Professors as Politicians

Any thoughts on how professors — and again I recognize that Obama was not a career academic in the sense that many professors are — have generally done as elected politicians in America?

I understand that Woodrow Wilson, who I think is the only President to have been an academic, is pretty well-regarded by historians, though I’ve also heard some pretty serious criticisms of him. Bill Clinton was obviously very smart, and worked as a professor briefly; I think he was a very successful politician, though I disagree with many of his views and though he was obviously crippled by his own personal failings. Newt Gingrich was a professor who had quite a noteworthy political career for a considerable time, though he is now in the political wilderness. Phil Gramm was a professor, and apparently a fairly successful Senator, though he got nowhere in the Presidential race. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a professor and, to my knowledge, widely respected as an intellectual; I’m not sure how to evaluate his political skills. Dixy Lee Ray, the second woman Governor (Washington, 1977-81) who wasn’t the wife or widow of the Governor who preceded her, was a professor, though my sense is that she was not a great success as a politician. There must be others, but they’re hard for me to think of.

What’s your general sense of how well academics do as politicians? Are they on balance more successful than other politicians? Less so? About the same? Do they deploy their intelligence and learning effectively, or do they find them to be stumbling blocks?

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