August 6, 2004

A cipher who went to Vietnam.

Our local public sociologist Jeremy is taking me to task for raising the indelicate question of whether John Kerry is really as smart as he's made out to be. He doesn't like "the quasi-snobbery of putting so much stock in law school rankings," but the point is not that the law schools really belong where they are in the rankings, but that people hoping to trade on their credentials rationally choose the highest ranked school they can get into unless they have another factor governing their decisions.

Going to Boston College Law School is simply an item of evidence that is part of analyzing how smart Kerry is. In Kerry's particular case, it raises the inference--for reasons detailed in my earlier posts--that his undergraduate record and his LSAT weren't very good, which is evidence that he isn't as smart as he's been made out to be. We do need the President to be reasonably smart, and Kerry has been widely touted as much smarter than Bush. Thus, this is a fair issue. My point is not at all about the quality of the education provided at his law school, as I noted earlier. There's nothing snobby about this line of reasoning, really. It is just a matter of rational inference from the known data points. I can see why fear of being perceived as a snob might have motivated me not to bring this up, but that just means I'm reckless.

Jeremy also considers it snobbish to use someone's academic record as a basis for judging them when they have a work history that can provide an alternate basis for judgment. I disagree. First, if I were hiring a lawyer in a law firm or appointing a new lawprof, I would expect the résumé to include academic credentials, even if they had had some other jobs. Why should voters expect less? Second, I have questions about Kerry's work history. So he got himself elected Senator, and like many incumbents, he's gotten reelected many times. That's just not enough to inspire confidence. He hasn't been relying on his Senate record to show why he should be President. If you're concerned about going too far back in time for credentials, as Jeremy is, why aren't you dismissing Kerry's own heavy reliance on his military service? That predates law school.

In any case, my questions about Kerry's intelligence do not arise solely from my inference that he had a poor academic record and low standardized test scores. My questions are also based on his exasperatingly convoluted and unclear manner of speaking. This has been excused as a propensity for "nuance" and "complexity," but could also be caused by a lack of mental capacity. It could also be willful evasion. I'd really like to know. I'm not that focused on getting Kerry's transcripts and test scores (though we have such things for Bush, and we had them for Gore--Bush's were superior, you remember). I'm concerned about Kerry's abilities. I'm happy to get information from other sources. But I've been listening to him talk for a long, long time, and I'm not impressed at all. And I'm sure not impressed by the mere fact of someone managing to hold a Senate seat for a long time!

I realize people who truly despise Bush don't care about any of this. The fact is Kerry's the candidate, so there's nothing more to say. Unite behind him, whoever he is. It's too late now. And please don't say anything bad about him. Shhhh! But that doesn't work for people, like myself, who don't despise Bush. I am actually trying to assess Kerry! Where is the material? It certainly wasn't presented in the convention last week, and Kerry's speeches and interviews are not exactly brimming with information. I've been looking for an answer to what he plans to do in Iraq for a long time--here's an old post--and I still can't figure him out. It seems to me we're being asked to make a cipher President. A cipher who went to Vietnam. And isn't Bush. Is that enough? If you hate Bush, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" It isn't enough for me.

UPDATE: I've fixed the bad link to Jeremy's post. And he responds here. I won't repeat arguments I've already made. I will say law firms do ask for your LSAT scores, and many employers these days actually do want to know your SAT scores. Jeremy's right that Gore's SAT scores were higher than Bush's, but Bush's academic record was much better. Gore's was quite embarrassingly bad, especially when he went to divinity school. This article gives the details and asks whether which of two job candidates you would hire if one had fine test scores and a terrible academic record and the other had lower test scores but a respectable academic record.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just wanted to quote this email I just got: "The Thief in Chief a/k/a our moronic leader will lose...what sad news for you, you dumbass grad student."

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