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Gary Hart

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Should a President Be Intelligent?

Posted: 11/19/11 12:05 PM ET

For obvious reasons, there is considerable discussion going on about how much a candidate should know in order to be a credible candidate for the presidency. The Constitution imposes no I.Q. test. But it was written at a time when many Founders read and sometimes even spoke classical Greek and Latin, were products of the Enlightenment, and knew history and, in the case of Jefferson and others, science and a whole range of things. There was an unwritten and unspoken assumption of intelligence.

Holding national office these days is way more complicated. Economics, including fiscal and monetary policies, is global and interwoven. Unlike the simpler, black and white Cold War days, foreign policy is multi-layered and gray and plaid. Security is about a lot more than counting missiles, planes, and tanks and increasing military spending.

No individual can know all these things, the argument goes, so let's look for a leader who has good judgment and picks the right people to listen to. There is much to be said for this. But we all know it takes a pretty keen mind, honed by study, travel, experience, and exposure to competing ideas, to form good judgment and to know whom to trust on complex substantive issues. Neither Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, nor John Kennedy were intellectual giants. But the keenness of their respective minds was revealed every day. And they were not threatened by smart people around them.

A leader must be able to see farther ahead than most others, must generate creative new ideas and policies for new challenges and times, and must be able to convince the rest of us to try those ideas. A leader must have an inquisitive and inquiring mind. National leaders are rarely those who force a complex world into a simple orthodox box and refuse to look outside it.

Most of all it is the combination of commitment to historic principles and ideals, those at the core of Western civilization and our Constitution and Bill or Rights, and openness to consideration of innovative solutions to emerging new challenges and realities within the framework of those principles that marks the great leader. It is for each of us to decide which of the candidates comes closest to meeting this standard.

 
 
 

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