Wilson and Pinker
October 03, 2011, 05:11 PM
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A few follow-ups to my earlier posting about James Q. Wilson's review of Steven Pinker's upcoming The Better Angels of Our Nature: On the Decline of Violence.

The "intelligent" v. "intellectual" distinction regarding Bush that some have accused Wilson of ignoring is a red herring because Pinker repeatedly explicitly refers to Presidents' IQs, as guesstimated by Dean Simonton in 2006, a study that Pinker finds more authoritative than I do. So, Wilson is correct to point to more direct evidence of IQ (such as scores on IQ tests, admissions tests, and Yale grades) that is largely ignored by Simonton and Pinker in favor of ratings of the "integrative complexity" of samples of Presidents' speeches. 

Of course, most of the Presidents didn't write their own speeches, and they all had ulterior motives for whatever cognitive style they chose to project in their speeches. For example, Eisenhower successfully projected an image of bland Middle American straight-forwardness, when he was global strategist, a master Machiavel, "a far more complex and devious man than most people realized," as Nixon admiringly noted.

Second, this isn't an argument about how bright Bush was in an absolute sense, it is an argument about how bright Bush was relative to Kerry. As Howell Raines, former head man at the NYT wrote in the WP in 2004 in "The Dumb Factor:"blockquote>"Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead."In reality, there's a whole bunch of evidence that Kerry is bright enough, but was overrated because he's a liberal Democrat. For example, both went to Yale, where Bush's grades were very slightly higher. Then Bush got into Harvard for his professional degree (not by much apparently, judging by how happy his parents are over the news in Oliver Stone's fairly reliable biopic "W"). In contrast, Kerry, who was an antiwar celebrity already, had to get his professional degree at Boston College law school. One of his professors there remarked on the incongruity of seeing this glamorous figure in his plebian classroom. (Bush had more family pull, but John Forbes Kerry was hardly without connections, either.)

Finally, JFK (Kennedy, not Kerry) was a helluva guy. I like him. But what did Nixon have over him other than cunning and health? Charm? Physical coordination? Hair? Wit? Wealth? Family connections? Sex appeal? Nixon had nothing else going for him. 

The two men had been House freshmen together in 1947 and got to know each other fairly well. They had long seen each other as peers, rivals, and, to a certain extent, friends. And when they ran against each other in 1960, that was the voters's judgment too: overall, in their very different ways, they matched up pretty well against each other.