Bush Dangerously Dumb?

Steve Benen uses a meandering answer to a question at a press conference to argue that President Bush is, as his post title puts it, “dangerously dumb.”

The problem here is confusing verbal skill and intelligence. It’s probably true that most people who are glib and able to think quickly on their feet are bright. Plenty of highly intelligent people, though, lack that facility.

That Bush has above average IQ is well documented. His SAT score of 1206 put him well above the 90th percentile and ahead of his 2004 rival John Kerry (although behind 2000 opponent Al Gore). He graduated from Yale. Made it through flight school. Got his MBA from Harvard. Has a legendary memory for personal details and baseball stats. He’s not, by any means, a dumb guy.

What he seems to lack is a strong intellectual curiosity. He lacks both a wonk’s passion for policy details and an ideologue’s passion for debating ideas. He’s also too resistant, for my taste anyway, to ideas that challenge his preconceptions.

FILED UNDER: Education, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. spencer says:

    Very good description.

  2. Garth says:

    Right. Bush is not dumb. Which is not to say that he’s not deluded. Or incompetent. Or dangerous. Or arrogant. Or messianic. Or…

    Come to think of it, I’d be happy with dumb.

  3. TheHat says:

    Ok, so he’s not intellectually dumb. How do you explain his reluctance to listen to the American people about immigration? There is native dumbness and political dumbness and in the latter category he is ‘dumb as a thumb’.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    It’s probably true that most people who are glib and able to think quickly on their feet are bright.

    Having worked in Broadcasting for 15 years I can say without much qualification that this is not true. Glibness is one of those qualities that is a result of a good recall memory and verbal speaking skills but does not require anything in the realm of real intelligence.

    I don’t know about Bush, seems throughly average to me. Average in a way that obviously plays well to voting public, or at least did.

  5. Anderson says:

    Okay. “Dangerously intellectually incurious.”

  6. Bush’s other big problem is that he’s terrible at execution. Even when he gets a good idea, his attempts to implement it tend to reach almost keystone cops levels of incompetence.

  7. frank says:

    “He’s also too resistant, for my taste anyway, to ideas that challenge his preconceptions.”

    can you give an example?

  8. Michael says:

    frank: stay the course?

  9. frank says:

    sure, stay the course is his idea but I don’t see it as a preconception…or maybe I have a misconception of what is meant by preconception?

    I don’t see how Bush has any more or less preconceived ideas than the average Joe. His ideas/thoughts may reek of personal interest but I would hardly call them preconceived.

  10. jpe says:

    It sounds like his natural gifts make him a perfect middle manager. And that’s pretty much the way he’s run the country.

    Can’t you imagine him giving Peter’s answer to the Bobs in Office Space on what he does in a day. “Well, for the first 15 minutes, I just kind of space out. And then again for another hour after lunch. I’d say in an average week, I probably do about 4 hours of real, solid work.”

  11. Michael says:

    “Stay the course” is the three word phrase that means “I still think my pre-war plan for Iraq is going to work despite what all the facts and intelligent people are telling me.”

  12. davod says:

    Gore came off better than Bush? Gore didn’t finish university and didn’t finish divinity school.

  13. James Joyner says:

    Gore didn’t finish university and didn’t finish divinity school.

    According to his Wikipedia entry, Gore “graduated cum laude from Harvard in June 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government.” I’m not sure finishing divinity school is an indicator of intelligence.

  14. Andy says:

    Any sufficiently advanced incompetence, inability to speak coherently, tendency toward inappropriate behavior, and general uninterest in the most important job in the world is indistinguishable from dumbness.

  15. billd says:

    FDR was said to have a second class intellect but a first class tempermant. My own opinion is that Bush has a second or third class intellect, but a fifth class temperament, as evidenced by his mean nicknames, his frathouse humor, and his apparent belief that serious thinking about ideas, divorced from political applications, is for wussy girlymen.