Who was the stupidest US president?

Who was the stupidest US president?

While such a question is near impossible to answer definitively Cecil takes a shot at it and (reasonably) uses what metrics we have such as SAT scores and GPAs.

Still, education does not equal intelligence so can be an iffy metric. For instance I knew a kid in high school who could ace tests without trying but hated school, skipped school, skipped homework assignments and so on so his GPA did not reflect his smarts (not even close).

I think the main criticism most had with Bush the junior was not that he was stupid but that he was a distinctly incurious guy. He could understand stuff being explained to him but it all bored him. I can not find it anymore but I recall reading a bit where he demanded his daily security briefing be distilled to one page.

As such someone who was technically less intelligent than him might have been a better president if they cared enough give the attention the job deserves.

As a friend of mine once remarked. “If GW was the stupidest president ever elected, what does that say about the modern electorate?”

That is the biggest problem with democracy. In most forms of government, you can say Well, that’s the government for you! and go on with your life knowing you didn’t have anything to do with those idiots in office. Under a democracy, you’re now directly responsible for those idiots being there in the first place.

Harry Truman never went to college. He was not an intellectual. And, he certainly wasn’t an individual with very sophisticated tastes. However, no one ever accused Truman of being dumb. When you talked with him, you realized that a lot of stuff was happening between the ears. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that Truman embarked on learning Latin on his own and then read and memorized classical Latin texts.

“W” never struck people as having a lot of activity going on upstairs – despite the fact he graduated with an MBA from Harvard.

I don’t know whether “W” was stupid or just playing the roll in order to seem like just regular folk for the election. However, Bush never was interested in complex analysis, and never was able to delve too deep beyond the most basic executive summary. If that isn’t due directly to the lack of brains, it’s certainly shows that he was not all that interested in using whatever amount of brains God did give him.

You can say a lot about Obama and whether you think he’s been a good, bad, or awful president. Opponents have accuse him of all sorts of terrible awful things, but no one has ever called him stupid.

You obviously don’t spend time around hard core conservatives then if you’ve never heard anyone call Obama stupid (as well as a host of other disparaging things). I think no one ever said he was uneducated, but I’ve heard plenty of folks who think he’s pretty stupid (I argue with my dads crowd almost constantly about Obama, such that it’s become uncomfortable for me to hang out with my dad when his buddies are about…these are all guys in their mid to late 80s and they are as crotchety as one can imagine).

As for the OP:

Certainly there are a lot of folks who did and do think Bush II was/is stupid. My own take is that Bush is one of those guys who see things in black or white/good or evil type terms. They simplify the world so that all problems have easy, cut and dried answers. Bush also was confident in his own take on things and didn’t seem to enjoy gray areas or others opinions when they were radically different than or conflicted with his own world view. Those are definite flaws, but I don’t think they made him stupid in the real sense of the word (i.e. lacking cognitive abilities).

Basically, this question is/was a loaded one that attempts to demonstrate (usually to the faithful on one side or another) that the guy they are targeting was or is stupid, and thus can be dismissed (though why folks STILL want to bash on Bush long after he’s out of the office is a mystery to me).

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
(H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, 7-26-20)

The most telling thing about W was that as Governor of Texas, he never set foot in a NASA facility. You have to be really focused, I think, not to have some passing interest in all the cool rocket gear, astronauts, etc. and exercise that kind of uber-VIP tour ticket. As a political tool and grandstand, there are few better. But nope. He had… something else to do. For four years. During one of NASA’s most exciting and productive phases.

A Scientific American column (reprinted on Salon) makes a case for smartness correlating with the success of their presidency.

The study found “The three lowest, from the bottom, were Ulysses S. Grant, Warren Harding, and James Monroe. The three highest, from the top, were John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John F. Kennedy.”

People are going to immediately question the methodology of how the author, Dean Keith Simonton, determined I.Q. and rightly so. (Click on the link in paragraph 3 under “found”.) Not only did Simonton use a circular notion of that producing intellectual items shows evidence of intellectualism but he didn’t even have good enough data for 10 presidents and had to extrapolate those numbers.

My position is that we don’t know and can’t ever know.

Truman also read history voraciously and understood it well.

Closer to six years, FWIW: January 17, 1995–December 21, 2000.

There are different forms of intelligence, and arguably anyone who wins the presidency must necessarily score high in some of them. Policy expertise and managerial skills are very different things, and different presidents will present different mixes of both. It’s not a job that a completely dumb person can just fall into, though.

Also, I think it might be beneficial to limit the question to presidents before, say, FDR. Otherwise, it’s too easy for one’s views on this question simply to recapitulate one’s politics.

Stats and test scores are weak comparators because they are unreliable. They don’t measure a person’s interest levels or aptitude as much as they’re willingness to apply themselves to a particle task and an aptitude taking tests. Nevertheless, they are a benchmark of something, and we don’t have much better in many cases.

It’s hard not to be cicular; “intelligent people do intelligent things”, etc.

I think with regards to Bush II, he might not have been stupid, but he wasn’t a brilliant person, and most tellingly, he just doesn’t have an inquisitive or analytical mind.

What about a person with name recognition and family connections, that can build a mainstream base to win, but is easily coached/manipulated/lead to fit the aims of other, smarter people who are willing to take a back seat on recognition of it means holding real power, versus not being so close to the driver’s seat?

I never understood the bad rap for Harding. Maybe he wasn’t outstanding but he took office in a recession and by 1922 saw a 14 percent increase in GDP growth. There was also a decrease in labor and racial unrest when he was president and no wars. There was the Teapot Dome scandal but IIRC he wasn’t implicated in it.

By comparison Bush-II saw us into a needless war and a huge economic collapse.

Really? He’s been out of office for only 6+ years, and we’re still dealing with the more-or-less direct repercussions of his administration. Some people will live with them for the rest of their lives–or their lives are over because of it.

Well, he had all that brush to clear from his ranch. That takes a lot of time and effort. You know, putting on the right hat, cool looking shades, and getting them boots on – that in itself can take a few hours.

Jean Dean [yes, that John Dean] did an excellent short biography of Harding in which he makes those points and tries to rehabilitate his reputation.

Most historians aren’t buying it. Harding had the luck to preside over a boom time he had nothing to do with. He wasn’t corrupt, but he allowed his pals to run free and pollute the whole government. His personal life was the pits and he was a congenial sort but not a very nice man.

He won office only because the Democrats were sunk, and didn’t even have a live candidate to offer. (Wait. Cox was alive? Who know?) An almost perfect example of why having a figurehead in the White House is just as bad an idea as having a dolt, and evidence that one might imply the other.


I would imagine that the stupidest king was much more stupid than the stupidest president - by a long shot.

Since we’re not discussing criminal culpability but sheer stupidity, that’s no defense. Besides, have you seen his love letters?

I don’t think they come much dumber than William Henry Harrison, literally too dumb to come in out of the rain.

He didn’t own the ranch until 1999. It was originally a prop for his presidential bid.

Just look at what Governor Bush has done in his six years out of office. Aside from working on his painting skills and opening his Presidential Library – not very much. So if he does have brains, he still hasn’t shown much interest in using them.

Trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Powers &8^]