December 11, 2007
Which Came First: The Intellectual or the Leader?
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:
- In 2000, Al Gore was considered more "intellectual" than George W. Bush, despite the fact that his college transcript was rife with Cs and C-minuses. He also dropped out of the Vanderbilt Divinity School after receiving a number of Fs.
- In 2004, John Kerry was touted as being "smarter" than George W. Bush, even though his undergrad GPA was one point lower than Bush's - a fact that was conveniently unavailable until after the election.
- Hillary Clinton has been anointed the best and brightest of the class of 2008, followed closely by the "clean and articulate" Barack Obama - although don't expect to see Mrs. Clinton's grades anytime soon; they likely have been sequestered like her papers from her days as First Lady.
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,
The vote for president, unlike balloting for mayor or governor, is as much a personal choice as it is an issue choice. Americans want to like their president as well as agree with him. They often will overlook differences on issues if they like or trust the person. Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower are recent cases in point. Bill Clinton's likability helped him survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
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:
- Ability to delegate
- Willing to take risks
- Ability to communicate effectively
- Capable of choosing competent team members
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:
In [his] book, you see, Gore betrays familiarity with history, economics, even science. He uses big words, often several in the same sentence. And in public appearances he doesn't even try to disguise his erudition. These supposedly are glaring shortcomings that should keep Gore on the sidelines, rereading Gibbon and exchanging ideas about the structure of the cosmos with Stephen Hawking.[...]We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.
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,
[C]lever people, who have no relationship skills, can be intimidating or seem arrogant to others, creating divisions and hierarchies. This causes friction and precludes open dialogue and can eventually dry up creativity. In any leadership role, academic and intellectual abilities must be balanced with high emotional awareness.
Interestingly, Thomas Sowell recently had this to say about Senator John McCain:
Maybe the reason Senator John McCain's campaign has failed to get any traction is that the debates show him to be the kind of arrogant and condescending know-it-all who would be the most dangerous kind of president.
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):
The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later. Those at the top of the school's hierarchy will feel entitled to a top position, not only in that micro-society but in the wider one, a society whose system they will resent when it fails to treat them according to their self-prescribed wants and entitlements. The school system thereby produces anti-capitalist feeling among intellectuals. Rather, it produces anti-capitalist feeling among verbal intellectuals. Why do the numbersmiths not develop the same attitudes as these wordsmiths? I conjecture that these quantitatively bright children, although they get good grades on the relevant examinations, do not receive the same face-to-face attention and approval from the teachers as do the verbally bright children. It is the verbal skills that bring these personal rewards from the teacher, and apparently it is these rewards that especially shape the sense of entitlement.
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:
For some decades our academic system has been indoctrinating rather than truly educating students, thus producing intellectuals whose minds are clouded with ideology and whose judgment is impaired. Given the usurpation of higher education and K-12 teacher hiring processes by the left, it is also now in the self-interest of many intellectuals to exercise poor judgment, in scholarly matters as well as in the political realm. Some of the great declinists connected weak and pusillanimous - decadent - leadership with societal affluence. Perhaps many of our intellectuals are too materialistic and self-centered to bother with the rigors of exercising leadership and wise judgment.
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:
This [second] group [of liberals] feels that conservatism is simply dumb. Professors tend to be intellectually arrogant anyway, and liberalism by its nature is an extremely elitist ideology. Many professors feel that conservatism is too simplistic to waste time on in the classroom. I cite numerous examples of this in Brainwashed. Professors say that if you're conservative, you're unqualified to clean highways, much less teach a classroom of students. Four professors even created a fully funded study designed to conclude that conservatives are less "integratively complex." Of course, they had to lump together Stalin, Castro, Hitler, and Reagan in order to do this, but the end justifies the means.
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.
Pam Meister is the editor (and a contributing editor) for Family Security Matters, and a blogger. She can be reached via e-mail.