You may have seen the e-mail about Presidential IQs. I’ve gotten it 8 or 10 times. It’s the one that purports to have scholars assessing modern presidents’ IQs inferentially, based on their writings, public pronouncements and so on. It shows Kennedy at 174 (which if based on his speeches may have more to do with Ted Sorenson’s IQ or Arthur Schlessinger’s) and Bill Clinton at 182 (well, they got that right). But it shows George the First with an IQ of 98 and George the Second at 91. These are patently absurd, leading me to imagine that either the whole thing is a hoax – it purports to come from a thing called the Lovenstein Institute in Scranton, PA – or else just very badly done.

By definition, an IQ of 100 is the median, with as many of us above as below. It’s certainly possible that the Bushes are below average intelligence for American presidents. But for the general population? Ridiculous. In the old days, when a thing called the Stanford-Binet scale was used, 140 was defined as ‘genius’ (1 in 1000), and 120 was required to become an officer in the Army. In the last few decades, a different test has been used, where I believe you have to score 160 to be 1 in 1000. Either way, though, 100 is the median, and you are just not going to tell me that George I, who was a Yale graduate, successful businessman, 10-year Congressman, US ambassador to China, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, for crying out loud, and President, has an IQ of 98. It’s just silly. My own guess is that George I’s IQ (on the more modern 160-is-genius scale) is probably around 145, and that George II’s is around 130. (‘I worked with W. as governor,’ a governor told me recently, ‘and he is not unintelligent – just disinterested.’)

Of course, I question our own IQ for having elected the second Bush, but my problem with him is not that he has an IQ of 91 – which he clearly does not (‘Second floor, women’s sportswear, women’s coats, evening wear . . .’ would be the extent of his public speaking, if it were) – but rather his policies. His massive tax relief for the wealthy – which were it ever to be fully phased in would be far, far greater than the $1.35 trillion he advertised – has knocked what had been a highly successful balance totally out of whack, and all but assured economic and social crises down the road. His tilt away from environmental concerns is deeply discouraging. His enthusiasm for a new arms race has alarmed half the world. And so on. Can you believe that they have shifted from an anti-cigarette to a pro-cigarette stance? Cigarettes are the world’s leading cause of preventable death! From a crackdown on off-shore tax-havens to a pullback from that crackdown?

In this last regard, did you see the report a couple of weeks ago – the jaw-droppers come so fast from this administration, one can’t possibly keep up with them – of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s July 18 Senate testimony? According to the New York Times, the Secretary ‘dismissed as meaningless a document, based on government data … indicating that fewer than 6,000 of more than 1.1 million offshore accounts and business were properly disclosed” to the IRS.  “Pressed by [Michigan Democratic] Senator Carl Levin about whether the disparity … was significant, Mr. O’Neill replied, ‘I find it amusing.’”  Later that day, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau “described a scale of bank deposits in tax havens far greater than most experts suspected.  Citing previously secret Federal Reserve Bank data, Mr. Morgenthau said that more than $800 billion of American money is on deposit in just one tax haven, the Cayman Islands.  That sum, equal to one-fifth of all the bank deposits in the United States, he said, is so large that it cannot be solely, or even primarily, the fruits of criminal activity like drug dealing.  Rather, Mr. Morgenthau said, these funds must be the product of huge and growing tax evasion by wealthy Americans who have little, if any, fear of prosecution.”

“The hearing was prompted by Mr. O’Neill’s balking in April at a plan by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to pressure the Cayman Islands and other tax havens into cooperating with criminal investigations of tax evasion and money laundering,” the Times went on to report.  “That plan was thrown into disarray after Mr. O’Neill declared that the project was too broad and ‘not in line with this administration’s priorities.’”

The article went on to cite the letter that seven former IRS chiefs sent O’Neill in June “questioning his stance on the O.E.C.D. effort to make foreign tax havens cooperate with investigations of tax crimes.  Mr. O’Neill said today that he was ‘frankly thunderstruck when I got the letter; they responded to misinterpretations in the press.’”

In fact, the Times article concluded, the IRS chiefs’ letter “came in response to an article, in the May 10 Washington Times, which appeared under Mr. O’Neill’s own by-line.”

This is a positively grand time to be a rich in America.  And a positively spectacular time to be a rich white Texas oil man.  (Or, for that matter, a rich black Texas oil man, a rich female Texas oil man, a rich gay Texas oil man.)  It’s a less good time to be a child without health insurance going to a school desperately in need of renovation . . . a senior citizen facing huge costs for prescription drugs . . . a gay or lesbian kid trying to form some sense of self worth . . . a kid who really does have an IQ of 91, and faces what may be a lifetime of minimum-wage work . . . or just a kid worried about what sort of planet his or her kids and grandkids will inherit.

Meantime, you gotta love this column praising New York Republican Mayor Rudy Giulliani, by Frank Rich.  Bush, et al, could take a few lessons.


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