I’m reading Joan Didion’s 1968 collection of articles, Slouching towards Bethlehem, one of the influential minor masterpieces of early New Journalism, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the works of Tom Wolfe.
Didion’s characteristic tone is that of an un-self-medicating Hunter S. Thompson. On a hot night in Death Valley, she writes:
There is some sinister hysteria in the air out here tonight, some hint of the monstrous perversion to which any human idea can come.
That kind of thing is a lot funnier coming from Thompson than Didion. But I shouldn’t make fun of her since Slouching Towards Bethlehem is, as she would say in her Hemingwayesque prose style, a good book. There is good writing in it, and good reporting. (For example, her depressing 1967 title story about Haight-Ashbury hippies was written three months before the Summer of Love).
I stumbled upon a classic iSteve nugget in Didion’s 1966 Saturday Evening Post article about how WWII changed Hawaii socially, which would have made an amusing addition to America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story of Race and Inheritance.”
It’s not that Punahou is not still the school of the Island power elite; it is. “There will always be room at Punahou for those children who belong here,” Dr. John Fox, headmaster since 1944, assured alumni in a recent bulletin. But where in 1944 there were 1,100 students and they had a median IQ of 108, now there are 3,400 with a median IQ of 125. Where once the enrollment was ten percent Oriental, now it is a fraction under thirty percent. And so it is that outside Punahou’s new Cooke Library, where the archives are kept by a great-great-granddaughter of the Reverend Hiram Bingham, there sit, among the plumeria blossoms drifted on the steps, small Chinese boys with their books in Pan American flight bags.
Obama entered Punahou as a fifth grader a half-decade later. By all accounts, he was seen by everybody during his eight years there as a normal, average Punahou student. I recall one girl talking about the speed and facility of his writing, but that’s about it for anybody noticing much distinction.
So, since we lack test data on Obama himself, that 125 Punahou average sounds like a good starting point for thinking about Obama’s IQ. He fit in at Punahou, but didn’t stand out.
If reasonable, that would would place the average Puhahou student above John F. Kennedy (119) and John F. Kerry (115-120), a little above George W. Bush (120-125), and below Al Gore (134, 133), John McCain (133 and ?), and Richard Nixon (143).