As we argued in Part One, no definition of intelligence has achieved universal acceptance. However, essential elements exist. In most sciences, intelligence embodies the ability of an organism to survive and adapt to its environment.
Our concept of Political Intelligence borrows from this notion. Specifically, Political Intelligence refers to the ability of a politician to survive, adapt to one’s historical, political, and personal environments, and as a result, achieve success.
The essential elements of Political Intelligence are debatable (as are those of any intelligence construct), but we have sorted them into three broad categories: Scholarly Intelligence, Social-Emotional Intelligence, and Pragmatic Intelligence.
Scholarly Intelligence (SI) encompasses the more traditional facets of intelligence—those generally stemming from advanced education and other studious environments. Generally, successful politicians are reasonably learned and evidence a solid overall education. Professors and members of Mensa are poster children for those with high Scholarly Intelligence.
The most important subcategory of Scholarly Intelligence is Verbal Potency. Steve Martin once quipped, “Some have a way with words; some…have not way.” While a rich vocabulary, quick wit, and efficient use of words are all impressive and necessary verbal skills, politicians must also be artful enough to speak with powerful metaphors and employ familiar and relevant references (e.g., accurately quoting the Bible). Simultaneously, they must appear passionate, natural, and believable while delivering messages to their staff, the media, the public, and other politicians. Bill Clinton arguably was and remains a master of this skill, while many are increasingly impressed by Marco Rubio’s fluency and clarity. Interestingly, President Obama’s rhetorical skills, once considered Olympian, are now regarded with less awe.
A second crucial subcategory of SI is Learnedness. Politicians are not expected to be omniscient, but a candidate who possesses a reasonable breadth and depth of knowledge about socio-political matters will make a more favorable impression than one who appears ignorant. For example, few doubt Paul Ryan’s comprehensive grasp of the workings of the economy and a broad range of policies.
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