Malcolm Turnbull’s intelligence

There seems to be little disagreement, even amongst his detractors, that Malcolm Turnbull is highly intelligent.  It almost goes without saying.

Yet how can someone with his purported intelligence do such dumb things all through last week?  Is it because intelligence is not a homogenous attribute?  Is it because one can be intelligent in some areas and the opposite in others? [more]

Wikipedia tells us that “Intelligence (also called intellect) is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. However, most psychologists prefer not to include these traits in the definition of intelligence. One who has written extensively on this subject, Howard Gardner, says: "To my mind, a human intellectual competence must entail a set of skills of problem solving—enabling the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product — and must also entail the potential for finding or creating problems — and thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge.”  Gardner originally identified seven core intelligences: “linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal”.  In 1997 he added an eighth, the "Naturalist" Intelligence. Investigation continues on whether there are Existentialist (existential) and Spiritualist (spiritual) Intelligences.  We know that not everyone possesses all these attributes in equal amount, and in extreme cases, such as savants, superior mathematical ability and memory may be accompanied by a total lack of interpersonal intelligence.

Turnbull has been a winning barrister, so presumably his intelligence extends to understanding a legal brief, arguing a case convincingly in a court room, and persuading a judge and jury to his view.  He has been a successful merchant banker and businessman, so he must have the intellect to read the markets, make sound judgements about investment and risk, and manage a banking enterprise.  As he has been a journalist, he must have the intellect to write readable material, and convince readers of the merits of his case.  But does that obvious set of ‘intelligences’ extend to the political arena?  It has been argued before on The Political Sword that Turnbull is not a natural politician.  This week’s events shore up that view.  Does he have the interpersonal skills to be a successful politician?  Does he, after less than five years in parliament, possess the political experience, the acumen and the wisdom needed for political leadership?

There’s no point in going over the catalogue of political errors he made, the political traps into which he fell last week – we all know them, and they’ve been repeated by every news outlet, every talk show in the nation.  Even Coalition cheerleaders such as Dennis Shanahan, Malcolm gets a bitter lessonGlenn Milne, Malcolm Turnbull nous called into doubt, and Piers Akerman wrote damning pieces at the weekend about Turnbull’s mistakes and lack of judgement.  Akerman, writing in last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph about Turnbull’s last week in a piece titled Wrangle exposes Turnbull weaknesses, says: “Looking at the wreckage, what seems to be the problem is Turnbull’s lack of political management skills. He is, of course, a gifted financial manager, a person with a great understanding of the corporate world, but the talents needed in business are not entirely the same as those needed in the political world.  In the business sector, the bottom line often points the way.  In politics, decisions are critically affected by the personalities and personal agendas of the players.  It pays to have a thorough knowledge of the personal history of every person involved before making appointments.” So there you have it, from the old war-horse’s mouth.  Save that quote; you may never see another like it from Akerman.

Although near the end John Howard lost some of his acknowledged political acumen, he survived on it for over 11 years.  Akerman would never have written about Howard that way.

So shall we stop repeating the pointless mantra that ‘Turnbull is highly intelligent’ and then express surprise when he makes elementary political mistakes.  Shall we acknowledge that intelligence is not a uniform attribute, and that while Turnbull has intelligence in some areas, he has poorly developed political intelligence, acumen, or judgement, call it what you will. 

The real question for the Coalition is whether he has the capacity ever to develop it.  Or will his universally acknowledged large ego and self-confidence render him incapable of learning from his political mistakes.  There’s not much sign of that so far.  If the prognosis is as poor as it looks, his party has a very fundamental problem.

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