On University Grades As A Qualification For President

In the last couple of days, multiple people have sent me an article that seems to be making the rounds.  It purports to be from a recent issue of Newsweek, written by a guy named Matt Patterson, and titled "Hit The Road Barack.  Why we need a new President."  The article characterizes Obama as "our first affirmative action President," and questions whether his seemingly top Ivy League education credentials can really be trusted.  

On reviewing the article, all I can think of is the famous quote attributed to William F. Buckley, Jr.: "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."  The reason I have that thought is that I wouldn't be particularly troubled if Obama's Ivy League credentials were phony, because plenty of people with real top Ivy League credentials are also airheads.  But what's scary is that I actually think that Obama's credentials are real.  Looking at such evidence as I can find, here are my conclusions:

  • The article I was sent is not what it purports to be.  It is not from Newsweek and not recent.  Also, the version I was sent has been significantly altered from the original.
  • Obama really does have top or near-top educational credentials, at least at the law school level.
  • The fact that Obama has top law school credentials tells you all you need to know about what those credentials are worth as a qualification for President.  The answer is: not much. 

It didn't take me more than a minute of Googling to identify the original source of the article in question as a post from the American Thinker of August 18, 2011 titled "Obama: The Affirmative Action President."   The original of the article does suggest, fairly gently, that Obama may owe his educational credentials substantially to affirmative action.  However, the version I was sent contains some additions not in the original, which turn out to be the most inflammatory parts of the altered article.  For example, this:

There is no evidence that he ever attended or worked for any university or that he ever sat for the Illinois bar.  We have no documentation for any of his claims.

Well, but there is rather strong evidence that Obama:  attended Harvard Law School, was accepted onto the Law Review, became the President of the Law Review, and graduated with magna cum laude honors.  OK, there may have been some affirmative action in his initial admission to Harvard Law (he did not graduate with honors from Columbia), but his performance at the law school would be rather hard to fake.  The linked article from the Blaze says that HLS grades at Obama's time (class of 1991) had been subject to dramatic inflation, such that the magna cum laude credential went to about one-sixth of the students.  (In my day -- class of 1975 -- the comparable figure was around 5%).  Still, top 16% of a very competitive class is nothing to sneeze at.  And the credential was awarded strictly on the basis of grades.  If you think that top grades from a top college or graduate school are an important qualification for President, then this is pretty damn good.  As to why Obama has never released a transcript, I can't say.  My best guess is that his college grades at Columbia were rather poor.

The much more important point is that the ranks of people who get the top grades at the top universities are filled with fools and airheads.  Meanwhile the ranks of our recent candidates for President and Vice President contain as many people with mediocre or even terrible grades as people from the tops of their classes.  And it's not a partisan issue.

Among top grade-getters, we have, for example, Hillary Clinton.  She doesn't seem to have ever released a transcript of her grades at Wellesley, but she graduated "with honors," and more importantly, got into Yale Law, which probably means she was in the top 5% or her college class or higher.  As I have repeatedly pointed out, she also has no idea whatsoever how the economy works, thinks that all wealth comes from government spending, and repeatedly uses the phrase "I believe in science" to mean that she trusts whatever the corrupt government-funded people calling themselves "scientists" tell her without ever checking the underlying evidence.  In short, a fool and an airhead.

Also in the top grade category we have my law school classmate Mitt Romney.  This long New York Times article from 2011 says that Romney was a "Baker Scholar" at the Harvard Business School (where he got a joint degree) and also graduated "with honors" from the Law School.  (With honors is actually a notch lower than magna cum laude, but remember that our class only had about 5% mcl versus 16% in Obama's class.)  I think that Romney is fairly solid intellectually; however, in the one speech I ever heard him deliver live, he made it clear that he had completely fallen for the climate scam.

OK, now let's consider some of the mediocre to terrible students who nonetheless find themselves running for President or Vice President.  The magazine Mental Floss compiled a round-up:

  • Joe Biden was number 506 out of 688 in his class at the University of Delaware, followed by number 76 out of 85 at Syracuse Law.
  • John McCain was number 894 out of 899 in his class at Annapolis.  Hard to get much lower than that!
  • Al Gore was in the "bottom fifth" of his class at Harvard.  Among his grades were two C-plusses, two Cs, a C-minus and a D.  The D was in a course called "Natural Sciences 6 (Man's Place in Nature)."  Can't say I'm surprised by that.
  • In John Kerry's freshman year at Yale, he got four Ds -- in Geology, two History courses, and Political Science.  I didn't think it was even possible to get a D at Yale.
  • George H.W. Bush never released a transcript, but George W. Bush had a GPA of 77 at Yale, which would put him somewhere below the middle of his class.

As I said, the ranks of terrible students includes both Democrats and Republicans.  Trump?  I can't find anything about his grades at Wharton.  Does it matter?

But anyway, consider who some of the very "smartest" people are, as measured by top grades from top institutions of higher learning, and you will find it very frightening.  Paul Krugman?  Top Ph.D. from MIT, Princeton professor, Nobel Prize winner -- and a complete dupe for every economic fallacy that has ever been promulgated.  Olivier Blanchard?  Krugman's MIT Ph.D. buddy, who spent a career at the IMF peddling economic fallacies to low income countries to keep the poor poor.  Stephen Breyer?  Ruth Bader Ginsburg?  Wouldn't you think that Supreme Court justices with the academic credentials of this pair would be capable of having at least one independent thought in twenty years on the bench that was not fed to them by the editors of the New York Times?  Obviously, I could go on for days with this.  And don't get me started on the Harvard faculty.  Really, it's enough to give you the idea that rule of the people by highly-credentialed "experts" just might not work very well.