WASHINGTON -- Let's be frank. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry, had he made the White House instead, was any kind of threat to nudge out Thomas Jefferson as our most intellectual president. For some of us more than others, however, there should be a statute of limitations on college grades.
Here you are at age 58, Bush, or 61, Kerry, 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 (Kerry) or rehashed (Bush).
The New Yorker, not the friendliest venue for the future president, made 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 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, Bush made a joke out 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. (Bush also gleefully pointed out that Vice President Cheney was a Yale dropout.)
Kerry's grades did not become public during the campaign and, despite political positions well on the far side of incoherent, he came off as the smarter and more intellectual of the two. Maybe too intellectual. He was at pains to conceal his fluency in French.
During the campaign, Kerry balked at disclosure of the full file of his Navy records, raising dark suspicions that he was trying to conceal something, perhaps something connected with his service in Vietnam. It mystified many people.
Now the mystery may have been cleared up. Kerry OK'd the release of his full file to the Boston Globe. While the file contained nothing new about his Navy service, it did contain his Yale transcript.
Kerry, it turns out, had a cumulative grade of 76, making him, depending where you stand, one point dumber than Bush or Bush one point smarter than Kerry. Really, they don't need this kind of thing at this stage of their careers. And it's only out of snotty prurient interest that people delve into it.
Let us delve.
Keep in mind that Kerry and Bush, who were two years apart at Yale, attended two of New England's most elite boarding schools, St. Paul's and Philips Andover, respectively.
Bush received one D in four years -- a 69 in astronomy. Kerry got four D's his freshman year -- in two history courses, a political-science class and his worst, 61, two points from failing, in geology. (Surely this is not the "Rocks for Jocks" that has enabled so many underachievers to clear their science requirement.)
Kerry joked to the Globe, "I always told my Dad that D stood for distinction." To which many dads might reply, "Son, it's time to come home and go to work in the family steam laundry."
Kerry's highest single grade was an 89, one point below an A, in political science. Bush's were 88s in history, philosophy and anthropology.
All very interesting, but irrelevant. Entering one's 60s is bad enough without the possibility that someone's going to find out you nearly flunked geology 39 years earlier. There ought to be a statute of limitations. Still, Bush and Kerry give hope to C students everywhere.
Scripps Howard News Service