Why the ‘best and brightest’ can be dimmest and worst at governing

Roundup
tags: election 2016



Robert Dallek is the author of two volumes on President Lyndon B. Johnson, "Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson in his Times 1908-1960" and "Flawed Giant 1961-1973." He is also the author of "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963" and most recently "Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House." He is now writing a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Millions of Americans, led by the Republican presidential candidates themselves, seem to forget what goes into a successful presidency. Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he will make America great again by bringing the “greatest minds” into his administration to solve America’s domestic and foreign problems.

Trump assured Fox News back in August. “I know the best negotiators. … I always say, ‘I know the ones that people think are good.’ I know people that you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.”

Certainly having a smart president and the best brains as his advisers is a desirable arrangement. But having the smartest people in the room at the White House is no guarantee of a triumphal presidency. While it is obviously better to have smart people than less astute men and women trying to figure out answers to current challenges, if offers no certainty that serious problems will be solved – or even that the right decisions would be made.

Here are three clear examples when having smart people at the White House did not lead to promised solutions — or anything resembling long-term answers — to daunting domestic and foreign dilemmas.

President Woodrow Wilson, for example, established “The Inquiry” in September 1917, to prepare for the peace negotiations certain to follow the Great War. He brought together 150 of the most accomplished academics in the United States. University of Texas President Sidney Mezes, a philosopher, and Johns Hopkins University geography professor Isaiah Bowman led the group in helping Wilson devise proposals for what became the Versailles Conference in Paris, where the president hoped to negotiate an enduring peace. ...




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