Do you have a friend who’s super smart, but when it comes to street smarts he’s … let’s say “lacking”? Even the smartest people pull dumb moves sometimes, and for some reason it’s extra surprising and disappointing when a smart person screws up. How could that president or general carry on an affair knowing it could easily get out? How did that company CEO think he could embezzle millions and no one would find out?
The truth is that book smarts or business savvy don’t make a person perfect. Or streetwise. In fact, smart people seem prone to spectacular lapses in judgment more so than “average” people.
Why? One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology gave logic problems to people to solve and found that smart people tended to make more mistakes than those of average intellect, because smart people were more likely to take shortcuts or make assumptions due to overconfidence. This is called the bias blind spot.
Of course, overconfidence isn’t the only road to a dumb decision. Many of the dumb choices you’ll see on this list were motivated by greed, pride, stress, and even sheer laziness. Let’s look at 10 memorable moments of “what were you thinking?”
No 10. Bill Clinton Has Affair with Intern, Lies Under Oath About it
After serving two terms in the U.S.’s highest office, President Bill Clinton started the Clinton Foundation to address some of the most pressing issues affecting the world today, from childhood obesity and climate change to global health. So, how did such a charitable and intelligent guy become part of one of the most notorious presidential sex scandals?
In 1999, President Clinton faced impeachment after details of an affair with 21-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky. While the affair itself was a pretty dumb move — if you’re going to have an affair, maybe don’t choose someone that works for you — the even dumber thing Clinton did was lie under oath.
The affair came to light in 1998 as part of a sexual harassment investigation filed by Paula Jones against Clinton. In January 1998, Clinton was questioned about it formally by Jones’s lawyers and lied under oath, saying the affair with Lewinsky never happened. Who can forget Clinton wagging his finger at the press and saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”? He stuck to that lie until that August when her infamous blue dress — stained with Clinton’s semen — came to light. Clinton later said they “only” had oral sex so he had not lied when he said they did not have sexual relations.
If Clinton hadn’t lied under oath about his affair with Lewinsky, there would have been much less fodder for an impeachment case later on, but Clinton was acting out of fear and stress that the revelation would hurt his political career.
Whether it did is debatable. While Clinton was found not guilty in his impeachment trial, some say the whole ordeal damaged the mystique of the presidency. However, Clinton’s other acts as president — like ending the war in Bosnia and balancing the federal budget — helped save his reputation. In fact, he left office with the highest approval rating of any postwar president.
No 9. Gary Hart Dares the Media to Follow Him Around/h2>
Gary Hart was a married politician, lawyer, author, and college professor whose hubris led him to making an incredibly dumb move: provoking the media.
Hart’s pitfall — besides having an affair with a model named Donna Rice while running for office — was assuming that he was smarter than reporters. Hart must have thought that he could count on absolute discretion from Rice and everyone else who knew about the relationship. And with his background he should have known better.
Hart was a campaign manager-turned-politician, and in 1987, the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination. Reporters suspected an affair between Hart and Rice, but it was Hart’s arrogance that did him in. When rumors surfaced that he was cheating on his wife, rather than dodging the questions or coming clean, Hart adamantly denied the rumors, and dared the media to follow him around. (“You’ll be bored,” was his actual comment.)
Surprise! Reporters did just that, and that same day, they spotted Rice leaving Hart’s house. Then they discovered that Hart had taken a romantic cruise with Rice, on a boat called — no, seriously — “Monkey Business.” Then, reporters began hounding Rice’s close friend (and “Monkey Business” shipmate) Lynn Armandt about the relationship. Armandt dodged reporters for weeks before she finally caved and confessed to knowing first-hand about the Hart-Rice affair. From the account of the affair that Armandt later shared with People Magazine, the biggest surprise in this scandal is that it didn’t break sooner. Neither party was very discreet, and Rice had told several friends about her tryst.
The Rice scandal rocked Hart’s presidential bid, and he withdrew from the race in May of 1988.