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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

The Danger Of Being The Smartest Person In The Room.

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The host has been talking a lot about the new Zito/Todd book – “The Great Revolt.”  I spent yesterday on a lot of airplanes and therefore had the opportunity to dive into it.  I am only about a third of the way through it, but already have some interesting insights.  Anytime you write about a book before finishing, you run the risk of beating the authors to a point, or discussing a misconception that they later correct.  But so be it.

Donald Trump’s victory in the last election, particularly when contrasted to the candidates in the prior election, illustrates the danger of being “the smartest person in the room.”  When you read in “The Great Revolt” about people’s reactions to Obama and Romney, you really begin to see this.

Now, disclaimer – I am not saying Donald Trump is not smart, he is obviously very smart.  But he does not come off smart.  That is part of the reason the Democrats and the #NeverTrumpers find him so objectionable – he talks and behaves like a vulgar buffoon.  But he clearly is not.  His accomplishments in the office and his election victory point in a very different direction.

But compare and contrast that with Obama and Romney.

Obama thought he was the smartest guy in the room.  It oozed from his pores, it infected his manner.  He was condescending and arrogant.  He grew more and more so as his time in office continued.  This was made worse by the fact that he clearly was not the smartest guy in the room.  Politically astute perhaps, but clearly not the guy that had all the answers in class, just the one who thought he did.  Thus pretty much everything he did in office has been reversed in a period of less than two years.  The election of Donald Trump was clearly a repudiation of the Obama administration.

Romney, on the other hand, actually is the smartest guy in almost any room he is standing in. Unfortunately, that makes Romney the quintessential nerd.  There is also not an arrogant, haughty bone in the man’s body.  His deeply rooted Mormonism has taught him the value of humility.  However, he is so smart that you cannot help but notice.  If you are at all insecure you will feel a little dumb talking to him.  This is not because he is trying to make you feel dumb, or show off how smart he is, but just because by comparison you are.  Romney can be hard to like because he was the guy that always bent the curve in school.  This is why so many #NeverTrumpers love Romney because they too bent the curve in school.

This issue is complicated by the fact that government is increasingly acting in areas where you have to be the smartest guy in the room to even begin to form policy.  Climate Change would be the classic example of this.  No one but a bona fide nerd can possibly take in all the data and evaluate it, and anybody not a nerd just does not want to deal with it.  And so we are left with either people that just want you to go away, or quasi-religious fanatics hanging on your every utterance as gospel.

From these observations we can draw two conclusions.  One is a great argument for limited government.  If a subject is so complex that it is impossible to build a genuine public consensus (not nerd consensus), then let the market handle it.  Otherwise, you are just building resentment on one side and fanaticism on the other.  Not a recipe for productive political action and not healthy for our system generally.

Secondly, if you are going to run for president in this country you can be smart, but you have to have a “common touch.”  Wish I had great advice on how to pull that off because while it is water under the bridge, I still think Romney would have been the best president ever.  Moreover, I am an obvious nerd and had I figured out how to master this my life would be quite different.

But this I will say.  In our natural focus on higher education we are becoming an increasingly book smart and practically dumb nation.  The practical arts – home economics and shop classes – have disappeared from our high schools.  I think they should return.  You see they are not a concession to a life of manual labor – they are a lesson in practicality and a common touch.  Even if you are going to practice law, there is simple common sense in being able to fix a leaky faucet or iron your own clothes.

We are all endeavoring to be the smartest person in the room, but in the end that is alienating in some fashion – it isolates us because we live in our heads.  Being who I am, I look at it this way.  In addition to being Lord and Savior, Jesus was a carpenter.  Having skills like that is just part of being in His image.  That is something we all should strive for.


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