Sailer on the IQs of Bush, Kerry, and Kennedy

Through admirable research and logic based on IQ-type tests they book took as candidate military officers, Steve Sailer has reached the conclusion that President Bush’s IQ is slightly higher than Sen. Kerry’s, with Bush at about 123 and Kerry at about 120. Given the plodding, leaden quality of Kerry’s supposedly superior intellect, I would say that Sailer’s finding is plausible, if far from definitive. But would people regard Sailer’s finding as credible if they knew that he also thought that Bush’s IQ was higher than John F. Kennedy’s? Kennedy took an IQ test and got 119. I’ve said to Mr. Sailer that, considering JFK’s exceptional verbal facility and overall brightness, this didn’t seem an accurate result to me, that Kennedy would have to be at least in the 120s. Mr. Sailer replied that Kennedy was quick, but not deep. I replied that IQ measures a person’s capacity to process information, not his intellectual depth. Mr. Sailer still didn’t back away from his view that the 119 IQ score for Kennedy is accurate. Bottom line: Sailer thinks that George W. Bush has a higher IQ than John F. Kennedy. In other words, the least intellectually competent U.S. president, a man who can barely speak in the absence of a written script or memorized lines, has a higher IQ than the most famously bright and witty U.S. president. Ridiculous, I say. Has Sailer ever seen one of Kennedy’s press conferences? Either Kennedy’s recorded IQ of 119 is too low, or Sailer’s estimation of Bush’s IQ is too high, in which case his conclusion that Bush has a higher IQ than Kerry is also thrown into question.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 26, 2004 01:27 PM | Send

Regarding the question of JFK’s IQ, I have an anecdote. Some years ago, I was reading a book by Charles Peters, editor of The Washington Monthly. Peters was involved in the Kennedy campaign in the 1960 West Virginia primary.

During the primary, JFK was having voice trouble. So, speechwriter Ted Sorenson would sometimes give speeches for his boss. During one speech, JFK was visibly irritated because Sorenson wasn’t making the right points. So, Kennedy stood up and made the speech himself, with much more knowledge about the subject.

The lesson Peters took was that JFK was smarter than the man who was supposed to be his “brain.” Another time, I saw Peters tell the same story in his magazine colimn, that JFK was definitely smarter than his speechwriter, Sorensen.

Posted by: David on October 26, 2004 2:22 PM

If you look at JFK’S high school and college grades you will see he had great difficulty with both math and Englsh. He was an excellent history student; but on tests and grades he always came in well behind his older brother Joe, who tested better than JFK in every respect, and was doing well in Harvard law school before the war. A 119 IQ seems possible for JFK since I believe 114 is considered a high enough score for success in professional graduate schools. BTW…..Lee Harvey Oswald tested out at an IQ score of 121 for what it’s worth ?

Posted by: j.hagan on October 26, 2004 2:28 PM

I checked the Lee Harvey Oswald IQ score and found that he scored 118 on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale. So…..he is down 3 points from what I remembered. Still, his score is much higher than most people would think, but Wechsler is an excellent test.

Posted by: j.hagan on October 26, 2004 2:38 PM

Some people (I don’t remember the links at the moment) have suggested that Bush’s abilities may have been reduced by the long-term delayed effects of substance abuse. I don’t know if that might explain anything or not.
I have heard that Bush did really well in his debate with Ann Richards in 1994 (I’ve only seen a very little of that debate and can’t say for certain).

Posted by: Michael Jose on October 26, 2004 4:35 PM

It seems unlikely that JFK had an IQ as high as 119, but utterly impossible that Bush had one anywhere near as high, much less higher. The evidence cited by Mr. Auster recently makes that even harder to accept than it would have been before.
By the way, my own impression is that RFK, rather than Sorenson, was the “brain” behind JFK, and also the conscience, insofar as any of the Kennedy clan came close to having such a thing.

Posted by: Alan Levine on October 26, 2004 4:56 PM

I agree with Mr. Auster wrt the IQ test. It measures how effectively you can manipulate symbolic material, mostly visual shapes.

What I would like to know is the SAT scores of Kerry and Bush. 1964 was a very tough year to get into the Ivy League. If you weren’t a legacy (like Bush), you had to have scored pretty darned high on your SATs. This was a much better measure of your total intellect.

Posted by: Timegrid on October 26, 2004 5:28 PM

One thing that I have noticed is that there is a real, and measured fall-off in IQ scores from youth: around age 10-25; to middle-aged and older. Looking at my own scores, which I will not give here:) I have about a 10 point drop-off now in my 40’s. And yes, I was involved in taking real IQ tests; not internet fluff tests, in my youth, and recently, in very early middle-age. So, could an alert, 21 year old GWB score a 123 on an IQ test….perhaps. Could a rigid, 58 year old GWB have an IQ of about 112 or 113…’s possible.

Posted by: j.hagan on October 26, 2004 5:32 PM

To Timegrid: G.W.Bush scored a 1206 on his SAT. Which today, Due to changes that have been made would score out at about 1286.

Posted by: j.hagan on October 26, 2004 5:36 PM

As far as I can tell (I have never met him), President Bush’s problem is not lack of native intelligence. It is lack of intellectual curiosity, an unwillingness to inform himself and to think critically about what he does. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on October 26, 2004 5:49 PM

To J. Hagen:

I don’t know how you have come up with today’s equivalent scores for the 1963 SAT (when W took the test). But the SAT today can’t be compared to those given in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is a politically corrected examination which is designed to mask the deficiencies of the government (public) schools. Here are some of the ways that the test has been changed.

Elimination of antonyms.
Elimination now of analogies.
Ever question (verbal and math) is tested on minority groups. If one minority group has a significant number of wrong answers, the question is deemed to be culturally biased and is eliminated.
Reading passages have been made more “relevant” (read easier).
Calculators are permitted. And you know what info you can store on today’s models.
An extra half hour is permitted.
And to top it all off, the grading system has been “recentered,” that is curved up by an average of 100 points.
This year, a writing section will be added. This will be graded subjectively by human graders and will probably boost up the score some more.

Posted by: Timegrid on October 26, 2004 6:00 PM

To Timegrind:
The guess that the recentered SAT is about 80 points higher now is a figure I have heard from several sources, one being Steve Sailer I believe. Though I have no doubt that with the evidence you produced about how the SAT has been distorted it would not be surprising if that point figure is even higer !

Posted by: j.hagan on October 26, 2004 6:15 PM

That JFK would have been only in the top 10 or 15% doesn’t sound wrong; he was well-educated at the very best schools and travelled in an avante-garde circle. If you look at his writing and ideas, though, the second-class contradictions, such as a nation of immigrants; a concept like that is about as intelligent as to say the identity of a place is to have no identity. He was very unwilling or incapable of dealing with fundamentals, in an abstract way. That attitude, along with the flippant trafficking in contradictions, shows the second-tier pragmatist sort of mentality. At the same time he was glamorized by the quality of the scholars in his claque, and, retrospectively, by the relative rationality of the culture which went berserk shortly after his death.

Posted by: John S Bolton on October 26, 2004 9:04 PM

We’ve had some really brilliant presidents; if one considers them strictly in intellectual terms. Madison, Jefferson, the Adamses, Washington,Lincoln, Wilson, even Carter and Clinton would be considered smarter than JFK. With Kennedy the luster is the camelot image, which is about the people around him, not so much Kennedy himself.

Posted by: John S Bolton on October 26, 2004 9:57 PM

To put things in perspective, 1286 SAT will not get a white boy into Engineering program at Berkeley. I know a dozen people with SAT in 1400-1450 range who are barely make a living.

It tells me that SAT by itself is not a very important factor as we can see a president and a senator with much lower SAT scores than 1400. In view of this 10-20 points on SAT between Kerry and Bush are of no importance.

Posted by: Mik on October 26, 2004 11:30 PM

“An IQ score means nothing without the name of the test by which it was determined. ” That’s from a FAQ about Mensa qualification:

By illustration, “The Stanford-Binet and many school tests have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 16, so Mensa’s qualifying score is 132. On the other hand, the Cattell IIIB and the Ravenīs Advanced Progressive Matrices (old form) have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 24. Mensa requires a score of 148 for these tests. The score of 148 represents exactly the same 98th percentile.”

So Bush’s 123 is not necessarily higher than Kennedy’s 119. That would depend on which test JFK took. Also, let’s not forget that JFK was 119% Irish as well, and “famously bright and witty” comes with one’s Hibernian mother’s milk. It could all have been show. When Lloyd Bentsen made his famous crack about Dan Quayle, John McLaughlin came out with a convincing column showing how Kennedy’s Senate career was inferior to that of Quayle (a Manx name, for what it’s worth.)

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on October 27, 2004 3:26 AM

Aren’t we forgetting one possibility in reconciling Bush’s higher IQ score with his current verbal clumsiness? Between high school and middle age, Mr. Bush subjected his brain to the ravages of alcohol abuse. Even a superior brain is vulnerable to such repetitious damage.


Posted by: jstrake on October 27, 2004 3:21 PM

Probably ideally speaking you don’t want a man who is overly intelligent in the White House. An IQ slightly less than 120 is probably ideal. Individuals with extreme intelligence scores are just likely to read too much into what other leaders say. And, a president with too high an IQ will never be perceived as functional by the dumb masses. Also, is there a link between ultra-high intelligence and paranoia? I believe so.

Posted by: zosimos on October 27, 2004 6:07 PM

You should maybe compare the qualifications of someone who was a jet pilot vs. someone who merely commanded a PT boat.

Posted by: A Abbott on October 30, 2004 9:03 PM

A. Abbot, like others, is basing his judgement about Bush’s IQ on something in Bush’s resume, rather than on our actual experience of the man. I’m interested in how Bush, or Kerry, or Kennedy, actually manifests himself to us, as a public man, a speaker, a leader, not on something we read about his biography. If Bush were a theoretical nuclear physicist (average IQ 172), and behaved and spoke the way he does, I would still say his intellect was deficient in terms of the abilities needed for the presidency.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on October 30, 2004 10:35 PM
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