Hear the audio version here (segments older than 3 weeks may be unavailable)
The Daily Caller ran an interesting piece that follows up on a discussion we've had a couple times on the radio show: does academic achievement translate into a good president? The topic came up on the radio program most recently after a local media group laughed off Rick Perry's candidacy due to his less than stellar academic career at Texas A&M.
I've shared what I think, and I'm pretty sure most Americans feel similarly...though I do believe that continued media pressure about the need for a brainiac in the White House is going to have some effect on people's perceptions in the long run. Obviously this is all by design. The media create the notion that all Republican candidates are idiots or knuckle dragging Neanderthals, while a Democratic nominee is a thinking man. This coincides with their drumbeat about book smarts being at the top of the list of presidential qualifications. Do the math, and it isn't difficult to see what they wish to see come from that equation.
But a couple very prominent presidential historians have shed some light on this issue, concluding the very same thing I've been saying: some of our country's best leaders are those who might not have scored the highest on the SAT:
Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, who is a scholar-in-residence in history and public policy at George Mason University, disagrees. "I don't think there is a direct correlation between success in the classroom as tested by a grade book and success in the Oval Office," he told TheDC.
Smith explained that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is regularly ranked among America's greatest presidents by historians, had an "undistinguished" academic career but had a type of intelligence that was more important than book smarts.
"FDR had an incredible emotional intelligence. FDR read people, not books," Smith said. "His career in college was undistinguished, but then, frankly, you know, there were lots of ?Gentleman's C's' at Harvard in those days." Smith continued: "What Roosevelt demonstrated from an early age was a capacity for leadership, and that is something that dramatically accelerated with age. It wasn't something he learned in a classroom. It is something he learned from life."
Smith wasn't alone. Left-leaning presidential historian David Brinkley also agreed with the idea that our best presidents aren't necessarily the 'brightest:'
Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley told TheDC that he, too, rejects the idea of a correlation between academic success or brilliance with success in the presidency. "Harry Truman never went to college and I think he's usually ranked number five of all-time presidents," Brinkley noted. "People like Lyndon Johnson, you know, who brought all these social programs, Medicaid, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act and all, had just gone to San Marcos College."
Conservative icon and National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. once quipped that he'd "rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." Buckley's quip raises the question: should Americans want academic geniuses leading them?
I don't know that I would necessarily go for the phone book government, but I get the point. And I certainly agree with Buckley that it would be a dark day for America if the faculty of Harvard ever took the reins of power. In the field of education, it has been a big establishment push of recent decades to note the "different intelligences" of different people. In other words, "intelligence" is not just math ability. It's funny how so many liberals forget that when it comes to evaluating presidential timber.
"What you want to succeed in the presidency is political smarts, and those are not always the same things as academic accomplishments," Smith argued. "The best evidence is the fact thate Reagan went through life exploiting the fact that he was underestimated. He was sufficiently comfortable in his own skin and he was shrewd enough to make it work for him."
As I've said before, if Reagan was a dunce, and Obama a genius, I think our measuring stick may be a tad bit unreliable.