Presidential IQs

Presidential IQs

By John Silveira

July 29, 2001

The other day I got an e-mail. Actually, I got copies of it from several people. The text of the e-mail follows:

According to a report by the Lovenstein Institute, George Bush has the lowest IQ of all presidents in the last 50 years. Here are the results from the study:

The study determined the following IQs of each president as accurate to within five percentage points:

  • 147    Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)
  • 132    Harry Truman (D)
  • 122    Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)
  • 174    John F. Kennedy (D)
  • 126    Lyndon B. Johnson (D)
  • 155    Richard M. Nixon (R)
  • 121    Gerald Ford (R)
  • 175    James E. Carter (D)
  • 105    Ronald Reagan (R)
  •   98    George HW Bush (R)
  • 182    William J. Clinton (D)
  •   91    George W. Bush (R)

I brought the printout into the office and showed it to Dave.

He kind of laughed when he saw it.

I was surprised.

“What’s that?” Mac asked. O.E. MacDougal, our poker playing friend from down south, who’s been here for about a week, was sitting in the new easy chair we have in the office.

I walked over to him and handed it to him.

“That’s pretty funny,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean that I don’t know who thinks these things up, but they’re clever. They can make these things almost look real. The one thing they should do, however, is not try to make their political heroes look good by inflating their I.Q.s beyond reason, like Clinton’s, who’s smart, but not that smart, or Kennedy, whose I.Q. was, as I understand it, just below Mensa candidacy.”

“What’s the qualification to get into Mensa?” I asked.

“132, on a Stanford Benét scale.

“Also,” he continued, “the guy who dreamed this up has less brainpower than either of the Bushes is supposed to have: FDR wasn’t a President in the last 50 years. He’s been dead for 56 years. Some ‘institute.'”

I was beginning to wish I had never brought it in.

Mac continued, “By the way, something that you can put in your ‘gee-whiz’ file is that no one thought Eisenhower was stupid until Ike, who was a registered Democrat all his life, decided to accept the Republican presidential nomination in 1952. It was then that intellectuals decided he wasn’t so bright and they used as evidence the fact that he graduated from West Point near the bottom of his class. After that they relegated him to the heap of idiot presidents.”

“Was he smart?” I asked.

“Well, he did graduate near the bottom of his class. But his real love at West Point was sports, football in particular, not academics. At that time he wasn’t a serious student. But, if he was stupid, it’s strange that Roosevelt would have selected him to be the general who oversaw the Allied armies in Europe during World War II. And he was a very capable general in that position.

“But a more telling appraisal of his IQ is that several years after he had been in the Army, his ‘smarts’ were recognized and he was selected to attend the Army’s War College in Kansas. He was one of, I believe, 72 candidates selected. They were the crème de la crème of the young officers. However, there’s no doubt that almost all, if not all, of his classmates at the War College had finished higher in their respective West Point classes than Ike had in his own. But, by the end of the program, with all of these stellar candidates, Ike finished at the top of his class. Not second or third, but first.”

“So, when he got serious, he was pretty capable,” I said.

“Yes. Adlai Stevenson, the guy he defeated in 1952 and 1953, was considered to be a real intellectual—by the intellectuals, anyway. But my guess is, Ike was smarter. Maybe not. But 122 seriously underestimates his I.Q.”

“What about FDR?”

“His I.Q.?”

I nodded.

“I’ve read things about him. That’s probably pretty accurate.”

“What about Carter?”

“He was very smart. I don’t know about 175, though. I know people who have I.Q.s over 150, and Carter doesn’t impress me as if he’s one of them. So I doubt it. But maybe.”

“What about Reagan?”

“He wasn’t a 105, but he was probably as smart as Kennedy.

“Notice, also,” he added, “that the list has been arranged so that Clinton’s I.Q. is exactly twice George W.’s. That makes it funnier, I suppose.”

“But Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar.”

“No, he was a candidate to be a Rhodes Scholar. You have to finish the program to be a Rhodes Scholar. Clinton dropped out. Nonetheless, he’s pretty smart. So’s his wife.”

He handed me back the list.

“The funny thing is,” he said, “the guy who apparently had the highest I.Q. of any president in the 20th century was Tricky Dicky. I can’t remember who actually did a real appraisal of presidential I.Q.s, but even they were surprised.

Another thing, Harding, the George W. of his day, is still claimed by his critics to have been dumber than mud. But after reading stuff about him, no matter what else you may say about him, he was one smart cookie.”

“So, what about George W.’s I.Q.?”

“I’d guess he was also as smart as Kennedy.”

“But he sounds like an idiot when he talks.”

“So did Richerd Feynman.”


“Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who was, by many accounts, one of the half dozen greatest physicists of the 20th century. He wrote with atrocious sentence construction and wasn’t the easiest person to listen to, either. I mean, if you’re dumb, you’re not likely to sound brilliant when you speak, but it doesn’t follow that stumbling over words means you’re an idiot. Even Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a great speaker.”

“So you don’t think this list is real?”

He arched his eyebrows. “Did you?”

I didn’t answer.

“Did you check to see if there’s a Lovenstein Institute?” he asked.

I didn’t answer that, either, and I went back to my desk.

I went out on the Net and looked for “Lovenstein Institute” without any luck. Then I looked for just “Lovenstein.” All I found of consequence was a musician named Lovenstein.

I looked once more at the list, then I crumpled it up in my hand and threw it into the trash.

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