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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Flash Back: Bush gets bad rap on intelligence

January 14, 2001
In terms of brute brainpower, the smartest postwar presidents were Richard Nixon, a Duke Law School graduate with a reported IQ of 143; Jimmy Carter, who graduated in the top 10 percent of his Naval Academy class; and Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton, a graduate of Georgetown University and Yale Law School. Deeply flawed presidencies all, despite their potential.

In contrast, take high school graduate Harry Truman — railroad worker, clerk, bookkeeper, farmer, road inspector and small-town postmaster — or Ronald Reagan, sports announcer and B-list actor with mediocre college credentials. Despite their intellectual limitations, both achieved substantial political success as president. Huarte's notion of intelligence comprises a mix of mental acumen and emotional discernment that provides a sound foundation for modern-day presidential success.

To put it bluntly, the president need not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he does need a full deck of cards. He must be comfortable in his own skin, free of emotional demons, and surround himself with competent people.

George W. Bush can be likable and charming. But, as the New York Times pondered in a front-page article on June 19, 2000, "is he smart enough to be president?"

Unlike John F. Kennedy, who obtained an IQ score of 119, or Al Gore, who achieved scores of 133 and 134 on intelligence tests taken at the beginning of his high school freshman and senior years, no IQ data are available for George W. Bush. But we do know that the young Bush registered a score of 1206 on the SAT, the most widely used test of college aptitude. (The more cerebral Al Gore obtained 1355.)

Statistically, Bush's test performance places him in the top 16 percent of prospective college students — hardly the mark of a dimwit. Of course, the SAT is not designed as an IQ test. But it is highly correlated with general intelligence, to the tune of .80. In plain language, the SAT is two parts a measure of general intelligence and one part a measure of specific scholastic reasoning skills and abilities.

If Bush could score in the top 16 percent of college applicants on the SAT, he would almost certainly rank higher on tests of general intelligence, which are normed with reference to the general population. But even if his rank remained constant at the 84th-percentile level of his SAT score, it would translate to an IQ score of 115. ....

George W. Bush has often been underestimated. Almost certainly, he's received a bad rap on the count of cognitive capacity. Indications are that, in the arena of mental ability, Bush is in the same league as John F. Kennedy, who graduated 65th in his high-school class of 110 and, in the words of one biographer, "stumbled through Latin, French, mathematics, and English but made respectable marks in physics and history."

The feisty, sometimes-irreverent Bush's mental acuity may lack a little of the sharpness of his tongue, but plainly it is sharp enough. The real test for the president-elect will be whether he possesses the emotional intelligence — the triumph of reason over rigidity and restraint over impulse — to steer the course.
FR Reprint.

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