Friday, August 06, 2004

How Smart is John Kerry?

"Book smart", that is. In light of the great fuss that's been made over the last 4 years about George W. Bush's mediocre academic record, and what it implied about his intellectual abilities, it was virtually inevitable that people would start to ask the same questions about the allegedly "nuanced" John F. Kerry. Why would a guy who went to Yale, who earned a silver star in Vietnam, who had all the right family connections, and who was already enjoying a very high media profile at a young age, attend Boston College Law School, of all places? Given the conservative orientation of the institution, it can't have been because of some philosophical mesh between its approach and his own views, and the idea that suggests itself most naturally to the mind is that Kerry must have had truly terrible grades or LSAT scores not to have gotten into a top 10 school. That his campaign has yet to reveal his academic record and test scores only adds fuel to the fire of suspicion.

Now, I'll say on the record that I'm not one of those people who thinks that the guy with the higher IQ automatically ought to get to rule, although that position has a certain natural appeal to my vanity; the ability to engage in abstract thinking is a fine thing, all else being equal, but as all else is rarely equal, and so even more important traits like moral character and resolution must be weighed in the balance. Looking at the history of the United States alone, it is far from clear that the brightest presidents have necessarily been the best ones - Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter are almost certainly the two brightest presidents America's had over the last 40 years (yes, brighter than Clinton), and neither man's time in office can be described as having been a shining success. One might even argue that a candidate who's too smart can be a danger to the state, a princeps Augustus like figure who cunningly undermines the republic even as he appears to lesser intellects to be saving it - not that I endorse such an argument myself.

In short, Kerry's test scores and GPA don't really matter to me, but they ought to matter to those who've been insisting that they constitute a fair means of judging a candidate's worthiness for office. It's perfectly fair for Bush partisans to go after Kerry for his failure thus far to disclose such information, as well as for his strange choice of law school*, given the sheer amounts of crap that's been flung the way of their own candidate over this very issue. Cough up those school records, Mr. Kerry!

*Which isn't to say that Boston College Law School isn't a fine institution, as I'm sure it is.