Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Shades of Stupidity

By now, everyone has read what is surely the most notable of recent "who cares now?" revelations - namely, that Kerry's grades while at Yale weren't really any better than those of the much-maligned intellect to whom he conceded the 2004 election. Conservatives are having a field day, liberals are affecting disdain, and assorted others are struggling (or not) to care. Grades, of course, are near and dear to my heart - but not because mine have always been perfect. Indeed, I have all the admiration in the world for folks whose grades belied their intelligence, yet still managed to outshine those who toed the line. In my own modest case, I graduated 13th in my high school class - surely the lowest-ranked student to attend an elite university, not to mention a traditionally unlucky number. Mind you, I went to a small high school, and not a top-heavy one either - the difference between one and thirteen in terms of accomplishment could be aptly analogized to the same difference in the NBA Draft lottery.

Of course, it's college grades that are at issue here, and on this score, I have some inside information, albeit hearsay. My friend Joey's father was a classmate of Bush's at Yale, and remarked that he was a C student - however, he seemed to coast easily into those C's in an era when C represented the average payoff for the average effort, and mere coasting often translated to worse grades. I've always suspected Bush was not as stupid as liberals would have him, nor even as stupid as he himself lets on. I don't want to get started on a rant about the current anti-intellectual craze in this country, but suffice it to say that we are not, at present, a nation that reveres books (regardless of how much of the Newsweek allegations you believe).

I still think it's fair to characterize Bush as a cowboy, whose advisors, many of them intellectuals of a far superior echelon to most of the folks who voted the whole menagerie into office, have really re-defined conservatism by their any-means-necessary approach. Regarding the Iraq war, no one is pretending that our course of action is expedient. Rather, the rallying cry is "freedom" - freedom, it seems, from the shackles of pragmatism. The point is that we are not talking about good, safe ideas anymore - we are talking about neo-Platonic ideologies, about bridging an immense gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be. In an ideal world, wanting to spread democracy one country at a time to one imaginary grateful populace at a time would mean a year here, a year there - not a disjointed and wildly problematic campaign that has arguably rendered us less safe than ever before. But, again, we're not talking about good ideas, we're talking about good ideologies. In other words, when Bush & Co. do something you or I might regard as "rash", or even "stupid", they know exactly what they are doing.

Of course, it's easy to have been less than one's intellectual best in college. I mean, how many of you can honestly say that you gave it your all during those four (or five, or six) years? What matters is how dumb you are now. Remember, as the newfangled saw goes, youth only happens once, but immaturity is forever. Take my dad - he spent most of college engaged in civil disobedience and free love. He did not graduate with honors. However, he is as smart and hard-working at 57 as you will find. That's what interests me - who's doing smart things now. I mean, Bush got a free pass from the Right for the cocaine and drunk driving. I say we give Kerry a free pass for having enjoyed mediocre grades at his Ivy League institution, much as a more historically recognized JFK did at Harvard. As Johnny Cash says, "I made straight A's in love."


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