The empty black suit

Joseph Kay, a professor at a prominent university, explores a fascinating and familiar phenomenon that to my knowledge has never before been analyzed at length: the black who through imitation of an intellectual manner is able to create a convincing but false appearance of intellectual ability and build a career on that basis. Prof. Kay has previously written an article at VFR on why many Third-World immigrants cannot be assimilated.

The Empty Black Suit
By Joseph Kay

There is a certain type of black student on today’s campus who outwardly is smart, articulate, motivated, ambitious, punctual, socially engaging, and all else that any professor might want. For both the champions and the doubters of affirmative action, such black students seem to be just what the doctor ordered to banish racial stereotypes. Unfortunately, the performance of such students on intellectually demanding tasks usually disappoints. The anticipated “A” on a research paper, for example, turns out to be a minimal “C,” and, to make matters worse, writing style, logic, footnoted references, and all else indicating cognitive talent contradict the splendid outward appearances. Compromise typically resolves the discrepancy. To avoid trouble, the “A”-looking African American student is given a “B” for “C” work. If he or she complains of the unanticipated “B,” matters can deteriorate yet further. Discussions may reveal an inability to grasp the assignment’s aim or why the performance was judged sub-standard. He or she may claim that similar work always won “A’s” elsewhere. It is as if professor and student resided on different planets.

Because these surprised professors only know their own students, and are not aware of the general phenomenon, they seldom dig deeper. The lousy grade is easily attributed to shoddy high school preparation, lack of prior help, and the other liberal excuses that are proffered for low black academic achievement. Moreover, similar outcomes have occurred with white students, i.e., the classroom brain unexpectedly flunks the course. But what makes this “disappointing smart-appearing black” phenomenon interesting is that it is pervasive. When the subject is raised in personal conversations, countless professors say, “Yes, now that you mention it, I’ve had several like that, but I thought I was the only one.”

These disappointing outcomes are predictable, and have consequences far beyond the campus. The problem begins with the fact that few African Americans at a given university, thanks to lowered admission standards, have the IQs necessary to compete with their white classmates. If merit alone determined admission, this mismatch would not occur. All students would vie on a roughly level IQ playing field, and, given overall IQ distributions, few blacks would populate top academic programs.

What can paper over this deficiency is that many black students master the outward signs of “being smart.” This is traditional outsider adaptive behavior, regardless of ethnic/racial backgrounds, and is reflected in phrases such as “passing” or “fitting in.” For those with above average intelligence, a keen eye plus a gift for mimicry is often sufficient to play imposter. Familiar academic tools include learning fancy words like “paradigmatic” adroit name-dropping, affecting the professorial sartorial style (e.g., a tweed jacket, blue Oxford shirt), certain verbal mannerisms, even a sprinkling of Yiddish in some venues. A PowerPoint presentation with multiple equations bedazzles. A few Black Panthers once pulled off this deception by tossing around a little Marxism. This is no different from a competent actor with a few weeks of observation plus some props convincing an audience that he is a business tycoon though the real tycoon would sense the charade.

There is a scientific basis to this skilled imitation. IQ test data indicate that blacks usually perform better on items reflecting social norms, less well on abstract, highly “g” loaded items. This is the opposite of popular criticisms of IQ testing, which argue (falsely) that blacks score low because they lack access to the “white” culture underlying IQ tests. In reality, blacks perform worse on abstract, non-cultural sub-tests like spatial relations and better on questions reflecting everyday life (e.g., “What is a bed?” an actual question on the popular WAIS-R IQ test). Thus, a black sociology student who confidently asks about a “construct validity of a multi-dimensional operational indicator” at the department’s Thursday symposium will be deemed a rising star and doubters risk being called racist (“Are you hinting that blacks can’t do measurement”?). And with actor-like performances rewarded by approving professors, this superficial verbal facility improves. But when lengthy tests require students to evaluate and apply in detail alternative validity approaches to varied statistical indicators, the game is up.

Non-university people cannot grasp just how simple it is to fool those wanting to believe that outward appearances signify intellectual ability. This is particularly the case in soft disciplines that do not require mathematics. The clever law student imposter can conspicuously carry around legal tomes, ask “serious” questions whose sole purpose is to name-drop obscure cases, complain about spending too much time in the library, join organizations to build a stellar resume, and otherwise construct a false persona. Success at one level leads to triumph at the next. Few professors have the gumption to flunk a pretender who has successfully fooled dozens of others (con artists use this technique when telling potential suckers about all the others who have bought the scheme). But assuming that the lightweight must be the real thing is painless.

My impression is that it is often even easier to fool so-called conservatives. These folk are always suspected of racism, and when they find that seeming stellar African American intellectual, the fawning can be embarrassing. This, they hope, will convince the world that they are not racists, and they may even exaggerate the imposter’s abilities—a mediocrity becomes brilliant. Needless to say, these highly presentable intellectual lightweights are often sufficiently savvy to exploit conservatives anxious to demonstrate their anti-racist bona fides.

What separates real life, including politics, from the academy is that real life seldom requires the individual to pass a tough test to demonstrate genuine mastery prior to being given a position. Only afterwards, when the candidate is elected or the junior executive hired, are there unexpected “surprises.” At least initially, superficiality always carries the day. A well-tailored, eloquent black office seeker can easily impress audiences by announcing “the declining yield of each marginal investment suggests a cautionary approach.” But the listener can never know if this high-sounding verbiage reflects knowledge, or just a knack for picking up economic lingo. Certainly no media personality will ask if this declining yield still represents a net gain in light of alternative investments elsewhere, or whether the opportunity costs associated with alternatives still warrant investment. If this occurred, the interviewer, not the befuddled black candidate, would be condemned with the withering statement that “No white candidate would be so badgered.” Thus no incentives exists to expose the arriviste.

Conflating articulateness with high intelligence invites disaster, since the “smart style” is all too easily acquired. Think of Eddie Murphy playing Prof. Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor. The tip-off is usually the lack of tangible accomplishment, for example, a well-crafted research paper done with minimal assistance. Verbal ability and “white” style is decisive. Again, the fact that many whites, particularly conservatives, desperately want to believe the best, only facilitates the swindle. Perpetrators may even believe their own act since it goes undisputed.

Thus, after decades of failed efforts to achieve racial equality, the market for black empty suits is booming. We’ve invested billions, perhaps trillions, to get blacks into high-level positions, and to demand a genuine demonstration of intellectual competence, not just mesmerizing appearances, risks exposing massive wastefulness. What you see is not what you get.

-end of initial entry -

Stephen Hopewell writes:

On Joseph Kay’s excellent piece “The Empty Black Suit,” the situation of blacks in the humanities, I think, fits into the pattern he describes. I know of a prominent liberal arts college where ALL the black professors were in the field of English or other departments where they taught “black literature” and “black culture.” In other words, their field was “blackness” itself and not a particular discipline, to paraphrase your observation in “My Views on Race and Intelligence.”

There is a certain characteristically black type of oratorical or storytelling skill which seems to be used to compensate for a lack of other skills. And of course there are a number of excellent black novelists and poets. But it is amazing that this can happen in fields like the sciences, law, and business.

LA replies:

Not surprising in business, I would say. Blacks are gifted in sales abilities. A person can be extraordinarily successful as a salesman, earning a high income, and a very average or just a bit above average IQ.

Mike Berman writes:

Prof. Kay’s observations on the higher levels of academia hold true throughout every strata of society. In my two years working with the retarded, blacks affected higher levels of social skills than their white classmates. There were times when it was difficult to discern outward signs of retardation among blacks, where just a glance at whites would reveal the condition.

LA replies:

That may represent a different phenomenon from the one discussed by Joseph. Kay. Blacks naturally have significantly lower IQ than whites. Therefore a 70 IQ in a black is normal and is not associated with developmental abnormalities, while a 70 IQ in a white is associated with obvious developmental abnormalities.

Dimitri K. writes:

My opinion, as well as that of many other Russians I have talked to, is that the “empty suit” phenomenon is not limited to blacks. It is rather a general phenomenon in American industry. I believe that it results from high English and low Math requirements at school. All job applicants usually know how to talk well, often without understanding what they talk about.

LA replies:

Interesting. It’s certainly true in the area of politics. There is the widespread ignorance and inability to reason, which we’ve frequently noted. That is, people are good with the form of words, with the form of reasoning, but they are not really reasoning. For example, they constantly use inappropriate analogies to understand the concrete issue at hand, and so speak words that are unconnected from any reality. They have various verbal tools, which makes them sound intelligent and educated, but they don’t really think.

However, I would say that this problem is not due to low intelligence, but to the liberal culture’s emphasis on abstractions, its fear of concretes, and its desire to reduce reality to simplistic verbal formulae so as better to manipulate and control society.

Thucydides writes:

This post got me to thinking that there are also many whites who advance beyond their actual abilities through adopting the right manner. For example, many liberals I know live in the NY Times/NPR cocoon, and are very up to date in dropping opinions and repeating seemingly thoughtful phrases.

However, when questioned, it rapidly becomes apparent they are faking it: they cannot explain the reasons behind these opinions, nor can they state what arguments might be raised against them. When asked, they usually respond by getting angry, changing the subject, or insulting the questioner. These cognitively limited people pass, if mainly in their own eyes, as being more intelligent and better informed than they are.

LA replies:

As I said to Dimitri, what you are describing is an interesting phenomenon, but I think it is different from what Joseph Kay is talking about. Liberals—including very high IQ liberals—live within a cocoon of received wisdom that is never challenged, that consists of self-reinforcing slogans and phrases bandied back and forth. The liberals are unable to defend their opinions from challenge, not because they are frauds, but because their social environment has shaped them not to be able to defend their opinions. At the same time, they are able to function in their jobs, including intellectually demanding jobs. It is in the particular areas of political and moral reasoning that they are incompetent.

This is quite different from people who adopt intellectual manners to create the impression of an intellectuality that is not there.

Joseph Kay writes:

I read your response to Thucydides. You are absolutely correct. The white equivalent of the empty black suit would be to fake being a corporate lawyer by using the legal lingo, dressing the part and the like but being befuddled in the courtroom. This seldom, if ever happens, and if it did, the pretend lawyer would soon be unemployed. Not so for the pretend black lawyer. Chances are that he or she would never be sent into the courtroom alone and might only be there to impress black members of the jury or a black judge. At most, he would do what he was told, and this would not include heavy intellectual lifting.

In fact, many black professionals are often exactly that—useful decorations. They are trotted out for public occasions to impress non-professional audiences. Thus, the black physics professor may appear in a school’s promotional video or a minority recruitment fair, but he would not be sent to a professional physics conference to represent the school’s physic’s department.

Mark Jaws writes:


The black empty suit syndrome is even more pronounced in the military, where blacks, the beneficiaries of an explicitly expressed race-based quota system, rise through both the enlisted and officer ranks in numbers completely incommensurate to their abilities. It is thus not unusual to have white corporals way smarter than their usually mathematically challenged black sergeants first class (usually a platoon sergeant in charge of 25 to 40 soldiers), or a not-so-swift, and thus insecure black colonel in charge of white captains and majors. Blacks can look very good in uniform and bark out orders with command authority, but when put in a position requiring cognitive and reasoning skills plus the ability to “see the battlefield in multiple dimensions,” they are an utter embarrassment. Thus it is exceedingly rare to see a black man or woman as the corps or division G-2 (senior intelligence officer). In fact, I don’t believe I have ever known one. Everyone knows it, and whites speak about in drones in individual conversations. After all, can anyone of you name me one decently, half-competent military of a black nation? Ain’t no such animal.

LA replies:

As I said to Dimitri and then to Thucydides regarding their respective comments, this is a highly interesting phenomenon, and worth discussing. Mark Jaws is describing an organized system of race preferences—the hiring and promotion of blacks beyond their abilities and deserts in order to get a designated number of them into designated positions. However, it is not the same thing that Mr. Kay was describing, i.e., the “mimicking” whereby individual blacks put on an intellectual manner and so get accepted as being more intelligent than they really are. Rather, under the race preferences system, blacks are being promoted without any special reference to how individual blacks are presenting themselves, though, of course, those who present themselves more smoothly will probably get “affirmatively acted on” ahead of their peers.

However, that said, it would seem that the result of the race preferences system described by Mr. Jaws and of the “mimicking” described by Mr. Kay are practically identical: the empty black suit, the person who seems to a superficial observer to be up to his job and to be carrying out his job, but who in reality is just filling empty space and going through the motions. And this is a major phenomenon in our society that has barely been written about.

LA continues:

Also, very relevant to the idea of the empty black suit is the section on “The Optical Illusion,” in my article, “My Views on Race and Intelligence.”

LA continues:

With all the resources and energy that corporations and government have devoted to the advance of blacks resulting in an entire sub population of diversity hires, I wonder if, within the recesses of these organization, there has ever been a top-secret, critical, truthful study of black diversity hires and how they actually perform in their jobs. The study could be entitled: The Man in the Grey Empty Suit.

September 11

Richard Lynn writes from Northern Ireland:

Thanks for Joseph Kay’s interesting paper. Blacks have high “self esteem” which likely contributes to their confident demeanour.

Mark K. writes:

“Black anger at white evil is thus the first principle of existence.”

You see this internalized in black actors such as Samuel L. Jackson who in almost every film wears a mask of anger. Last Sunday CBS showed the Cleveland-Dallas football game at which Jim Brown was a guest. He bore this fierce, angry scowl on his face. These people wear their anger as badges of virtue to remind white America that they bear within themselves black history. You see this in the self-righteousness of a Denzel Washington who is always cast as an outsider trying to right things, his virtue enabled and ennobled by past black history. As the white protagonist becomes an idiotic wimp, the black rises mythically through his anger.

The problem is that this anger is a surface that conceals the vapidity inside—there is nothing there! Anger as energy and self-righteousness is empty.

LA replies:

Jim Brown is (or at least used to be) particularly sick. Many years ago he was being interviewed by Geraldo Rivera and said that when he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about white racism. This big, strong man, once the greatest running back in football, and his life absolutely was consumed with white racism. Geraldo said to him, “You’re breaking my heart.”

September 13

In “The mythic fall of Barack” this exchange was posted:

Ben W. writes:

Regarding Obama’s recent performance, one can readily tie in the essay by Joseph Kay at VFR, “The Empty Black Suit.” My experience at work is that many blacks feel that their time has come (much like Obama’s ascendancy) and all they have to do is step into a position they had previously been denied and voila the position makes them function.

LA replies:

And this is in line with black “magical” thinking. You don’t actually have to produce or accomplish anything to create a society or make a society work. You just put the requisite symbolic object in place (e.g., American aid to a black country, a black man in the White House), and reality will be transformed. But such magical workings, regardless of the hopes and expectations put on them, always disappoint. Perhaps Barack is more African than anyone, even he, has realized.

Perhaps the title of this entry should be changed to, “The mythic fall of the empty black suit.”

To which Joseph Kay replies:

I see that my empty suit essay has drawn a degree of interest. Actually, as I’m sure you know, much more can be said, especially about those in the academy. I often use the term “diplomatic immunity” to depict their stupid utterances, for example, their idea that racism causes blacks to do poorly in school. In such instances, no sensible white will argue, for not only is disputing this idiotic utterance “racial hostility,” but the intellectual gulf is obviously unbridgeable. So, this remark and hundreds like it go unchallenged, year after year. The upshot, naturally, is that these empty suits think they are telling the truth (sometimes called speaking truth to power). Even if one did dispute it, they cannot grasp why they are wrong since the usual standards of scientific argument are beyond their comprehension (though they may use the terminology). They are immune to intellectual challenge and, no doubt, prefer it that way, since vigorous intellectual debate is not their cup of tea and they perform badly at it. It is no accident that there are few blacks doing scientific analysis—magic and revelation is their style.

After 20 years of such unchallenged pontificating these clueless souls become “respected academics” to other blacks. Role models and mentors for future idiocy.

September 17

Mark P. writes:

I sent the Joseph Kay article about Obama being an empty black suit to a law professor friend of mine. Below is his response.

Law professor writes:

I don’t have time to lay out all of my thoughts. So just a couple of points.

First, there is some truth to what the author argues. I don’t think it is necessarily IQ that explains things. It really could be social circumstances. But I think most people admit that affirmative action does sometimes allow for the admission of students that are not qualified for the schools they attend.

Second, the author is dead wrong about law school when he writes this:

Non-university people cannot grasp just how simple it is to fool those wanting to believe that outward appearances signify intellectual ability. This is particularly the case in soft disciplines that do not require mathematics. The cleaver law student imposter can conspicuously carry around legal tomes, ask “serious” questions whose sole purpose is to name-drop obscure cases, complain about spending too much time in the library, join organizations to build a stellar resume, and otherwise construct a false persona.

The problem is that grades are based almost exclusively on anonymously graded final exams. Even if you can fake it in class, you cannot fake it on a final exam. Having taken and now graded countless exams, I see that first hand. It is simply impossible to fake it on one of my tests. All the students who have tried have done poorly. Moreover, students who don’t really understand the material can’t even fake it in class. Some of my top students, with proven ability in class and on finals, fail miserably when they haven’t fully prepared and tried to fake it in class. And those students who don’t really get it even after serious work and try to pass themselves off as understanding the material fall flat in class too. In short, at least for me and many of my colleagues, it is pretty obvious when a student doesn’t really understand the material. I’ve had some incredibly articulate folks simply not get it in class or on the final. Their outstanding “passing” has always been obvious to me.

The author continues:

Few professors have the gumption to flunk a pretender who has successfully fooled dozens of others (con artists use this technique when telling potential suckers about all the others who have bought the scheme).

Again, in law, we flunk plenty of people out, and we give low grades to those who don’t perform up to standards. Anonymous grading really helps on that front.

What the author says MAY have more merit in other fields. But in law, and in philosophy for that matter, it is virtually impossible to fake it, no matter how good an actor you are, in any class with a reasonably diligent professor. And from what I’ve heard, this is generally true of graduate programs. I can’t speak for undergrads. But the level of comprehension required in most decent to good graduate programs is simply too great to be able to fake it to any significant degree.

Third, to whatever extent this article is true, it does not apply to Obama. He never could have made the Harvard Law Review or reached the editor-in-chief level without truly outstanding intellectual capacities. And there is no way he would have survived at the University of Chicago law school without some serious intellectual game. Obama has the intellectual horsepower necessary to be president. That doesn’t he mean has the other qualities. That’s a separate set of issues. But when it comes to brain power, Obama is superbly qualified for the job.

Joseph Kay replies:

I obviously disagree. First, there is a long record of black law school graduates unable to pass the bar exam, even after multiple tries. This strongly suggests that schools are awarding passes to those unable to do the work.

Second, I question the racial anonymity of anonymous exams. It is been my experience that black students readily identify themselves on these exams by either dropping clues about their skin color or by their awkward writing style. Very, very few blacks students can pass themselves off as “white” when it comes to decent writing. And this “black” writing style is distinctive.

Third, it is my impression that several law schools expressly cater to blacks. Read Farber and Sherry, Beyond All Reason for an account of how critical race [theory?] has infiltrated the law schools. How in the world do idiots like Derrick Bell survive in places like Harvard or NYU? Marginal urban law schools have re-invented themselves to advance “social justice” and this means giving blacks an easy pass. To be sure, these are not Harvard or Chicago, but hundreds of blacks each year pass through these schools.

More generally, there are those professors who love awarding inflated grades to blacks to confirm their higher morality. Some of these are black professors who themselves have benefited from affirmative action. Black students undoubtedly know of them and will exploit this opportunity to the fullest. Add elective law school courses that do not demand mastery of complicated technical material and the stage is set. Passing a course on insurance law is far different from passing one on Law and Racial Justice.

Finally, not having had Mr. Obama as a student I will not pass judgment on his cognitive ability. My impression from hearing him and reading his policy proposals is that he is an intellectual lightweight, at least compared to his Ivy League academic peers. This is, however, hardly new in politics—the profession attracts few geniuses. He is nothing special but, alas, so many white just want to believe.

I recall liberals making fun of George Bush’s Harvard MBA as “unearned.” Similarly, liberals never talk about Teddy Kennedy paying somebody to take his SPANISH exam at Harvard. Clearly a different standard exists for Republicans than Democrats. Republicans are just stupid; blacks and Democrats are naturally smart.

LA replies:

First, I am fascinated by Mr. Kay’s challenge to the racial anonymity of anonymous exams. That never would have occurred to me, and shows the value of having people write about this subject who have taught black students.

Second, the degree of Obama’s intellectual capacities is an unresolved puzzle. Certainly he has an elegant, seemingly thoughtful, and engaging way of expressing himself. There are passages in his book Dreams from my Father, that show a genuine thoughtfulness and a sensitivity to experience. But substantively most everything he says is mediocre, consisting of liberal cliches. Then there is the big mystery about the absence of any writings by him at Harvard Law. There are no articles by him in Harvard Law Review, which for the president (editor in chief) of that publication is unheard of, and creates the strong suspicion that he got the post through his political and speaking skills. And then there is his extraordinary proneness to gaffes. (Correction: president of the Law Review is an elected position, but membership in the Review itself is supposedly based purely on grades.)

When we look at the question of Obama’s intelligence in reference to the larger issue of his absence of a definite identity and his extraordinary ability to shape-shift, the possibility arises that his seeming high intelligence is, at least to a large extent, but another expression of his shape-shifting. One theory I have had of him is that he is a Zelig, a man without an identity, who assumes different identities, and that his absence of substance would ultimately be exposed and bring him down.

Jonathan W. writes:

I agree that Obama having made Law Review means absolutely nothing, as almost all of the top schools have affirmative action spots. They are thinly veiled as “personal statement” positions (as opposed to positions earned through grades or the writing competition), but in actuality, no non-underrepresented minority is ever invited to join the Law Review staff through one of the personal statement slots. Further, Obama’s having been elected president similarly means nothing, as the mostly liberal staff would have been thrilled to support “diversity” and elect the first black Harvard Law Review president.

However, Obama did graduate magna cum laude (indicating grades in the top 10 percent of the class), along with people like Scalia and Roberts. I will admit though that the possibility that the professors were able to somehow ascertain which of the final exams were produced by Obama or by a black student in general never crossed my mind. I am curious as to how Obama performed on the SAT and LSAT, as these are much harder to game. I do know that the average SAT score of black students at institutions like Columbia, from where Obama graduated, is often a full 200 points or more below the white and Asian average.

LA replies:

I wonder if Steve Sailer has made any educated guess as to Obama’s IQ? He used to write about G.W. Bush’s and Kerry’s SATs, and derived their approximate IQs therefrom.

And what about McCain’s IQ? Oh, let’s not go there….

Evan H. writes:

You wrote today “There are passages in his book Dreams from my Father, that show a genuine thoughtfulness and a sensitivity to experience. But substantively most everything he says is mediocre, consisting of liberal cliches. Then there is the big mystery about the absence of any writings by him at Harvard Law. There are no articles by him in Harvard Law Review, which for the president (editor in chief) of that publication is unheard of, and creates the strong suspicion that he got the post through his political and speaking skills.”

This calls to mind Jack Cashill’s article “Who wrote Dreams From My Father?”

LA replies:

I’ve just read the article and I recommend it.

(However, see the counterargument for believing that Obama had to be the author of Dreams.)

Paul K. writes:

The idea that Obama didn’t write his own book is an intriguing one. It takes on some plausibility from the fact that he hasn’t written much else that we know of besides two memoirs, one of them the typical campaign biography. Most writers like to write. Also, I have never seen him express himself in a manner that suggests he wrote the sentences cited.

JFK benefited greatly from his supposed authorship of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage,” which was ghost-written by Ted Sorensen, but of course Old Joe could handle things like that.

Nixon was quite a good writer and no one has ever questioned his authorship of “Six Crises” or his subsequent books.

I don’t know what the word is on Bill Clinton’s autobiography, but it’s so badly written it’s easy to believe he handled it himself. The first sentence reads, “Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about six thousand in southwest Arkansas, thirty-three miles east of the Texas border at Texarkana.”

Wow! Who needs Mapquest?

Anna writes:

This, along with many recent political topics, has been interesting and thought provoking.

The IQ portion is what brings me to comment.

When it comes to IQ, it seems too often that an exceptionally high IQ is lethal, most often noted in literature; the recent demise of David Foster Wallace comes to mind.

I have personally known, sadly, of similar people and have experienced similar bewildered sadness.

So, in our leaders we want a reasonably high IQ and the ability to use it reasonably.

I was taken aback by your comment—

“And what about McCain’s IQ? Oh, let’s not go there…. “

This is a guy who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and became a fighter pilot. You don’t do this by smoke and mirrors, or heading the Harvard Law Review.

I think we can safely assume each candidate’s IQ is above average. Let’s concentrate on what’s important—their choices with it.

LA replies:

I see how discussion of individuals’ IQ can be offensive, especially if it includes a mocking or disrespectful statement such as my joke about McCain. I think that it’s probably better, when commenting on what one sees as a public man’s lack of intelligence, not to speak of it in terms of IQ, but just to describe it.

And what I was thinking of re McCain was seeing him year after year, every time I turned on the evening news, talking to some reporter and saying, in that dead voice of his, over and over again, “As a proud conservative … As a proud pro-lifer … As a proud conservative and pro-lifer … As a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution … As a proud conservative…” The mental deadness and lack of sincerity in this man—except when it came to matters of “honor,” honor which doesn’t include being honest about his political beliefs—struck me long before he ran for president. So, whatever his IQ may be, he’s a deeply unthoughtful man with a big ego, and yes, at times a “presidential” aura, and that’s why he got where he is.

I think McCain is less thoughtful than Bush. And that’s really saying something.

Andrew W. writes:

You wrote: “I wonder if Steve Sailer has made any educated guess as to Obama’s IQ? He used to write about G.W. Bush’s and Kerry’s SATs, and derived their approximate IQs therefrom.”

Obama hasn’t released his test scores to the press. Vox Day is the only writer I’ve yet seen who has discussed this, here and here.

It would be interesting if Sailer could chime in as to how he obtained Kerry’s and Bush’s test scores, and whether the unavailability of Obama’s speaks to a cover-up on his part.

LA replies:

In the first link provided by Andrew, the blogger Vox Populi’s quotation of an Obama supporter explaining why people are mischaracterizing, misunderstanding, and rejecting Obama is one of the most amazing and deluded statements I’ve ever seen.

Here is the entire blog entry:

A basic misconception

Biden and the Democrats are operating on a fundamentally false principle:

The Republican party and some of the blogs and others on the far right, are trying very hard to paint a picture of this man, they’re trying the best as they can to mischaracterize who he is and what he stands for. All this stuff about how different Barack Obama is, they’re not just used to somebody really smart. They’re just not used to somebody who’s really well educated. They just don’t know quite how to handle it. Cause if he’s as smart as Barack is he must not be from my neighborhood.

And they wonder why they’re losing. As I noted yesterday, the entire Democratic Party’s campaign is foundering in part because they don’t understand a basic fact. Barack Obama simply is not very smart. He’s an affirmative action candidate, he can’t speak off the cuff, and if his test scores are ever released, it will almost surely be shown that he’s not only less intelligent than Bill Clinton and Al Gore, he’s less intelligent than John McCain, John Kerry, and George Bush. Quite possibly Sarah Palin too.

Obama doesn’t turn average Americans off because he’s black or because he’s too smart. He turns them off because he’s a fraud. Obama’s aloofness, which is easily mistaken for snobbishness, quite likely stems from a basic fear of being exposed for being far less than he pretends to be. I mean, how many spectacularly dumb moves does the guy have to make, how many incredibly stupid things does he have to say, before people begin to realize that he isn’t even as smart as the average politician?

Someone who is truly intelligent doesn’t duck debates or townhall face-offs with an old man like McCain. If Obama was anywhere nearly as bright as he pretends, he’d eagerly embrace the chance to make McCain look half-senile in front of a national audience. His fear of his mask being removed could be hidden when he had a big lead and a tactical defense for not debating, but now that he’s trailing a bit, his unwillingness tends to strongly support the suspicions that have been aroused by his attempt to conceal his intellectual history.

LA continues:

When I initially read the Obama supporter’s comment, it struck me as one of the most uproariously stupid statements I had ever seen. I thought he or she was a young, unformed, wildly prejudiced liberal. Then I went to the site that Vox Populi was quoting and found out to my astonishment who the Obama supporter really is:

Joe Biden.

Also, as I began reading the blog entry, I thought the blogger, Rachel Lucas, was a liberal who thought that all conservatives are sub-normals. Then I realized she was cleverly sending up such liberals.

LA writes:

I am informed by a reader that Steve Sailer has indeed discussed McCain’s IQ. He wrote last April:

They tested his IQ twice. I can only find the second (and presumably higher) result. Time wrote in 1999:

Included in the records is a 1984 IQ test. His score, 133, would rank him among the most intelligent Presidents in history.

Now, when I read this I was immediately suspicious, for two reasons. One, I’ve never seen any indication of outstanding intelligence in McCain. Two, in 1984 McCain was a 46 year old Congressman. Why would he take an IQ test at that point in his life and career? So the whole thing seemed fake, some media hoax to help advance him.

But then I went back to the beginning of the Sailer entry and found this:

When John McCain was released by the North Vietnamese in 1973, he began to participate in a series of psychiatric and medical exams by U.S. doctors, the American Ex-Prisoners of War study, that went on for two decades. In late 1999, he let several news organizations paw through a big stack of his records from this project (with some parts redacted, which apparently referred to his first marriage).

So there’s the reason he was taking an IQ test in his mid 40s.

However, I still am very doubtful that McCain has an IQ of 133. Not that everyone with a high IQ must be conspicuously verbally clever, but, still, a person with a 133 IQ will occasionally say things that show particular smarts. And I’ve never seen McCain do that. To the contrary, the most outstanding thing about him is his intellectual dullness and boringness.

September 18

Michael E. writes:

Obama did write a “Note” for the Harvard Law Review as most members and all editors of such reviews generally do. “Articles” are generally written by professors or distinguished lawyers. Unsigned “Notes” are written by student members of the law review.

To be Editor of HLR and to graduate magna cum laud indicates that Obama is a pretty intelligent man. Whether he is fully educated in the classical sense is another question. Almost all graduates of even our elite institutions would be considered only semi-educated by the standards of previous generations.

LA replies:

Yes, I’ve read that. He wrote one Note in an entire year as editor? How long was this Note?

Michael E. replies:

I don’t know. Writing a Note is a very intensive and time consuming project. It takes students almost all of their second year and maybe a bit of their third to get it done. Almost no members of a law review write more than one Note. When I was at Fordham Law only one guy wrote more than one Note. He was Editor in Chief and number one in the class. He was truly exceptional. It is very uncommon for a law review to have more than one Note by a student. Maybe guys like Scalia, Roberts or Breyer can do this. But they are not just the top of their class for the year, they are the best of their generation. Think Michael Jordan vs. the sixth man on the bench.

LA replies:

Thanks. So then maybe his writings, or rather the relative absence thereof, are more typical of what would be expected of someone in his situation.

Joseph Kay writes:

As you sense, the “empty suit” phenomenon is far reaching, and consists of more than just faking it. Another aspect of it is literalism, the conflation of outward appearances with underlying substance. This is critical to understanding many current debates over education and, more generally, affirmative action.

Thus, while whites speak of “getting educated,” blacks speak of “getting a diploma,” as if the piece of paper bestowed learning. You hear black athletes promising to go back to school to get their diplomas as if this was akin to forgotten luggage and having it in hand would signify knowledge. Blacks seem unable to grasp the idea that one could be “educated” without the degree. Anthropologists have long observed this style among primitive people—an object bestowing magical powers (i.e.,. the diplomas will get you jobs, make you rich). You can only imagine the power attributed to laptop computers. It is not wonder, then, that blacks demand super educational facilities since the knowledge resides in things.

Meanwhile black teachers insist on lowering standards so as to be “qualified.” Qualification means holding the certificate, so in principle an illiterate can be a “qualified teacher.” In others words, whites have access to all sorts of certificates and if blacks can get these, then they, too, will be qualified. It is no accident that blacks are partial to diploma mills issuing paper.

Somebody I knew said that diploma stealing was common in Africa. The thieves would then post it on their walls and people would now believe that the owner had the knowledge mysteriously contained in the diploma.

Once you grasp the empty suit phenomenon in all its fullness, the world becomes much clearer.

Howard Sutherland writes:

This is a very interesting thread, and the classic Bidenism about Obama and those who would dare oppose him is priceless.

I’m convinced BHO is an affirmative action baby every step of way: Columbia; Harvard Law School and Review; his prominence in the Democratic Party; you name it.

I’m also convinced that, in his Navy brat way, McCain is an affirmative action baby: getting into Annapolis; graduating (894 of 898); getting into flight school; graduating (after crashing a trainer plane); getting to fly jets; keeping his wings (after crashing a few jets in the fleet); and so on. McCain’s affirmative action streak ran out when the Navy, for reasons I would love to know, declined to promote a third consecutive John S. McCain to flag rank.

As a real fighter pilot, I must correct a pervasive misconception. It may be trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to fighter pilots. Anna, in her comment, echoes this misconception: that McCain was a fighter pilot. McCain was not a fighter pilot. Ever. McCain was an attack pilot. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an attack pilot, but an attack pilot is not a fighter pilot. A real fighter pilot’s primary mission is air-to-air combat, often with air-to-ground (bombing and strafing things) as an alternate mission. An attack pilot of the McCain variety flew air-to-ground exclusively.

When McCain got himself shot down, A-4 Skyhawks were Navy carrier air wings’ light attack aircraft. McCain was flying one that woeful day. Navy fighter squadrons of the time flew F-8 Crusaders or F-4 Phantoms, depending on the type of carrier they flew from. There is a Navy saying, no doubt current when McCain was an active naval aviator, that puts things in perspective: “Don’t ask an aviator what he flies. If he’s a fighter pilot, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, why embarrass him?”

Among all the misconceptions about McCain making the rounds, I know this is a minor one. Still, I had to clear that up. Thanks for understanding.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 10, 2008 02:39 PM | Send

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