Everything Isn’t Sexism

It's possible to conclude that Pete Buttigieg is smarter than Elizabeth Warren for reasons having nothing to do with sex.

So, Alan Cole, tweeted this late last night:

Now, I happen to think being “head-and-shoulders smarter than the other candidates running” more likely to be a liability than an asset on the campaign trail. And I’m skeptical that being mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a hamlet with 101,168 residents, insufficient experience to prepare one for the Presidency. Still, Buttigieg is unquestionably brilliant.

Cole’s mentions immediately filled with “but what about Elizabeth Warren?” queries.

This is shortly followed by this:

Umm . . . no. Look, Warren is unusually bright. She got a law degree from a lower-tier school late in life and quickly earned a place as a tenured professor at Harvard Law on the strength of her publications. That’s extremely impressive.* But that doesn’t make it sexist for someone to declare an obvious genius smarter than her.

Beyond that, there are all manner of men in the race other than Buttigieg. Why is a declaration that he’s smarter than them not problematic?

Bassett’s tweet garnered this response:

I didn’t wade that fully into the mentions because, seriously, who has the time? But I concur with Azari that the notion that women seeking the Presidency are tainted by “rank ambition” whereas a small-town mayor no one had heard of a month ago throwing his hat into the ring somehow is a giant red flag. Absent good explanation, I’d agree that it’s a sexist perspective.

Regardless, we have a massive field of candidates running in the Democratic primary. They span a wide array of American demography in terms of race, sex, LGBTQ status, age, and region. Every extolling of the virtue of one candidate isn’t a slur against others. It’s no more sexist to declare Buttigieg smarter than Warren than it’s homophobic to declare Warren more qualified for the job than Buttigieg.

As to the relative IQs of Warren and Buttigieg, I have no strong opinion. She was a high school debate champion and went on a scholarship to George Washington University at 16. He’s a Rhodes Scholar who speaks multiple languages. I’m guessing his raw IQ is higher. At the same time, her professional expertise and experience has a greater bearing on the office they both seek than, say, his command of Norwegian.

___________

*This may sound like a backhanded compliment. It isn’t. She was on scholarship at George Washington, dropped out to follow her husband’s career and raise her children, and then graduated from Houston and then Rutgers-Newark. The path from there to the Harvard Faculty is unfathomably difficult.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Gender Issues
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    It’s no more sexist to declare Buttigieg smarter than Warren than it’s homophobic to declare Warren more qualified for the job than Buttigieg.

    While we are not totally in disagreement with regard to this particular example, sexist stereotypes aren’t the same as LGBT stereotypes. A gay man is much less likely to have his intelligence questioned than he is to have his morality or manliness questioned.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    A gay man is much less likely to have his intelligence questioned than he is to have his morality or manliness questioned.

    That’s fair. Still, the notion that a Harvard Law professor automatically has a higher IQ than anyone else is a weird starting position.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Everything Isn’t Sexism

    True, but sexism colors everything, sometimes unjustly but far more often unconsciously.

    But that doesn’t make it sexist for someone to declare an obvious genius smarter than her.

    If that was all he’d said, it wouldn’t be a problem, but he actually said,

    Mayor Pete seems head-and-shoulders smarter than the other candidates running,

    I’ll admit I have not followed Buttigieg very much since he declared. What little I have seen has suggested that he is quite intelligent, and I can say with certainty that Warren, whom I have followed, is also quite intelligent. But I doubt very much that anyone can say which of the 2 is more intelligent. The best that can be said is that a person is more impressed by the intelligence a certain person has demonstrated. There are many kinds of intelligence, some of them more useful than others.

    Besides all of which, I have known some extremely intelligent people who were not very smart.

    ETA: this is awkward: “True, but sexism colors everything, sometimes unjustly but far more often unconsciously.”

    What I mean is that “sometimes a person can be unjustly accused of sexism, but it is far more common for them to be unconsciously sexist.”

    sorry about that.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Politically Buttigieg was born and brought up in the wrong state. He has as much chance becoming Governor of Indiana or Senator as I do becoming Gov or Senator of NH and at least he would be qualified. So why not exhibit rank ambition and go for the gold ring. Lightning may strike and he could be someone’s VP nominee or a cabinet position.

    With regards to his intelligence, I’ll reserve judgement till he gets more specific about what he proposes to do beyond generational change. One thing about Warren, is that she has provided a solid explanation as to why she wants to be President and has backed that up with fairly detailed policy papers telling how she plans to deliver.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Sexism, like racism can be in the eye of the beholder. A man can view something and not see the sexism and a woman may see it when there is none. Being aware of your biases is important.

    Regarding Cole, whose tweet started that inane thread, he exposed his own stupidity. I believe that Jimmy Carter is considered our most intelligent president and that didn’t turn out so well.

  6. SKI says:

    It’s no more sexist to declare Buttigieg smarter than Warren than it’s homophobic to declare Warren more qualified for the job than Buttigieg.

    Depends on what actual evidence other than their gender/orientation the person declaring said opinion is relying on.

    Buttigieg is unquestionably smart. But so is Warren. And Booker, a Rhodes Scholar, isn’t a slouch (you should hear his d’rash). A number of the others also have impressive educational and intellectual achievements.

    What evidence does Cole provide to support his opinion that Buttigieg is the smartest by far? The only follow-on comment he made was to note that Buttigieg’s multiple languages was “one of several data points” but, alas, provided no other data points in support.

    Yeah that’s one of several data points.

    I don’t think it’s everything–once you learn a couple, you get much faster at learning more–but it’s very impressive, and it’s coupled with many other good signs.

    So what makes Buttigieg “head and shoulders” smarter than everyone else in Cole’s opinion? We don’t know.

    Conversely, anyone who asserted that most of the rest of the field were more experienced that Buttigieg would have ample readily identifiable facts to support that opinion.

    Ultimately, it may not be sexism or racism that motivated Cole’s tweet but odds are that his opinion of his relative intelligence as “heads and shoulders” above all the other is influenced by his cultural biases. Frankly it would be hard not to have one’s opinion so influenced. When he doesn’t explain *why* he believes something that no one else seems to think is incontrovertible – despite being challenged – it is more likely than not that he can’t explain why he believes that in a way that isn’t dependent on his “gut” (aka his biases).

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  7. SKI says:

    @Sleeping Dog: A better, smarter, route would be to go to Congress first. He might not be able to win statewide yet but in Indiana’s 2nd? If he can’t win that district (which Obama won in 2008) when he has already established name recognition…

  8. SKI says:

    But that doesn’t make it sexist for someone to declare an obvious genius smarter than her.

    James, what makes him, but not her (or Booker), an “obvious genius”?

  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    Interestingly enough, I don’t consider “really smart” a good qualification for president. They have to be smart – above average for the country. But beyond that they can get pretty wonky, and relate badly to the average voter – which is their chief job.

    I love Elizabeth Warren, but I think she makes a better Senator than President. She definitely comes off wonky. I’m wonky, so that’s part of why I love her. I also think she’s probably too old for the job. Mind you, I’d happily vote for her in the general. I don’t know much about Buttigieg yet, but from what I’ve heard, I wish him success of some kind.

  10. I will grant that all of this is about subjectivity, but if you haven’t listened to Buttigieg’s interview on Preet Bharara’s podcast, I would highly recommend it. He comes across as one of the smartest politicians I have ever heard interviewed–enough so that I can understand why Cole tweeted what he did.

    I am not saying that the assessment is necessarily correct, but a lengthy exposure to listening to Buttigieg was eye-opening to me (and I was already generally aware of his resume). He is pretty impressive (and I say that sincerely doubting that a gay 37 year-old whose main cv line i Mayor South Bend has much of a chance at the nomination).

    Still, I have a far higher level of esteem than I did before–and give him far more of a chance, small as it may be, than I normally would for a mayor with a funny name in a crowded field.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: I think that’s fair. It sounds like someone who has recently discovered Buttigieg and is gushing about how smart he is. Many others (see @Steven L. Taylor above) are doing the same thing. Presumably, Sanders et al have not similarly impressed him.

    @SKI: I honestly don’t think a stint in the House does much for him. It has never been seen as a gateway to the White House. James Garfield is the only President elected directly from the House. Lincoln had a failed Senate bid and several years distance from the House before getting elected POTUS.

    @SKI: Pretty much the same datapoints that Cole (who I don’t know much about) cites: Rhodes Scholar and the language thing. I don’t know that Booker isn’t a genius but I haven’t paid all that much attention to him. (One of the few downsides of eschewing television news and getting my political coverage almost entirely from print sources is that I miss out on verbal cues from politicians.) Warren strikes me as quite bright but well within the normal range I see in academics.

  12. Teve says:

    Warren is very smart and buttigieg is very smart. There is no obvious objective way to say that one is smarter than the other, so claims that he is clearly smarter than her do make me suspect subconscious sexism.

    But Liz Warren’s CFPB protected me when Wells Fargo committed straight-up fraud against me, so maybe I’m biased.

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  13. Jen says:

    An Emerson poll has Buttigieg third in Iowa behind Biden (who hasn’t announced) and Sanders.

    Name ID at this stage matters, and he’s approaching that in a very politically savvy way. I’m in NH, and he’s getting increasing discussion here too. I don’t know what the long-haul chances are, but I’m impressed and watching with interest.

    ETA: It’s worth remembering the adage: Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. Right now, Buttigieg is definitely in the crush phase.

  14. SKI says:

    @Jen:

    An Emerson poll has Buttigieg third in Iowa behind Biden (who hasn’t announced) and Sanders.

    What do these three have in common that might appeal to an Iowa electorate… hmmm….

  15. Teve says:

    @SKI: knowing 7 languages is indeed impressive, and I’m impressed with Mayor Pete myself, but it’s worth noting that Buttigieg’s mom was a linguist. He wasn’t exactly starting from square one.

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  16. Teve says:

    @SKI: THAT’S THE WORLD’S GREATEST MYSTERY 😛 😛 😛

  17. Moosebreath says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    ” I believe that Jimmy Carter is considered our most intelligent president and that didn’t turn out so well.”

    Thomas Jefferson and James Garfield say hi.

  18. SKI says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I’ve heard him and I absolutely agree that he is obviously intelligent. BUT, I’ve been similarly impressed with others.

    I also ask what he has accomplished. And the reality is that he hasn’t done all that much that brands him as truly extraordinary. Before entering politics, he was a consultant for The Cohen Group and McKinsey. While in politics, he was elected and re-elected as the Mayor of a town of about 100,000. No noteworthy accomplishments. No organizations founded. No crusades started. Meh.

  19. SenyorDave says:

    @SKI: I think you are severely underestimating the population of Indianapolis, according to US Census it is 872k as of 2017, making it the 16th largest city in the US.

  20. SKI says:

    @SenyorDave: Except Mayor Pete isn’t mayor of Indianapolis. He is mayor of South Bend… population of 101,168 and the fourth-largest city in Indiana.

  21. dennis says:

    @James Joyner:

    And I’m skeptical that being mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a hamlet with 101,168 residents, insufficient experience to prepare one for the Presidency.

    Oh, but we’ve set the bar so, so low, lately …

  22. James Joyner says:

    @dennis:

    Oh, but we’ve set the bar so, so low, lately …

    Yes, and how is that working out?

  23. Teve says:

    Can we look back on 45 presidents and say that one type of experience makes for a clearly better president?

  24. gVOR08 says:

    Dyamn, we’re arguing about which brilliant D candidate is more brilliant than the other brilliant D candidates. I can’t see our other major party having this discussion

  25. @SKI:

    What do these three have in common that might appeal to an Iowa electorate… hmmm….

    A bias towards the letter b, clearly.

  26. SenyorDave says:

    @SKI: I stand extremely corrected. I guess I should have wondered why being mayor of Indianapolis wasn’t considered to be anything on his CV, but it truly is my bad for correcting someone when I needed the correcting.

  27. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @SKI:

    Hickenhooper, Inslee, Beto, and Delaney would also like to know.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    Elizabeth Warren comes across as more of a wonk than POTUS–she’d be great as the head of one of the EU countries (which go for that sort of thing.) Here in the U.S….? I’d rather load her up with as much power as possible on senatorial committees and turn her loose on sleazy US businesses.

    What I’d like to see as a presidential candidate is Teddy Roosevelt, redux. Someone into environmentalism, anti-trust and anti-corruption practices, and bull-headed enough to fight his way through everything the other side can throw at him.

  29. Teve says:

    @Neil J Hudelson: in three of those cases it’s just name recognition. Shit I just lived in Washington State for half a year in 2016 and I barely remember that Insley is running.

  30. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    Dyamn, we’re arguing about which brilliant D candidate is more brilliant than the other brilliant D candidates. I can’t see our other major party having this discussion

    They argue over which candidate pisses off Dems the most.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @SKI: I think you’re confusing Indiana with Illinois, but since I’m just an ignint cracker, it may be me.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: I’ve lived in Washington State again since 2015 (and grew up in Seattle) and I barely can keep track of who Jay Inslee even is.
    (Did I mention that I’m only a year younger than he is?)

  33. SKI says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: While totally possible I screwed up, I think the issue isn’t my confusing Illinois and Indiana but miscommunication in what I was trying to say – that Obama won the Second Congressional District of Indiana, Buttigieg’s home district, in 2008.

  34. Gustopher says:

    Now, I happen to think being “head-and-shoulders smarter than the other candidates running” more likely to be a liability than an asset on the campaign trail.

    If nothing else, it makes one think about dandruff.

    Every interview he does, he comes off as charming, and smarter-than-you-but-it’s-not-a-big-deal. He talks about his faith, servant-leadership and the need to be humble (I don’t think he quite lives up to that last one, as much as he aspires to it). I have no idea how this plays for ordinary Americans.

    But, the Mayor of South Bend being surprisingly capable and brilliant is not inherently sexist. His twitter boom shows that he is very good at using social media, far more than it shows anything about anyone else.

    People like an outsider candidate who isn’t part of the Washington culture. And he has a one-eyed dog. He fits the same myth of outsider who can come in and change the dynamic that Ross Perot and Donad Trump hit, while not being obviously insane or a moral cesspool.

  35. Gustopher says:

    @SKI: The poll has a margin of error almost as big as Buttigieg’s numbers, and has Harris a hair’s breadth behind him.

    Now, I’ll admit that all I really know about Harris is a quote from a QAnon meme — “There a rumors out there that I’ve eaten a live chicken. That’s true. Did you hear what I said? I said I’ve eaten a live chicken. If that triggers you, I apologize.” — but I honesty don’t know what she, as a more traditional candidate, brings to the table that Mayor Pete doesn’t, except for (… checks notes …) salmonella.

  36. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I listened to the podcast this afternoon and Buttigieg was indeed impressive. It’s not so much that he comes across as brilliant as eclectic. He speaks in paragraphs and moves easily from topic to topic with an ease one seldom sees in politicians. As smart as Elizabeth Warren is, for example, she comes across as reading talking points when she shifts to foreign and defense policy; not so Buttigieg. She comes across more as a specialist whereas he seems to have thought through pretty much every issue at least at a philosophical level. He’s not good on detail–such as top marginal rate—but he can talk through the concepts fluidly. And, frankly, the details don’t matter because they’re just starting points for a negotiation.

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:
    Time to drag the old Adlai Stevenson wheeze out of storage:

    Woman: Governor, you have the vote of every thinking person!
    Stevenson: That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!

  38. wr says:

    @Teve: “Shit I just lived in Washington State for half a year in 2016 and I barely remember that Insley is running.”

    Over even how to spell his name!

  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Teve:

    Can we look back on 45 presidents and say that one type of experience makes for a clearly better president?

    I’d go with keeping their heads while all around them were losing theirs. Washington knowing he needed to walk away. Lincoln: everything. FDR, because when all the world was going to hell he rode the wave like a champion surfer. Eisenhower who warned against the military industrial complex in the middle of the cold war, and oh, D-Day. Those four at least were also low on ego – not pride, plenty of pride – but I don’t think of any of them being insecure.

    Think about what FDR was heading into. A rich, patrician man in a wheelchair says, ‘Yeah, I got this whole Depression thing handled,’ and somehow convinces the country to agree. And then, because the Great Depression wasn’t enough: WW2. I don’t know what we were paying presidents in those days but it wasn’t enough.

  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    I have the same reaction to Buttigieg. It’s an interesting contrast between him and Beto. Beto is a romantic lead. He could be played by a pre-crazy Jared Leto. He’s the boy you want to hook up with. Pete is the nerd, sincere, sweet, the dark horse. He’s the guy your mom wants you to marry, and she’s right and you secretly know it. He’s Paul Rudd. He’s also the ‘read ID character.’ You can more readily see yourself as Buttigieg than Beto. Accessible nerd charm versus charisma.

  41. An Interested Party says:

    I’d go with keeping their heads while all around them were losing theirs.

    Hmm…maybe that might apply to a few of the Democratic candidates…certainly it doesn’t apply to the person that one of them will be running against next year…

    @Michael Reynolds: That sounds about right…meanwhile, Trump is the boorish blowhard boss that they both work for…in the movies one of them would put him in his place and come out as the winner in the end…a pity that real life so often does not turn out the same as in the movies…

  42. JDM says:

    Both Warren and Buttigieg are obviously very smart and talented people.

    So, I propose a solution to the Warren vs Buttigeig dilemma. They need to compete on the show, Jeopardy, with the 3rd person being Donald Trump. Winner becomes the next president. I’m betting that Trump would easily lose, unless the Final Jeopardy categories are Porn Stars, Infidelity, Divorce and Nepotism.

    If we want the smartest President to win, we need to do away with the Electoral College and replace it with Jeopardy. BTW, Buttigieg will never get elected with that last name. Imagine the terrible jokes.

  43. Gustopher says:

    @JDM:

    BTW, Buttigieg will never get elected with that last name. Imagine the terrible jokes.

    Bill Clinton was known as Slick Willy before he got to the national stage. I think Buttigieg’s name is not going to be a problem.

  44. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    1-) Speaking a foreign language is difficult.

    2-) Warren would be the fifth Baby-Boomer President. She is three years younger than Bill Clinton and George Walker Bush, in a party whose leadership is comprised of people in their 80’s.

    You can’t ignore this little factor. That’s why there is so much attention for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

    3-) People in Democratic circles know Elizabeth Warren, and only now they are getting to know Buttegieg. And what’s probably dooming Elizabeth Warren is not her gender.

  45. Jen says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Warren would be the fifth Baby-Boomer President.

    I was joking with a friend the other day about how completely typical it would be if this country went from a boomer president to a millennial one, skipping GenX entirely. We seem to be the invisible generation.

  46. Ben Wolf says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What I’d like to see as a presidential candidate is Teddy Roosevelt…

    A white power nationalist, violent imperialist, and purveyor of toxic masculinity who approved of sports as means to train boys for war and domination.

    They don’t teach American history at MIT?

  47. Moosebreath says:

    @Jen:

    “I was joking with a friend the other day about how completely typical it would be if this country went from a boomer president to a millennial one, skipping GenX entirely. We seem to be the invisible generation.”

    Arguably, we did the same thing previously, going directly from GI to Boomer, without ever having a Silent (the arguably part is because Carter, who was born in the last year of the Boomer Generation, missed out on many of the formative experiences of the Boomers, such as not serving in WWII as he was at Annapolis then, and acted more like a Silent as an adult).

  48. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Jen: The point goes beyond generations. The point is that young people are underrepresented in politics, and by young people I’m talking younger than 60. There is a reason why Buttegieg strikes a chord where Warren does not. She would be just another septuagenarian running for high office…

  49. SKI says:

    @Gustopher:

    Now, I’ll admit that all I really know about Harris is a quote from a QAnon meme — “There a rumors out there that I’ve eaten a live chicken. That’s true. Did you hear what I said? I said I’ve eaten a live chicken. If that triggers you, I apologize.” — but I honesty don’t know what she, as a more traditional candidate, brings to the table that Mayor Pete doesn’t, except for (… checks notes …) salmonella.

    Maybe research via something other than QAnon meme might be something you might want to look in.

    On the other hand, if you don’t see how actually being elected statewide in California and serving as AG and then Senator “brings more to the table” than serving as a mayor of a hamlet, I don’t know how to help you. When you add in that she has actually led major initiatives (mortgage fraud, hate crimes, death penalty, criminal justice reform) and accomplished things and he has not…

  50. Blue Galangal says:

    I would – literally – settle for any (real) Democrat who could read, and has read at least one book. That would be one more book than the current occupant has read.

    I think everyone in the current mix is smart enough to be President. With that said, Warren is my top choice (not only reads books but writes them!), and I like Harris a lot. I do not think Buttigieg or O’Rourke have the depth of experience (yet) to be president.

  51. Gustopher says:

    @SKI: AG is actually useful experience for a President. Senator vs. Mayor though? I think that’s harder to say that Senator is more relevant.

    And, when the herd is thinned a bit, I’ll take a more careful look at the remaining candidates. I’ve got a year. I know of Harris, I’ve probably seen or heard some interviews, and honestly the only thing that has stuck out from the rest of the candidates is her eating a live chicken, and apologizing if it triggers you. And I suspect that’s false.

    She is indistinguishable Senator candidate #4. She would be fine. She might even be great. She hasn’t captured my attention yet.

  52. Gustopher says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    I would – literally – settle for any (real) Democrat who could read, and has read at least one book.

    Two book minimum from me, as everyone who has read only one book turns out to have only read the Bible.

    But, I’d even settle for Bernie. And he annoys the crap out of me. Not as much as his supporters do, though. Ugh. They’re like the Ron Paul fan club.