August 6, 2004

Readers respond re "Is Kerry Smart"?

My post yesterday "Is Kerry Smart? Is Kerry a war hero?" has brought a lot of email. Rather than clutter up that post with more updates, I'm going to present some of the email response in two separate posts, this first one about the issue of Kerry's intelligence.

TPB writes:
I feel compelled to defend Boston College Law School. First, being a Jesuit school, BC (which is ranked in the mid-twenties or so today, but was probably not as good in the seventies, when Kerry went there) had a strong tradition of Socratic learning that is particularly compelling to lawyers. In fact, most law schools tend to follow this approach, though perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm than at Jesuit schools.

Second, along with the strong political education at BC law, the school is known within the federal government as one of the places from which to draw critical thinkers (along with Notre Dame and Georgetown). This has been a point raised, on numerous occasions, by Tom Clancy with regard to his "Jack Ryan" books. Back in the sixties and seventies, there was a preference in the FBI and the Secret Service for BC and G-town grads because of the aforementioned Socratic education style. My father, in fact, was a product of this.

Finally, as any law student in any university can tell you, it's not necessarily where you go that counts. The basics of law - the Constitutional theory, the trial practice instruction, etc. - are taught in all law schools. Whether a student grasps or pays attention to this is what counts, not whether the school is highly ranked. Hence, I have classmates from my law school (a top 10 school at the time I went there) that really aren't very good attorneys, whereas students of lower ranked schools - Rutgers-Camden or Cardozo, for example - are exceptional attorneys. From what I understand, Kerry was a lackluster ADA in Suffolk County, MA. His performance as an attorney is more relevant than the school in which he studied.

I want to stress that I was suggesting an inference arising from the fact that Kerry--a law school applicant with extraordinary plus factors, the money to go to any school he wanted, and a history of choosing elite, prestige institutions--went to BC Law School. I was not making the same inference regarding anyone else who goes to a lower ranked law school, and I was not saying anything about the actual education you get at an elite law school compared to other law schools.

The same emailer wrote back to add:
I understand that Kerry did everything he could to hide his BC connection, since it's known as a morally conservative school, going so far as to leave out where he went to law school on his site for a while. BC alums were quite upset with that.

Lily Malcolm makes the point about Kerry's website here. Even if it's great to go to BC Law School--I stipulate that it is!--if Kerry himself has been ashamed of it, then we should assume that he went there because the options he preferred were closed to him.

I'd like to present more of the email, but I can't get to it on this computer and am having a problem with my laptop. Sorry. I got a lot of good email and would like to use more of it.

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