Michael Froomkin writes about how we might rank George Bush in terms of competency to run the US. He looks at Brad DeLong’s pegging him at not among the top 25 million, and notes that in the worst case, this places him in the 83rd percentile of all potential presidents.
Now, I have on occasion said that I think the president is pretty clueless. Republican friends have defended him: “he’s plainspoken, but shrewd,” many say; or “he’s not book-smart, but he’s street-smart.” Here’s the thing. I think he may just be really not very smart at all. This isn’t a “personal attack,” he just doesn’t strike me as very bright.
Now, you might note, he did manage to get a graduate degree, and work as a manager and as a governor. When people say this, they make the assumption — the wrong assumption — that smart people tend to be in charge. I haven’t noted that as the case in many organizations.
Froomkin suggests he doesn’t think Bush ranks in the top two deciles. I have to say, I think he is probably among the top 5% or less of the population. This doesn’t mean I have a higher opinion of Bush, I don’t think; it’s that I have a lower opinion of the general population.
(Oh, and as an aside, can we stop trying to defend against the presence of liberals in academia? Parsimony demands the simplest answer. When a group of educated people hold more liberal views than less educated people, it may not be the case that there is systematic victimization of Republicans. It may just be that the ideals of the academy — skepticism, innovation, discovery, enlightenment — tend to make moral conservatism an untenable position. Does the fact that we had trouble locating someone to stand up for the PATRIOT act mean that our campus lacks diversity, or that the PATRIOT act is messed up? I won’t paint all with the same brush: I am well aware that there are conservatives who are open to a diversity of ideas and want students to think for themselves, and that there are liberals who are intolerant of opinions that do not mesh with their own orthodoxies, but I think both groups are exceptions and not the rule.)
Anyway, back to Bush. I have a feeling that he is brighter and more experienced than 90% of our undergrads. But with some very rare exceptions, I don’t think any of our undergrads should be president. Stack him up against some of the White House Fellow alumni, and see where you put him. I put him near the bottom of that list. (Note, by the way, that Colin Powell and Wesley Clark, among others, are alums.)