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Jewish World Review April 7, 2000 /2 Nissan II, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Who's smart?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE SMART MONEY in Washington says that Vice President Al Gore will clobber Governor George W. Bush when they debate each other, because Gore is so much smarter. Even if the Beltway smart money had not been proved wrong so many times before, the recent release of Al Gore's academic records would have called their latest wisdom into question.

Gore had high test scores and mediocre academic performances. He did well on both his IQ test and the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but his grades put him in the bottom fifth of his class at Harvard for two years in a row. George W. Bush didn't score quite as high on the SAT as Gore did, but he never had as bad a semester at Yale as Al Gore had for two years at Harvard.

While some might oooh and aaah over Gore's IQ of 134, the entire Bronx High School of Science had an average IQ of 135 at one time (and may still, for all I know), and there are millions of Americans with higher IQs, including a few who have had an IQ of 200. So let's not act as if Gore's test scores make him a candidate for the Guinness Book of World Records.

That would be like crediting him with inventing the Internet, when in fact all he did was invent the idea that he had invented the Internet.

Gore is a smart guy, but so is Bush. Test scores give a clue to your potential, but the acid test is what you actually do. Gore has done very little, not just academically but even in politics. He was a Senator and a big-spending liberal, but can you name a single piece of major legislation that he created? He is a master of spin, but that is all too common in the Clinton administration.

Governor Bush not only has an impressive record in Texas -- especially in education -- he has handled himself very well in this election campaign. Perhaps his greatest political achievement has been in disregarding the smart money in Washington, who urged him to tell about whatever youthful peccadilloes he may or may not have had.

"Get it over with and get all this behind you," the media cried, almost with one voice. "If you don't answer the question, it will just keep dogging you throughout the campaign," they said. But Governor Bush said flat out that he was not going to play that game, because answering one question would just lead to another -- and another and another, ad infinitum.

He was right. His refusal to answer got the issue behind him completely, as no conceivable answer would have. What some take to be a "smirk" on the governor's face may be a sense of irony at what goes on in politics. We need someone with a sense of irony, who sees through the hype.

All this talk about who is smart and who isn't opens up a much bigger issue than just Al Gore and George W. Bush. All too many people have been considered "brilliant" on the basis of a facade that appeals to the intelligentsia, without the slightest hard evidence of that brilliance -- indeed, without anything beyond fashionable notions, glib presumptions and casual arrogance.

In an earlier era, Adlai Stevenson was considered the ultimate intellectual in politics. But nobody thought of Harry Truman as anything intellectually special. Yet Adlai Stevenson's biographer said that he seldom read a book, while Truman read avidly and had even read classics in the original Latin.

If you wanted an actor to portray an intellectual politician in a movie, you would ask central casting to send you somebody like Adlai Stevenson, but certainly not Harry Truman. Yet Truman's grasp of world politics established the foundation on which Soviet expansionism was opposed and the Cold War ultimately won. If some of the supposedly smarter people had been president at that critical junction, we might well have seen the collapse of democracy in Wester Europe, rather than the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

The late Meg Greenfield of the Washington Post reported the glee in Jimmy Carter's White House when they learned that the Republicans had nominated Ronald Reagan to run against Carter in the 1980 election. It was considered to be a dream come true to have an opponent so totally different from what the Beltway bunch thought of as smart. For those too young to remember, Reagan beat Carter in a landslide. He later beat the Soviets in a landslide.

It used to be axiomatic that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Despite the fascination of the Beltway smart money with appearances, that is still the way to go.


JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

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