During last year's presidential campaign, John F. Kerry was the candidate often portrayed as intellectual and complex, while George W. Bush was the populist who mangled his sentences.
But newly released records show that Bush and Kerry had a virtually identical grade average at Yale University four decades ago.
In 1999, The New Yorker published a transcript indicating that Bush had received a cumulative score of 77 for his first three years at Yale and a roughly similar average under a non-numerical rating system during his senior year.
Kerry, who graduated two years before Bush, got a cumulative 76 for his four years, according to a transcript that Kerry sent to the Navy when he was applying for officer training school. He received four D's in his freshman year out of 10 courses, but improved his average in later years.
The grade transcript, which Kerry has always declined to release, was included in his Navy record. During the campaign the Globe sought Kerry's naval records, but he refused to waive privacy restrictions for the full file. Late last month, Kerry gave the Navy permission to send the documents to the Globe.
Kerry appeared to be responding to critics who suspected that there might be damaging information in the file about his activities in Vietnam. The military and medical records, however, appear identical to what Kerry has already released. This marks the first time Kerry's grades have been publicly reported.
The Globe article comes with an amazing college picture of Kerry, which makes him look like the 1933 heavyweight champ Primo Carnera, a simple-minded acromegalic giant with a pituitary gland problem. (In "Cinderella Man," Carnera is the giant that Max Baer thrashes to win the heavyweight title. I wonder if Kerry had acromegaly, too — his chin is awfully big.) The Globe must really not want Kerry to run again in 2008.
Real Clear Politics asks:
KERRY'S BIG SECRET?: That wasn't so hard, now was it? The mind simply reels at the possibility that Kerry refused for two years to fully release his Navy records because he didn't want people to know he got slightly lower grades at Yale than Bush. Could the ego on a man really be that big and that fragile?
Considering how disturbed Kerry was by my report on his IQ versus Bush's — on the air with Brokaw, he laughed it off adeptly, but after the camera was off, he was so bothered by it that he returned to the topic to make the excuse that he must have been out drinking (as Brokaw told Don Imus a few days later) — the answer may well be: yes, Kerry's ego was wrapped up in being smarter than Bush.
As Chris Suellentrop of Slate wrote in "Kerry vs. His Script: Why can't the man read a simple speech? Declaring war on declarative sentences," the candidate repeatedly insisted on padding out the well-written speeches his staff gave him with meaningless improvisations:
The campaign gives reporters the text of each of Kerry's speeches "as prepared for delivery," apparently to show how much Kerry diverges from them...
Kerry proves incapable of reading simple declarative sentences. He inserts dependent clauses and prepositional phrases until every sentence is a watery mess. Kerry couldn't read a Dick and Jane book to schoolchildren without transforming its sentences into complex run-ons worthy of David Foster Wallace. Kerry's speechwriters routinely insert the line "We can bring back that mighty dream," near the conclusion of his speeches, presumably as an echo of Ted Kennedy's Shrum-penned "the dream will never die" speech from the 1980 Democratic convention. Kerry saps the line of its power. Here's his version from Monday's speech in Tampa: "We can bring back the mighty dream of this country, that's what's at stake in these next two weeks."...
Kerry flubs his punch lines, sprinkles in irrelevant anecdotes, and talks himself into holes that he has trouble improvising his way out of. He steps on his applause lines by uttering them prematurely, and then when they roll up on his TelePrompTer later, he's forced to pirouette and throat-clear until he figures out how not to repeat himself. He piles adjective upon adjective until it's like listening to a speech delivered by Roget.
Kerry's health-care speech Monday in Tampa was a classic of the form. The written text contained a little more than 2,500 words. By the time he was finished, Kerry had spoken nearly 5,300 words—not including his introductory remarks and thank-yous to local politicians—more than doubling the verbiage.
In contrast, Bush seldom let his ego get in the way of competent campaigning. If he didn't think his speeches were good enough the way they were written, he'd get new speechwriters, not try to fix them on the fly himself. (Of course, Bush's standards for Cabinet Secretaries, foreign policy advisers, and other trivial officials are laxer than for the important jobs involved in winning elections.)
Before the last election, I wrote:
In the President's lone losing race, his 1978 run for Congress from West Texas, the victor stressed Bush's two Ivy League degrees. Bush resolved never to allow himself to be outdumbed again. And the Democrats haven't outsmarted him since.