For a moment, I thought Sen. John F. Kerry was the exception to the rule that all liberals are secretly obsessed—even though they tell each other they don’t believe in it—with IQ.
The Thursday before the election, Tom Brokaw interviewed Kerry on the “NBC Nightly News” and told him, “Someone has analyzed the president’s military aptitude tests and yours and concluded that he has a higher IQ than you do.”
Kerry instantly dismissed this news with admirable nonchalance, “That’s great. More power.”
I was especially interested in Kerry’s response because that “someone” who had estimated Kerry’s and Bush’s IQs was me.
I had long been struck by how so many liberals were convinced that Bush was an idiot compared to Kerry. For example, Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times, asked: “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.”
Yet the scarlet letters “IQ” had almost never appeared in Raines’s Times. Ten years ago, The Bell Curve proved an enormous bestseller, but the backlash against the book banished IQ from the media. Still, as politically incorrect as cognitive tests have become, colleges and the military have not dropped them. They are simply too useful in sorting large numbers of applicants.
Nor have people stopped talking privately about IQ—especially liberals, who seem to believe, with deepest sincerity, both that IQ is an utterly discredited concept and that liberals are better than conservatives because liberals have much higher IQs.
Democrats constantly sneer at Republicans’ IQs. Misspelling “potato” ended Dan Quayle’s political career, and Google lists 225,000 web pages—few of them complimentary—that include the words “Bush” and “IQ.”
In 2001, some jokers issued a prank press release claiming the (nonexistent) “Lovenstein Institute” had scientifically proven that Bill Clinton has a (Galileo-like) IQ of 182, while George H.W. Bush (who was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 2.5 years) had a below average 98 and his son (who has degrees from Yale and Harvard) only a 91. Garry Trudeau fell for this transparent nonsense and shoved it into “Doonesbury.”
Similarly, last May hundreds of liberal websites and even the august Economist magazine succumbed to another IQ hoax, this one claiming that the average IQ in states that voted for Gore was absurdly higher (for example, 113 in Connecticut) than in states that voted Bush (87 in Utah). Immediately following Bush’s victory, this fictitious table spread over the Internet again.
In truth, I don’t believe anybody has measured average state IQs since the huge post-Sputnik Project TALENT study in 1960. If you look instead at a rough proxy such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress achievement tests for public-school eighth graders, you’ll find that Gore states beat Bush states by only a tiny amount.
A more direct comparison of the parties’ voters can be found in the 2000 exit poll, where Bush voters reported an average educational level negligibly greater than Gore voters. Gore did best among high-school dropouts and those who had undertaken postgraduate studies, with Bush leading among those in between. (Many Democrats with advanced degrees, by the way, are public-school teachers with credentials in the easy field of education.)
In the 2002 midterm elections, voters supporting Republican House candidates were particularly well-educated. The GOP won 58 percent to 40 percent among college graduates and even captured a majority among postgrads for the first time in many years.
In 2004, Bush’s majority was more downscale. If you assume that high-school dropouts averaged 10 years of schooling, high-school grads 12 years, those who attended college but didn’t graduate 14 years, college grads 16, and postgrads 18, then Kerry voters claimed 14.64 years of education and Bush voters 14.48 years or only about six weeks less schooling.
Democrats’ denunciations of the president’s IQ bemuse me because Bush strikes me as a lazy but clever and unscrupulous operator who, ever since he quit drinking in 1987, has contrived to get whatever he wants out of life. As I wrote in the Oct. 11 American Conservative in a review of John Sayles’s film “Silver City,” in which Chris Cooper portrays a moronic politician with Bush’s mannerisms, “In the president’s lone losing race, his 1978 run for Congress from West Texas, the victor stressed Bush’s two Ivy League degrees. Bush resolved never to allow himself to be outdumbed again. And the Democrats haven’t outsmarted him since.”
Back in 1999, Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, and I estimated from Bush’s SAT of 1206 (about 1280 under the easier scoring system adopted in 1995) that his IQ fell somewhere around the 95th percentile. The late leftist historian Jim Chapin estimated that Bush’s IQ of roughly 125 probably falls in the second quartile of presidents, a little below average, while Al Gore, who scored about 10 points higher, was in the third quartile. You don’t have to be a genius to be president.
In contrast to Bush, Kerry is from Massachusetts, where intellectual pretensions are popular. Yet there was little hard evidence that Kerry was as brilliant as his flatterers claimed. Unlike Bush, who attended Harvard Business School, Kerry went to plebian Boston College for law school, and his transcripts and test scores appeared to be locked away.
Then a Navy vet named Sam Sewell pointed out to me that the Kerry campaign had posted online an obscure military report giving the cryptic score Kerry had made on the IQ-like test he took when he applied to Officer Candidate School in 1966. After three weeks of research, I determined that Kerry had achieved the average score for applicants to OCS.
In comparison, Bush scored somewhat above average on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test, which was normed against applicants to the Air Force Academy. Those are both good scores—officer applicants are well above the national average. The two men were clearly fairly similar in mental ability when seniors at Yale. Based on my research into the details of these two similar but different tests, if I had to bet, I’d wager Bush would have scored higher if they had both taken the same test back in the Sixties.
When Kerry insouciantly replied to Brokaw as if he didn’t care what he scored on a 90-minute exam 38 years ago, as if he believed that all that he had accomplished since then was the proper measure of the man, I was impressed.
But then Kerry broke the spell by quibbling about my research, “I don’t know how they’ve done it, because my record is not public. So I don’t know where you’re getting that from.” Evidently, IQ mattered to Kerry, too.
A few days later, Brokaw went on Don Imus’s radio show and revealed just how much it bugged Kerry that I had said Bush probably had a slightly higher IQ. After the cameras had stopped rolling, Kerry had rationalized to Brokaw, “I must have been drinking the night before I took that military aptitude test.”
Steve Sailer is TAC’s film critic. He also writes for VDARE.com and iSteve.com