James Harding points out how much the public estimation of President Bush’s IQ has grown:

During the 1992 presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush dismissed his Democratic challengers: “They criticise our country and say we are less than Germany and slightly better than Sri Lanka. My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”

A couple of years ago, the American people may have believed that of Mr Bush’s dog, but not his son. When George W. Bush came to office he was considered not just a neophyte, but an ignoramus. On the way to the White House, Mr Bush had flunked questions on the leaders of Pakistan, Chechnya and elsewhere, struggled to tell the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia and called the Greeks “Grecians”.

But all that now seems like another man at another time. Over the past week, the US president has appeared as a self-assured diplomat. Reminiscent of Richard Nixon flying home from Beijing 30 years ago, the irrepressible Mr Bush took what for him was the highly unusual step of inviting reporters into the conference room on Air Force One to sum up an “historic trip”.

Three explanations for this come to mind:

1. Almost no one seems to be of presidential timber until they assume the job. Even candidates with extensive experience and obvious qualifications lack that certain “something” that we associate with the presidency. And, frankly, unlike his dad, GWB was a political neophyte and a late bloomer. While he had a much firmer grasp of the presidential leadership than he was given credit for, his reaction to 9-11 and aftermath accelerated both the learning curve and the perception of strong leadership.

2. Most career politicians are practiced in the art of regurgitating memorized answers. So, despite an above average IQ and an Ivy League education, Bush’s comparatively poor verbal skills made reporters and a public used to the glibness of Bill Clinton question his intelligence.

3. As George Will and others have noted, the mainstream media and the academic intelligentsia almost always think Republicans are stupid, simply because they can’t comprehend how intelligent people could actually believe what conservatives believe.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rodney Dill says:

    More of a spin on #3 than a true fourth explanation: The liberal media mounted a successful campaign to portray Bush 43 as less than intelligent, (whether the media actually believed this or not). With Bush now doing, arguably, a good job, the bubble of this illusion has burst and people are deciding for themselves on how he is doing. I remember the reports on Bush that he always enjoyed being underestimated.