The Many Intelligences of Barack Obama

Developmental Psychologist
Obama is strong in interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical intelligence—but will he continue to ask the big questions?
  • Transcript


Question: What kinds of intelligent is President Obama?

Howard Gardner: That's pretty easy, because whenever I describe IQ tests, I say that IQ tests have a combination of language and logic. And if you do well in language and logic, if you can combine them, you'll have a high IQ. And I say that's a selector for who will be a law professor.

And I then mention Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, all three of whom were law professors. And clearly they have high IQ kind of intelligence. It's absolutely clear to me that Obama has enormous intrapersonal intelligence.

His book, Dreams from My Father, is an amazing book, and it's obvious to everybody he has lots of intrapersonal intelligence.

But here's the big question we don't know, and that is, what is his existential intelligence like? Existential intelligence is one that I use kind of playfully, and that's the interest in big questions.

There's no doubt that he's interested in these himself, but it's not clear to what extent he's such a pragmatist, that he will lose that sense of mission, that bigger story.

John Kennedy really achieved nothing, practically, as President. But he had enormous power to excite people, to motivate them to think differently, and that's why we still remember him 50 years after the fact.

And I'm not sure, speaking now in September of '09, whether the existential intelligence which Obama clearly has in his own right is something that he can mobilize more.

Ronald Reagan was able to mobilize that. I don't like what he did, but there was no question that he helped people think about meaning. And we thought that Obama could, but it's just not clear at this point.


Recorded On: September 9, 2009.