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Perry on Politics: Brilliance isn't enough

Published by Tim McNulty on .

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By James M. Perry

Unquestionably, Ted Cruz, the rookie Republican senator from Texas, is smart.

He was, for example, a champion debater at Princeton University, competing for The American Whig-Cliosophic Society (Debate question: Do you favor changing the name of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society?) He and his partner, David Panton, cleaned up just about every debating prize at Princeton. He graduated with honors and moved on to the Harvard University Law School, where he won honors again.

He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and wrote one of the briefs in District of Columbia v Heller, a landmark case in which the High Court ruled that the Second Amendment did, indeed, allow private citizens the right to be armed.

He was one of the youngest partners in Philadelphia's biggest law firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius (1,200 lawyers in 24 offices here and abroad. Cruz's office was in Houston).

Many Republicans think he should run for president.

The question before the house might well be: Do really smart politicians always make good office-holders?

In Senator Cruz's case, the early evidence suggests the answer might be, Not always.

In early votes in the Senate, Cruz voted no to helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy, no on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, no on raising the debt ceiling. He was one of three senators to vote no on confirming John Kerry as Secretary of State. He voted against confirming Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, too, even suggesting that the governments of Saudi Arabia and North Korea might have paid him speaking fees following his retirement from the Senate.

FeinsteinDuring the Hagel confirmation hearings, the 42-year old senator lectured 79-year-old Dianne Feinstein of California on the meaning of the Second Amendment. "I'm not a sixth grader," she replied. Senator Feinstein, when she was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978, heard the shots and then discovered the body of supervisor Harvey Milk. The mayor, George Moscone, was also assassinated. The senator (left, at Milk memorial in 1978) knows something about guns.

Kerry and Hagel are both decorated veterans of the War in Vietnam No one, said John McCain, should question Chuck Hagel's integrity. (Or, for that matter, John Kerry's.) Senator Cruz has not spent time in the armed forces.

Anyone observing Senator Cruz's academic record might think he would want to step forward and rejuvenate the Republican Party, awash these days in tea party conspiracies and scurrilous denunciations of men and women whose only crime is that they belong to the Democratic Party. Not Senator Cruz. He chimes right in. President Obama, he once said, is the most radical president in U.S. history. He surely knows better. Either that or Princeton and and Harvard (supposedly two of the world's leading scholarly institutions) didn't do their job. He once said, too, that there were a dozen communists, intent on overthrowing the U.S. government, on the Harvard Law faculty when he was there in the early '90s. Not so, said one of his professors, Charles Fried, a Republican.

We have had brilliant men who turned out to be mediocre or even losing presidents. Jimmy Carter, for example, admitted publicly his IQ was an astonishing 176. Richard Nixon and Woodrow Wilson both had high IQ's.

Franklin Roosevelt's IQ was probably about average for a U.S. president. Walter Lippmann, a leading columnist, said FDR was "a pleasant man, who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President." Washington, Jackson, Eisenhower, and Reagan probably had middling IQs too.

Brilliance really isn't good enough. We need common sense and a conviction that members of the other party aren't all villains. A touch of humor wouldn't hurt, either. It worked for Lincoln.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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