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How Smart is Ted Cruz?

Everyone says he’s very smart, his old classmates, his fellow senators, even the media. But the old psychologist needs to step in here and point out that intelligence is not a singular thing. There is no trait called “smartness.”

Without going into annoying detail, I’ll simply note that the standard model in educational and cognitive psychology is that people are smart or not so in a host of domains. There’s logical and mathematical smartness, aesthetic and artistic intelligence, social and interpersonal smartness, sensory and motor intelligence. It is rare for an individual to display similarly high or low functioning in all of these. More commonly we see a mosaic of ups and downs.

When people say that they think Cruz is smart what they are telling you is that they’re looking at a particular domain. In this case it’s the one where the scores on an intelligence test predict, with reasonable accuracy, how well you will do in school. However, in others he’s as thick as a post.

He has apparently little capacity to sift scientific data or to understand the scientific method. His statements on climate change show this, as do similarly shallow remarks on evolution.

He has little “social intelligence” which is built on a capacity for empathic insight into the emotions of others. As an interesting article in Talking Points Memo noted, over the years a pattern has emerged. People meet Cruz, think he’s smart. Later they start becoming annoyed with his antics. Still later they dub him an asshole. And finally, they end up hating him mainly because he is so utterly full of himself that he seems incapable of taking their viewpoints into account.

He also is classically narcissistic (see an earlier blog on how this trait gets manifested in politics) — which, of course, is independent of any cognitive skill.

So, in my mind, he’s not “smart” in any general way. He’s merely capable of wending his way down abstruse logical paths that fit with his rather peculiar social/theological framework.

In short, faux smartness.

It’s kind of like the Newtster whom everyone in DC seems to think is also smart. Krugman put it best here, “Newt sounds like what stupid people think smart people sound like.”

Ditto for Mr. Gee-Am-I-A-Natural-Born-American-When-Obama-Isn’t?

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