Nicolae Ceausescu once said... No one, of course, ever begins with that statement. It's sort of like saying, "To quote Adolph Hitler," or "Josef Stalin was heard to remark," or, worst of all, "I once heard Bill Walton mention that..." In polite company, one does not make this sort of comment for fear of being labeled a bigot, a fool or an academic.
The point I'm driving at here is the apparent crime of intellectual subjectivity. I would argue that we ultimately judge human capability on the basis of how strongly we agree with those humans. The farther the deviancy from our own norm, the lower the pe rceived intellect.
Take Hitler, for example. Historians note that he was a genius at public speaking and organization, but even the most detached historian cannot help but feel with the rest of us (with the possible exception of Marge Schott) an enormous sense of loathing a nd rage at the paranoid, genocidal madman that the guy with the little mustache was.
Or, take another example. Suppose someone said to me, "Greg Maddux is a mediocre pitcher in a good system; he got lucky in World Series game two against the Yankees." Rather than mentioning significant statistics that would dispute the case, such as strik e-to-ball ratio, the pitcher's bad habit of accruing Cy Young and Golden Glove awards and ERA, I would probably laugh and write the guy off for the moron that he is.
Ultimately, in fact, this is how we choose presidents. Generally, a candidate does not reach the ledge below the pinnacle of political power without, at the very least, political savvy and a sense for how to work a crowd.
Yet when we're confronted by candidates whose views do not mesh with our own, we take our estimation of that person's intelligence down a notch or two, no matter what the man's IQ might be. Pro-life/Pro-choice? How could he be so stupid? Against affirmati ve action? Wait till he's lived a year in my shoes.
Is this fair? Probably not. Was Bush really less intelligent than Clinton? Unlikely; "It's the economy, stupid," was the Clinton campaign's battle-cry, not "Bill has thirty-five IQ points on George!" Was Nixon less intellectually capable than Kennedy, or even McGovern less than Nixon? Was Reagan brighter than Mondale? Was Carter mentally quicker than Ford...err, never mind that one.
The trick in politics is to sell oneself as the better candidate to the largest number of people possible. Bill Clinton is a great public speaker and a fair private speaker with no objection to tremendous ethical transitions to match public opinion polls; Bob Dole is a great private communicator (ever seen him in an interview?) and a fair public speaker with the same sort of Machiavellian morality.
Since public speaking catches more people in these days of mass media than poolside chats, I fear we're looking at another four years of Clinton presidency.
This system might not be entirely fair, but judging on the basis of intellectual convergence is the right thing to do. Contrary to what a friend of mine once remarked, one can say that another's opinion is wrong (moral relativism was never my strong poin t). This is especially true in politics: Even informed voters lack the time and energy to check important statistics, resumes and personal references, which would be a better way to choose a chief administrator than the current alternative.
Between classes, work, taking care of the kids, church and the occasional alien abduction, the public at large is forced to judge a candidate's ability on his stand on the issues and his ability to communicate them; essentially, we vote by sound bites. Th ere is nothing wrong with this. The candidate who loses is guilty of choosing the wrong message and, more often, of not taking the time to take public speaking lessons.
So as it stands now, it's more or less a matter of sitting back and waiting for the next set of Clinton administration scandals.
Chris Badeaux is junior majoring in English. His column, 'Cynic on Parade,' appears every other Friday.