Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 15 Smartest and Dumbest U.S. Presidents

Image Source

Universally and instantly recognizable, the President of the United States – the heads of state and government of the world’s largest superpower, the commander–in-chief of the US Armed Forces, the omnipotent and oft-termed “Leader of the Free World” – requires no long-winded or flowery introduction. What does require clarification, however, are the notions of “smartness” and “dumbness”. What makes someone smart or dumb? Is it their level of education? Their talents? Their actions? Their achievements? Their IQ? Their intellectualism?

Apart from the obvious answer (that it is one’s ability to ask a string of rhetorical questions) “smartness” is a concept that is open to a range of interpretations, so it is conceded that the assessments made in this article are open to debate. However, to stifle Internet debate (a.k.a. “flame wars”) this article will not base its assessment on policy decisions made by the respective presidents, and, furthermore, accepts that the act of holding the presidential office in itself demonstrates some inkling of intelligence.

The Smartest
This section of the article deals with the most interesting of the presidents that can be deemed intelligent. Whilst some might bemoan the lack of Obama or Kennedy, who are undeniably intelligent, the presidents here either have madder skillz or achievements that outshine them.

Thomas Jefferson (3rd President, from 1801-1809)
No matter how one interprets “smartness”, Thomas Jefferson would unequivocally qualify. The principal author of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s talents could constitute a book; the following catalog barely does them justice. During his teenage years at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, Jefferson became incredibly proficient in philosophy, mathematics, history, French, Latin and Greek. “Pfft-“, some hipster reader will undoubtedly say, “-Wikipedia knows all of those things- and Jefferson couldn’t Wikipedia like I Wikipedia!” In this obtuse and poorly articulated response lies a valid criticism – the ability to merely retain knowledge from books may not constitute smartness. But Jefferson was more than just book-smart: a polymath – which is a person distinguished in many varied fields, and not an obnoxious exponential equation – he was also an accomplished archeologist, author, inventor, lawyer, musician (talented in the cello, clavichord and violin) ornithologist, paleontologist, poet and speechmaker. And before you interrupt with some obscure insult, hipster, his architectural and horticultural prowess was such that he designed the University of Virginia (which he himself founded) and the Poplar Forest. This ridonkulous amount of talent was recognized by later president John F. Kennedy when he addressed 49 Nobel Laureates, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

John Adams (2nd President, from 1797-1801)
Another Founding Father was John Adams, whose dinners with Jefferson (amongst others) resulted in the American Declaration of Independence, the screenplay to the 1996 blockbuster smash hit starring Will Smith, the document where the American colonies announced and justified their secession from the British Empire. With his polymathic fingers in every pie, it is unsurprising that it was Jefferson’s hand that predominantly penned the Declaration, but it was John Adams who championed it in Congressional debates. Adams’ oratory was so dedicated and effective that Jefferson wrote in a letter, “No man better merited, than Mr. John Adams to hold a most conspicuous place in the design. He was the pillar of it’s [sic] support on the floor of Congress, it’s [sic] ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

James Madison (4th President, from 1809-1817)
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (28th President, from 1913-1921)
Theodore Roosevelt (26th President, from 1901-1909)
James Garfield (20th President, from March - September, 1881)

The Hybrids
As raised before, the notion of smartness is very subjective; depending on which criterion one uses, one can reach very different assessments. This section considers presidents who exhibited both smartness and dumbness depending on different criteria.

Richard Nixon (37th President, from 1969-1974)
If one uses the Intelligence Quotient test as a determinant of smartness, then Richard Nixon is the smartest, with his IQ of 143, less his ability to avoid making crucial mistakes. This is finding was evidenced by Nixon being the only president forced to resign from office.

Bill Clinton (42nd President, from 1993-2001)
Abraham Lincoln (16th President, from 1861-1865) - Huh??

The Dumbest
This is the section you have no doubt been waiting for - the one that deals with the comparatively less talented presidents. Like tequila shots, the judgments proclaimed in this section should be enjoyed liberally and with a pinch of salt – and one should savor, rather than revile, the burn and the acerbity.

Warren G. Harding (29th President, from 1921-1923)
Perhaps not a household name, Warren Harding is the worst of the first men; he has the ignominy of being ranked America’s least intelligent president. Although the Siena study does not specify how it reaches its conclusions, a consideration of Harding’s conduct during his term yields much insight into this Nein-stein. His presidential term was rocked by scandals greater than either Lewinsky or Watergate: nepotism ran free and many of his friends thus appointed (known as “The Ohio Gang”) were involved in bribery and embezzlement scandals. Although the White House was not subject to the same scrutiny and transparency of today, the shady dealings were so brazen and gormless that they quickly came to light. However, the only thing dumber than these peccadilloes (and it’s not his middle name, Gamaliel) is Harding’s barely hidden consumption of alcohol at private parties in the White House. Why is this dumb? Well, Harding’s presidency coincided with the Prohibition. Also, being apparently handsome, Harding was nominated to try to secure the vote of women in the 1920 election (the first time women voted in America). When it became apparent that his wife was treated as a waitress at these parties, and that he engaged in multiple extra-marital affairs, he disenfranchised and isolated his key demographic.

George W. Bush (42nd President, from 2001-2009)
Of course we saved the best for last. It isn’t really necessary to justify Dubya’s appearance in this section –and nor do we have the space – but it’s good fun to reminisce nostalgically over his well documented failings. Like Ford, Bush graduated from Yale (although he only managed a C-grade average) and also like Ford, perplexing, contradictory or painfully banal self-evident observations (yep, they are a real pain in the ass) emerge, unchecked, from his mouth. But unlike Ford, the sheer rate and frequency of these mistakes were so incredible that recording them went beyond cheap political points-scoring: they demanded cataloging for posterity’s sake, lest future generations forget or disbelieve their existence. A neologism had to be coined to describe them, and so “Bushism” entered the American vernacular. The Complete Bushisms, all 13 pages of them, are available here. As a result, the Siena study found him to be the second dumbest president of all time. And perhaps worse still, not even Google can save him from being considered just a tad slimy.

Calvin Coolidge (30th President, from 1923-1929)
Ronald Reagan (40th President, from 1981-1989) - WTF??
Andrew Johnson (17th President, from 1865-1869)
Gerald Ford (38th President, from 1974-1977)

Obviously I didn't write the article. Also - like most who would read this article, I agree with most of it, but disagree with some of it as well. But that's politics, right? The article is an opinion, a lot of which is based on an independent study done at Siena University. I have included that .pdf file at the bottom of the post, so be certain you look at that, as well as some of the embedded links -- and then, of course, do continue to the full article.. (Includes the details from the other 10 which are listed here.)

No comments:

Post a Comment