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The Brains Thing

by Matthew Yglesias Remember the 2000 election? With the country enjoying a seemingly endless spell of peace and prosperity, and no apparent daunting

by Matthew Yglesias

Remember the 2000 election? With the country enjoying a seemingly endless spell of peace and prosperity, and no apparent daunting challenges facing the next chief executive, the media were finally granted the chance to construct a narrative entirely around personalities. Al Gore, based on a handful of small exaggerations and his association with the occasionally sordid behavior of Bill Clinton, was said to have a character problem. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was haunted by a lack of experience and intelligence.

Three-plus years later we know better, or at least we should. Intelligence matters. The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it’s to manage a wide range of complicated issues. That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity -- yes -- to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one’s decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be.

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You could argue that the family values that Yglesias says are not necessary in a president are actually emblematic of other desirable character traits like loyalty or honesty. (I wouldn't.) But, what you cannot do is say that intelligence is not an issue and you cannot say that it isn't an issue of primary importance. Obviously, the job of leader of the free world is complicated and one of the requirements is that you be able to understand it.

When Republicans tell me that it doesn't matter if Junior is intelligent I ask them if they think it matters if a doctor is intelligent or a judge or a general and if they think the job of president requires any less of a brain than those jobs do. Then picture George W. Bush doing any of them. Commentary by MIke F. From Crooks and Liars.

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