John Derbyshire has an article on America's issue with intelligence. On the one hand, it's an amazing change in the world, because for the first time intelligence is the primary factor in whether you rise or fall -- a fact with huge implications. On the other hand, it's at odds with the notion that 'men are created equal.' He thinks this is the real issue with Sen. Obama:

It seems to me that we are starting to be a little more open and truthful about these matters. Columnist Chris Satullo in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in May pointed out that the charges of "elitism" then being hurled at Barack Obama were really about smarts.

The charge of elitism isn't about people flaunting income; it's about people flaunting IQ. Americans, as a rule, don't resent people who have more money than them — particularly if the wealth is seen as earned. Envy, maybe, but not resent. You don't resent people whom you hope to emulate. And most Americans dream easily about having much more dough than they do. What Americans more readily resent is someone who is smarter than them, who knows it, who shows it, and who seems to think being smart makes you better than everyone else. A gap in income, you can always dream of closing. A gap in IQ, not so much. It's more personal, thus easier to resent.
I never thought Sen. Obama was all that smart. He doesn't come across as being particularly intelligent -- certainly not stupid, probably above-average, but I've met some real geniuses in my time, and he is not among them. He has a Harvard education and has been given positions of academic honor, but has produced no scholarship of note. His prose is forgettable; it sounds good at the time, but no idea is so clearly expressed and insightful that it stays with you. If he meant any of it, he might think deeper and come up with better lines: but in general, he strikes me as someone of reasonable but not shocking intelligence, who has a talent for speaking but nothing worth saying.

I've never found intelligence worthy of resentment: admiration, rather. If I resent anything about Sen. Obama, it's that he's risen so high on so little actual accomplishment -- I don't even resent that he's done it on so little work, since that's a sort of accomplishment in itself. It's just that nothing he's turned his hand to has prospered; no one who has befriended him, except his fair wife, has gained the honors that friendship rightly earns. Yet he rises on, ever, with those in his trail forever disappointed, wondering why he promised so much and then left them behind. This is the clear message of the Boston Globe's piece on the slums his housing efforts produced, and the New Yorker interviews with those who used to work with Obama in Chicago. It is the clear message also of his relationship with the preacher who sponsored him in Chicago politics, and his grandmother (and indeed, answering Hitchens, I can quote a line from his speech on race from memory: that line. It is the one he made memorable, by his deeds).

No, what bothers me is that no one seems ever to have stopped him and said, "Fine -- but before you advance again, tell us: What have you done?"

UPDATE: I have deleted a paragraph here, because on reflection it distracts from the discussion of the concept of Derbyshire's piece, which is the interesting part.

UPDATE: According to Steve Sailer, John McCain tested at IQ 133, which is not bad. (Assuming standard distribution, it would place him in the top few percentage points of humanity. It's also more than "two standard deviations" above the mean IQ of 100. If Derbyshire were right, that would mean Sen. McCain was too intelligent to communicate effectively with the majority of Americans -- if you add up the ones right at 100, and the ones below it, it would only be the most intelligent Americans who could understand him. Sen. Obama, being a famously great communicator, should sit lower on the curve according to that model: somewhere around 120 would be optimal, as it would allow you to be intelligent enough to communicate well with the most intelligent (up to around 150, which is close to everyone) as well as the bulk of people sitting from 90-110.

I doubt that the model is right, though -- I mention it only because it runs strongly counter to what appears to be the popular impression. Sen. Obama has been accorded an impression of being a serious thinker by the press; Sen. McCain is assumed to be somewhat slower. Yet Sen. McCain is in fact confirmed to be of reasonably high IQ .

Sen. Obama's does not appear to be public; I've seen estimates Googling around from 125-148, but they all appear to be SWAGs not based on any actual test results. The higher end results (130-148) estimate off the LSAT, but not Sen. Obama's actual LSAT, which isn't public -- just the median scores for Harvard law. The LSAT is not actually an IQ test, nor is it particularly difficult.

These popular impressions about the candidates' intelligence are probably rooted more in our prejudices than in their actual intelligence. As a culture, we think of older people as being mentally slow -- a hostile prejudice undeserved in the case of those who remain mentally engaged and active; in fact, research indicates that intelligence changes with age, but does not necessarily decrease, and may even benefit in some areas.

By the same token, we tend to think of Ivy League graduates as being exceptionally intelligent. Yet this prejudice is generally set aside when someone runs counter to our own decision-making process: it would be hard to find anyone who thought George W. Bush and John Kerry were about equally intelligent, though both are members of Yale's Skull & Bones. The normal opinion is that one is a sharp character and the other is a buffoon; but which one is which depends on where your own prejudices lie.

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