- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Let’s be frank. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry, had the latter made the White House instead, was any kind of threat to nudge out Thomas Jefferson as our most intellectual president. But for some of us more than others, there should be a statute of limitations on college grades.

Here is Mr. Bush at 58, Mr. Kerry at age 61, solidly set on a distinguished career as a U.S. president or U.S. senator and suddenly — thwack — your mediocre college grades get hashed out in the press (Mr. Kerry) or rehashed (Mr. Bush).

The New Yorker, not the friendliest venue for the future president, made Mr. Bush’s grades public in 1999. He had a cumulative grade of 77 at Yale, very much a “gentleman’s C.” It played into the narrative, reinforced by Mr. Bush’s tendency on occasion to grab the English language by the neck and wrestle it to the ground, that he was not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Characteristically, Mr. Bush made a joke of it. Speaking to Yale’s graduating class of 2001, the newly inaugurated president said, “To those of you who’ve received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done, and to the C students I say you can be president of the United States.” And, he could now add, be re-elected president of the United States. (Mr. Bush also gleefully noted Vice President Cheney was a Yale dropout.)

Mr. Kerry’s grades did not become public during the campaign and, despite political positions well the away from incoherent, he came off as the smarter and more intellectual. Maybe too intellectual. He was at pains to conceal his fluency in French.

During the campaign, Mr. Kerry balked at disclosure of the full file of his Navy records, raising dark suspicions he was trying to conceal something, perhaps connected with his service in Vietnam. It mystified many.

Now the mystery may be over. Mr. Kerry approved release of his full file to the Boston Globe. There was nothing new about his Navy service, but the file did include his Yale transcript.

Mr. Kerry, it turns out, had a cumulative grade of 76, making him, depending where you stand, 1 point dumber than Mr. Bush, or Mr. Bush 1 point smarter than Mr. Kerry. Really, they don’t need this kind of thing at this stage of their careers. And it’s only out of snotty prurience that people delve into it.

Let us delve.

Keep in mind that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, two years apart at Yale, attended two of New England’s most elite boarding schools, St. Paul’s and Philips Andover, respectively.

Mr. Bush received one D in four years — a 69 in astronomy. Mr. Kerry got four D’s in his freshman year — in two history courses, a political-science class and his worst, 61, or 2 points above failing, in geology. (Surely not the “Rocks for Jocks” that so many underachievers use to clear the science requirement.)

Mr. Kerry joked to the Globe, “I always told my Dad that D stood for distinction.” Many dads might reply, “Son, it’s time to come home and go to work in the family steam laundry.”

Mr. Kerry’s highest single grade was an 89, one point below an A, in political science. Mr. Bush’s were 88s in history, philosophy and anthropology.

All very interesting, but irrelevant. Entering one’s 60s is bad enough without someone possibly discovering you nearly flunked geology 39 years earlier. There ought to be a statute of limitations. Still, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry give hope to C students everywhere.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.


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