Is someone out there picturing Abe Lincoln with a dunce cap instead of a stovepipe hat?
In a bulletin headlined "Survey: Who Is Our Dumbest President?," the Drudge Retort website gleefully revealed that YouGov recently queried its visitors about how intelligent each of the last eight elected presidents was. They were rated on a scale from "not at all intelligent" to "very intelligent."
I won't dignify the survey by listing the results. Even the worst commander-in-chief deserves more than an off-the-cuff assessment. Without defining "intelligence," setting aside political prejudices (depending on whom you ask, Harry S Truman's removal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur was the smartest or stupidest thing he ever did), scrutinizing IQ tests, assigning a point value to mere malapropisms and getting to know a president "off-stage," it's unfair to lionize or stigmatize a chief executive so casually.
So the survey is a travesty – and such small portions! (Ba-dum ching!) Why not (a) bring all the skeletons out of the closet on the eight covered presidents AND (b) open up the competition to all presidents?
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, frequently cited as one of the most brilliant thinkers of all time, had his share of lapses. Yes, he made the Louisiana Purchase, but he also got suckered into buying the "extended warranty."
Lyndon Baines Johnson was a genius at political maneuvering, but met his Waterloo when he misremembered a cultural truism. ("Dang! I could have sworn it was 'What happens in Vietnam stays in Vietnam'.")
Franklin Roosevelt led the nation through trying times, but it took an aide to sell him on "fireside chats" instead of FDR's planned "two-hour icebox parental lectures."
Some presidents made baffling statements but were simply ahead of their time. Ulysses S. Grant was known to threaten his opponents in Congress with "I've got a pen and I've got Alexander Graham Bell's snail mail address and he's working on something that'll really knock your stockings off."
If you're really looking for dumb presidents, let's not overlook these contenders, who shall remain mercifully anonymous:
1. The one who needed a teleprompter just to snore competently during a filibuster.
2. The one who was rarely at the White House because he was convinced that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was in Pennsylvania.
3. The president who sent the Secret Service to fetch the Maytag Repairman when his chief of staff told him he needed "spin control."
4. The president who felt proud of himself when he remembered to leave a trail of bread crumbs while on the campaign trail.
5. The president who was quoted as saying, "I choose not to answer questions about the First Lady, because I don't want to violate separation of church and state."
6. The president who always used motorcades because he couldn't remember the flight number for Air Force One.
7. The president who mumbled, "Vito power? I thought we were using Knuckles and Big Sal to get this legislation stopped?"
Again, I refuse to take sides in the rankings. But I will admit to cracking a smile when one of my correspondents voted for Al Gore (!) as the dumbest president ever. ("He didn't realize that the mischievous Supreme Court was just yanking his chain about the 2000 Florida ballots! Missing your own inauguration: an inconvenient truth worth giving yourself a carbon footprint in the buttocks!")