I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
— John F. Kennedy, White House Dinner for Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere
Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t do well in today’s political arena. With a high-pitched voice and a lisp (probably one of the reasons he disliked public speaking) he wasn’t the firebrand modern politicians try to be. He was an intellectual.
He used that intellect for the good of a new nation. In 1776 we needed a declaration of why we would fight to be independent, a statement so clear, so honest, so immensely powerful, that it would ring louder than the liberty bell in hearts and minds, not just around the world, but through the ages. Delegates to the continental congress argued just about every issue you can imagine, with Jefferson and Adams nearly at each other’s throats, but on one point there was no argument: the man to write our declaration of independence was Thomas Jefferson.
He had brainpower.
And he wasn’t alone. Jefferson was a fine scientist, but Benjamin Franklin was such a scientific giant that despite having little formal education and never attending college as a student, he was properly addressed as “Dr. Franklin” with honorary degrees from the College of William and Mary, the University of St. Andrews, and Oxford University. With the public lending library, the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, and a public health system that set the standard not just for the new world but for the whole world, his genius as inventor and organizer was the envy of civilized countries everywhere.
George Washington’s understanding of political theory was an important element in designing a republic which enshrines freedom while holding the abuse of power in check, and his recognition and promotion of moderation are a model for us all. He also showed not just courage and fortitude, but true genius in the art of leadership. John Adams’ sholarship was as obvious as the brilliance of his cousin Sam, as James Madison’s genius, as the brainpower of Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, the Randolphs, the Lees, and so many more.
There is no doubt, the founders of these United States of America had brainpower. That they used it, is one of the reasons we remain a nation dedicated to freedom and to justice. It helped legitimize our very nationhood; when European society was apt to look on anything non-European as brutal and primitive, a country born of so much genius could not be dismissed as “backward.”
But today we can. When Sarah Palin is nominated for the Vice Presidency, when Dan Quayle actually holds that office, when Donald Trump leads the field for the Repulican presidential nomination bragging about how smart he is while his speeches sound like a ninth-grade book report by a student who didn’t read the book, when Ted Cruz climbs in the polls while his idea of an intellectual exercise is “machine-gun bacon” as an appetizer for denying science itself, we can no longer claim pre-eminence in the brainpower department. To the rest of the world, it must seem that we’re truly “bush league.”
What happened to the Republican party? I remember the days when the spokesman for conservative ideas was William F. Buckley — I disagreed with him, but if I faced him in a debate I would do so with trepidation. And a healthy respect for his brainpower. Now the face of conservatism is Rush Limbaugh. I remember president Nixon, far from honest but damn smart. I remember Henry Kissinger, by many accounts a total ass, but a brilliant total ass.
I don’t want a mediocre intellect holding the highest office. I want an intellectual. Not a pansy-ass pseudo-intellectual. I want the real thing. Someone who knows the issues, the ins and outs, the details. Someone with enough working brain cells to stand toe to toe with intellectual giants around the world. Someone who has power in the brain, who isn’t afraid to use it and doesn’t feel the need to apologize for it. I want the best, and that includes being the smartest. I want Washington, Adams, Lincoln. I want Jefferson.
That’s what the democrats offer. Whatever else you think of Hillary Clinton, if you deny she’s an intellectual giant you’re either lying to me or lying to yourself. Same for Bernie Sanders. But the republican offerings range from the mediocrity of Bush and Rubio, to the disjointed nonsense claptrap of Trump and Carson, to the outright idiocy of Ted Cruz.
Let’s not allow republican spin doctors to paint brainpower as a flaw. Let’s show it for what it really is: the power to get things done, and the power to know what to do.