December 11, 2007
Which Came First: The Intellectual or the Leader?By Pamela Meister
There's been a lot of talk within the past, oh three election cycles, about how the "smartest" or most "intellectual" candidate would make the best president. Coincidentally, they are all Democrats:
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the above politicians really are intellectually superior to their rivals. We can therefore ask not only why George Bush beat two "intellectuals" in their respective presidential races, but also, do intellectual types really make the best leaders?
If "conventional wisdom" is correct, Al Gore didn't lose the election, it was stolen from him. Seriously, though, we must consider other factors such as personality and likability. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry in the "likability" category by large margins. Similarly, Al Gore was characterized as a "stiff campaigner," less likely to inspire that all-important likability factor.
According to Richard Benedetto,
Think about it for a moment. Political ideology aside, who would you prefer to sit down and chew the fat with? George Bush, who spends his vacations wearing jeans and wielding a shovel at his ranch in Crawford, Texas? John Kerry, who enjoys skiing at expensive resorts and slaking his thirst with bottles of vitamin-enriched water? Or Al Gore, who vacations extensively in Europe and flies around in a private jet?
Many average Americans can't afford to travel to Europe in coach, let alone private jet, nor can they enjoy pricey ski getaways. But they often can, and do, spend vacation time working around the house and yard. Yes, George Bush came from money and the size of his Texas ranch puts the modest homes of many Americans in the shade. But it's oddly comforting to see a president who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. It gives the impression that he isn't afraid of hard work, which is important for one who seeks the highest office in both America and the world.
Now obviously George Bush is not running for office again, but I use him as an example because so much emphasis has been put on the "smart" vs. the "dumb" candidate -- "dumb" being equivalent to President Bush. When you realize that an entire industry has sprung up around Bush's "inferior" intellect, with numerous books, calendars, and other items for sale that impugn his IQ (and focusing largely on his propensity for mispronouncing words like "nuclear"), he's an obvious choice for discussion. (What will these entrepreneurs do when President Bush leaves office on January 20, 2009?)
If being smart was the only qualification for being a leader, one would assume from his treatment in the media that George Bush should never have gotten near the Oval Office. But there are other qualities that people look for in a leader. Here's a partial list, culled from various sources:
When making that all-important decision on who to vote for in both the primaries and the general election, think about the factors listed above. Does your candidate have a vision? Is he willing to take risks? Does he stick to his basic convictions, or does he have a habit of licking his finger and putting it up to the wind of public opinion? (Yes, I know there is a woman in the race this year, but I find the constant use of "he/she" when writing to be tedious.)
Eugene Robinson, writing for the Washington Post, believes we need an "egghead" in the Oval Office; specifically, Al Gore:
Robinson must not have received the memo about Gore's grades in college. Nor does he take into account many of the leadership qualities I listed above. Book smarts, if I may use the colloquial term, does not necessarily translate into common sense. It's one thing to theorize on paper and in forums. Putting one's money where one's mouth is...well, that's something else entirely. According to USB Business Development, an organization that offers (among other services) leadership workshops and programs,
Interestingly, Thomas Sowell recently had this to say about Senator John McCain:
Think back to the know-it-alls in your experience, both in school and the workplace. Just because they may have more actual knowledge than you in a particular area, does that automatically mean they are the best choice for a leadership role?
Liberals were, remember, in high dudgeon both in 2000 and 2004. They felt, by rights, that the candidate they believed to be the smartest one should have won. Those who place a high premium on intellectualism automatically assume that, as the best and the brightest, they deserve all the accolades society has to offer. But in a capitalist society like ours, this is not always the case. Robert Nozick, writing for the Cato Institute, has a hypothesis that goes back to one's schooldays (all emphasis mine):
Nozick is writing here about why intellectuals at large oppose capitalism, but his ideas about those who excelled in school expecting to excel in other areas of life (and feeling cheated when they don't) is very telling.
This brings us to the role of schools in today's leaders. I asked Dr. Candace de Russy, a nationally recognized writer and lecturer on education and cultural issues, for her thoughts on the subject:
Rather than teaching students to think, many educators take it upon themselves to fill their students' heads with propaganda and groupthink. This explains why conservative campus clubs such as the College Republicans have relatively small memberships, while you can count on large numbers of college students to turn up at anti-war rallies sponsored by International ANSWER and other Communist front groups. Ben Shapiro, author of the bestselling book Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, discusses the phenomenon of elitist liberal professors that seem to dominate higher education:
Being spoon-fed a particular ideology (one that espouses a worldview where entitlement plays a major role), coupled with the assumption that higher education automatically confers superiority, and you have people who wonder why a "dummy" like George W. Bush could ascend to the presidency not once, but twice. And rather than take a look at the qualities and convictions that played a major role in his electoral success, they whine and cry about "stolen" and "rigged" elections - because, as Dr. de Russy says, indoctrination - not education - is the name of the game.
Intellectuals will likely always feel as though they are more deserving of leadership roles in our society. But if we take a serious look at our educational system from the bottom up and revamp it to highlight problem solving and critical thinking skills over ideological brainwashing, perhaps that group will shrink to a more manageable size. For not only do we need independent thinkers in our political class, we also need independent thinkers in the electorate. Our future as a democratic republic depends on it.