Political I.Q.: Intelligence and Athletic Ability

What constitutes “intelligence”—human mental acuity—is exactly like athletic ability. I don’t care how smart a person is, they’re not smart in all areas of life. The parallel with athletics is clear—even the most talented of athletes has limits when it comes to a sport outside of his specialty. Few top rated wrestlers make top rated sprinters. You can be Michael Jordon on the basketball court but making it into Major League Baseball isn’t guaranteed.

The running debates regarding the I.Q. tests has always struck me as funny. You can read a bit about them on the “Intelligence quotient” page on Wikipedia. The solution to all of the controversy is for those who think they’re so smart to show a little humility. Hey Mr. Smarty, you don’t know as much as you think you do.

This all relates perfectly to politics. Bloomberg financial writer Kevin Hassett wrote this back in February:

The age of humility and second opinions is coming. The problem is, it’s not here yet.

We may have traded a cocky Harvard MBA for a cocky Harvard- trained lawyer, Barack Obama. It shouldn’t surprise us, even this early in the new administration, that little appears to have changed.

In another February column Hassett mused about the collapse of Wall Street and its relation to its halls being filled with “Ivy Leaguers.” Hassett notes that many MBAs matriculating from those fancy schools have “a great deal of faith in themselves.”

What do you get from an MBA? One recent study found that MBAs acquire an enormous amount of self-confidence during their graduate education. They learn to believe that they are the best and the brightest.

This narcissism has a real career impact. Psychologists at Ohio State University studied the behavior of 153 MBA students, who were put in groups of four and asked to orchestrate a large financial transaction on behalf of an imaginary company. The psychologists observed that the students who had the strongest narcissistic traits were most likely to emerge as leaders.

According to Amy Brunell, the lead author, the results of the study had large implications for real-world settings, because ‘narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision- making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders.’

Hassett concludes that column with this:

Wall Street didn’t die in spite of being run by our best and brightest. It died because of that fact.

Reason Online writer Brian Doherty summed up the current financial crisis as being “largely caused by government yet [it] is being sold as largely a crisis of markets” by “public intellectuals.”

Government-run health care is also being sold as an answer. The government-run public school system continues to be a disaster, but the local school district public relations machines and the 800 pound gorilla teacher unions prevent Republican politicians from making the case for school choice. The list of policy debates go on and on.

In this column lately I’ve been taking shots at the so-called political “best and brightest.” Clearly, the GOP has a serious personnel problem.

The Republican Party doesn’t lack for sound policy solutions—the conservative and free market think tanks have provided plenty. The GOP doesn’t even lack for ways to sell all those great policies—the team of pundits on the political right do a great job of providing analysis on a daily basis.

Some “smart” Republican politicians at the national level began what they called a “listening tour” recently. National Review’s Rich Lowery noted this the other day:

I have to say the whole debate over the ‘listening tour’ (a well-intentioned, but probably not terribly important exercise) has been profoundly silly. I hope we’ll look back at it as the very nadir of the Republican nervous breakdown of the first half of ’09.

And an editorial on the Center For Individual Freedom website noted the following in an editorial titled “Leaders Don’t Listen to the Wrong People“:

Politically active conservatives have but a simple message to be delivered to Republican politicians: You’re either the party of principled conservatism or you’re something else. We’re not interested in something else. You can either keep listening to the wrong people, or you can quickly count us – in or out.

The fix for the mess we’re in is a reformation and renaissance in the Republican Party. We need new blood—new leaders—and more talented people pitching in to help build a real political party and to make the case effectively to more voters.

One way for this entire process to be kicked into a higher gear would be for many of those holding positions of power right now in the GOP to realize that as a group they haven’t gotten the job done for many years. Our “leaders” need to usher in an era of humility. They’d be wise to start listening to different people. To avoid continued failure, it would be a good idea for them to realize the limits of their own “intelligence” and get a second opinion.

Up next: Part 2.