the conventional liberal wisdom that dogged Ronald Reagan across his eight years in Washington. Ronald Reagan as a simpleton, with a world view gleaned from fortune cookies, was discarded by his detractors in the week of national mourning. Foe no less than friend joined in praise for the man whose presidency ended the Cold War.

Whether George W. Bush wins or loses in November, his deer-in-the-headlights reputation is likely to be conspicuously absent from the historians' analysis of his foreign policy. George W. prefers to be underestimated because it keeps his challengers off guard. He's smart enough to know that much. When he prevails it drives his detractors mad.

The subject of smarts - who has 'em and what they do with 'em - is particularly fascinating when it becomes the focus of debate in the presidential election. What kind of intelligence do we expect, or want, from a president? The Wilson Quarterly's summer issue poses the question: "Do Smarts Rule?" We discover that high intelligence is no guarantee of effective leadership.

John F. Kennedy, for example, had an IQ of 119, which is on the high end of normal. Richard Nixon scored an impressive 143. (Neither is formal education necessarily a barometer of smarts. Abraham Lincoln educated himself and Harry Truman barely finished high school.)

JFK's modest IQ is considered just about right for presidential leadership, according to Dean Keith Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis, who studies such things. "Many empirical studies confirm the central prediction that an IQ near 119 is the prescription for leader success," he writes in "Greatness: Who Makes History and Why." Above that level a person's ideas and language may become too complex, too overwrought, too overreaching and conflicted to settle persuasively on a position for action. What suits a philosopher or scientist doesn't necessarily suit the commander in chief.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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