IN JANUARY 1988, when Jesse Jackson appeared on ABC's "This Week," columnist George F. Will asked him a series of questions designed to expose Mr. Jackson's deception and ignorance.
In particular, Mr. Will asked Mr. Jackson, "As president, would you support measures such as the G-7 measures in the Louvre accords?"
As Mr. Will acidly recounted in a subsequent column, Mr. Jackson's "answer to [that] question was, 'Explain that.' "
The Louvre accords, it turned out -- to the enlightenment of Mr. Jackson and just about everyone else -- were an agreement reached in Paris a year earlier to stabilize currency exchange rates.
When asked later whether his question was designed to embarrass Mr. Jackson rather than elicit information, Mr. Will argued, "That's information, too."
On the defense
When Mr. Jackson implied that Mr. Will's attempt to embarrass him was racist, Mr. Will took offense. To the contrary, Mr. Will argued, "Because [Jackson] is black, his white rivals sit silently beside him, leaving his foolishness unremarked.
"The real racism in this campaign is the unspoken assumption that it is unreasonable to expect a black candidate to get rudimentary things right . . . He should be thankful for double standards."
Now along comes Texas Gov. George W. Bush, with his fumbling references to "Kosovians" and his confusion of Slovakia with Slovenia. And what does Mr. Will think of this?
In his column, which appeared in The Sun on Sept. 23, Mr. Will wrote, "The headmaster of Bush's private secondary school in Houston aspired to give students 'a sense of style,' . . . At Bush's Andover graduation, the headmaster urged graduates to 'take with you a sense of style,' a 'distinction in manner and bearing.'
"FDR, a virtuoso of charm and guile, was more a manner than a mind, but in politics, manner -- style -- can be a kind of program. Bush seems to know this."
As for the intellectualism of presidents early in this century, Mr. Will concludes, "such intellect in politics is rare, and perhaps should be."
What "Bush understands," Mr. Will suggests, is that "the wise leader should strive to have intellectuals on tap and not be one himself."
Why is Mr. Bush, unlike Mr. Jackson, hailed as a "wise leader" when he fails "to get rudimentary things right"? Is it racism? I don't think so.
There's a simpler explanation that applies to politicians in both parties, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Bradley. Whether you call a politician a fool or a wise leader depends on whether you're the kind of intellectual he plans to keep on tap.
William Saletan wrote this for Slate magazine.