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How Smart Should A President Be?
Smarter than stupid, of course; but does the intellectual tradition that began with the century suggest there is such a thing as being too smart for the country’s good?
September 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 5
The legacy of a political intellectual also depends on the quality of his ideas. Roosevelt, Lodge, and Wilson were all historians. But Lodge and (to a degree) Roosevelt actually cared about the history they described. Wilson was more interested in a vision of the future, spun out of his own rhetoric. This no doubt explains why Lodge and Roosevelt did less damage in the world.
Intellectual politicians often come to power at moments of transition or stress; hence, their failures, if they do fail, are correspondingly magnified. This in turn means that our attraction to them runs in cycles, requiring breathers between debacles. Our current crop is going out rather ingloriously, after scandal (Mr. Clinton) or truncated careers (Mr. Gingrich), and we probably won’t have to deal with another batch of them anytime soon. But perhaps as early as 2030, the intellectuals in office may stir again, telling us all they know about politics and government. Some of it will even be true. —Henry Cabot Lodge.