There’s a rather odd op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Bret Stephens doesn’t think that President Obama is particularly smart:
When it comes to piloting, Barack Obama seems to think he’s the political equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and—in a “Fly Me to the Moon” sort of way—Nat King Cole rolled into one. “I think I’m a better speech writer than my speech writers,” he reportedly told an aide in 2008. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m . . . a better political director than my political director.”
On another occasion—at the 2004 Democratic convention—Mr. Obama explained to a Chicago Tribune reporter that “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play at this level. I got game.”
Of course, it’s tempting to be immodest when your admirers are so immodest about you. How many times have we heard it said that Mr. Obama is the smartest president ever? Even when he’s criticized, his failures are usually chalked up to his supposed brilliance. Liberals say he’s too cerebral for the Beltway rough-and-tumble; conservatives often seem to think his blunders, foreign and domestic, are all part of a cunning scheme to turn the U.S. into a combination of Finland, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
I don’t buy it. I just think the president isn’t very bright.
There are some whose intelligence I respect who see President Obama as a mastermind, a person of surpassing intelligence. I don’t see it quite that way but I don’t really know. My intuition suggests to me that, like most presidents including his predecessor, he’s a reasonably bright person of the professional class, significantly smarter than the average person but by no means brilliant.
It’s just an intuition. Whether or not being extremely intelligent is a requirement to be president being a relentless self-promoter certainly is, at least it has been for the last century or so (the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, the baby at every baptism). If there were actual evidence of extraordinary intelligence on the part of the president I suspect that we’d hear about it. Over and over again. If not from the president at least from his admiring supporters. Indeed, rather like Bill Clinton, I interpret the relative silence about things like SAT scores and GPAs as more likely to cast doubt on the notion of brilliance than enhancing it.
I would consider his reported intolerance of dissenting ideas (Lawrence Sumner) another signal.
Most of all I don’t think great intelligence is particularly necessary or even desireable in a president. We have had very effective presidents who weren’t astonishingly intelligent and certainly weren’t particularly intellectual, e.g. Eisenhower, and terrible presidents who possessed extraordinary intelligence, e.g. Nixon, Wilson.
I suspect that President Obama is at least reasonably intelligent. What concerns me much more than his intellect is what I perceive as his great predisposition to rely on his advisor. Too much reliance on his economic advisors on the economy, too much reliance on his military advisors on Iraq and Afghanistan.