C Man in the Navy
John Kerry turns out to have been an average student, just like President Bush.
BY JAMES TARANTO
The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, June 8, 2005
On Jan. 30, John Kerry told NBC's Tim Russert that he would release his full military records to the public, something he had refused to do during last year's campaign. It took 128 days, but yesterday the Boston Globe reported that he had done so. The records revealed what many of us had suspected: Mr. Kerry served in Vietnam. But according to the Globe, "the lack of any substantive new material about Kerry's military career in the documents raises the question of why Kerry refused for so long to waive privacy restrictions."
A second Globe story, however, answered that question. Included in Mr. Kerry's military files were his transcripts from Yale, which were part of his application for officer training. Mr. Kerry, it turns out, had a 76 average for his years at Yale--the equivalent of a C and one point below George W. Bush's 77 average. Mr. Kerry had a difficult freshman year, scoring four D's, though he did manage a C in French.
So Mr. Kerry was almost as distinguished a scholar as the schoolmate who went on to become president of the United States. That doesn't seem so bad--but for candidate Kerry, it would have been devastating. After all, much of Mr. Kerry's appeal, such as it was, rested on intellectual snobbery. His supporters described him, in the words of a March 2004 New York Times report, as "an intellectual who grasps the subtleties of issues, inhabits their nuances and revels in the deliberative process." In this view, Mr. Kerry's nose for nuance contrasted favorably with Mr. Bush's simplisme.
But what if Mr. Kerry simply lacked the ability to express himself clearly? Consider his answer when asked in a September 2003 debate to reconcile his vote for Iraq's liberation with his subsequent opposition: "The vote is the vote. I voted to authorize. It was the right vote, and the reason I mentioned the threat is that we gave the--we had to give life to the threat. If there wasn't a legitimate threat, Saddam Hussein was not going to allow inspectors in. Now, let me make two points if I may. . . ."
He went on in this vein for 248 words, and only someone with a superior intellect and too much time on his hands could possibly have made sense of his answer. "People will often be misled into thinking someone is brighter if he says something complicated they can't understand," IQ expert Linda Gottfredson told the Times' John Tierney last year. The revelation that Mr. Kerry was no better a student than Mr. Bush suggests that this is just what happened.
Mr. Kerry's appeal to intellectual vanity was in any case a politically dubious one. The last egghead to win the White House was Woodrow Wilson, and he was a genuinely accomplished scholar. In 1956, a supporter is said to have told Adlai Stevenson, "You have the support of every thinking person." He replied: "That's not enough. I need a majority."
Still, let's not sell Mr. Kerry short. He is, after all, a United States senator--which isn't bad for a C student. At least no one will ever again call him an underachiever.
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