How America picks its slacker-in-chief

By Scott Green

Though I was always told I could be anything when I grew up, the Presidency seemed outside the realm of possibilities. For one thing, I have the personal warmth of a brown recluse spider. Also, nobody believes in me. Zero political connections. Bad hair.

One thing that isn’t holding me back is my college GPA. I’d been under the misconception that most Presidents had scholastic experiences like those of Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar who finished at the top of his Yale Law School class and seduced Dean Wormer’s wife when his fraternity went on double secret probation. Surely the anomaly was George W. Bush, who carried a C average as an undergrad at Yale and occasionally goes on diplomatic missions to Nigeria to check on his promised share of King Mfakefake’s inheritance.

But it turns out American Presidents haven’t exactly been straight-A honor program students in college, if they even went. After high school Harry Truman passed up his chance at higher education to take a job at a haberdashery, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a haberdasher’s shop.” It’s dictionary writing like this that led to the war on drugs.

Anyway, of the 10 Presidents since Truman, at least half were mediocre students or worse. Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were B average students; John Kennedy graduated cum laude from Harvard, meaning he was in the top 50% of his class but not the top 20%.

Eisennhower, Kennedy and Reagan were all immensely popular. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, who finished near the tops of their classes at the Duke law school and the Naval Academy, respectively, had the lowest approval ratings of any modern president when they left office. Carter didn’t become popular until he left the academic life for the blue collar task of building houses, and Nixon didn’t become popular until he starred in adult films under the stage name “Tricky Dick.”

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    John McCain finished near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, and Barack Obama, who hasn’t released his college transcripts, graduated from Columbia University without honors, meaning he also wasn’t an A-average student. John Kerry, the Democrat challenger in 2004, had slightly worse grades than George W. Bush at Yale. Back in 2000, Al Gore ran for president having been in the bottom fifth of his class at Harvard through his sophomore year.

    Consider the story of a young man who skipped school often and didn’t even finish 10th grade until after his 18th birthday. But he chased his dreams, growing up to one day become: Vanilla Ice. So being a bad student can also backfire.

    Why don’t the best students make it to the presidency? Aspiring politicians start with excruciating busy work for party insiders until, at long last, the opportunity arises to run for office and get soundly defeated by the incumbent. This was the blueprint for Obama, who lost a 2000 race for Congress to four-term Representative Bobby Rush and wound up in the Illinois State Senate, until he found a magical leprechaun under some pending legislation to teach sex ed to five year olds.

    The lowest rungs of American politics include some of the least glamorous work there is, and good students rightfully feel like they’re above it and opt not to put up with any of it.

    They just take high-level positions in the financial sector, where they make big money to handle the economy on days they forget to reserve a tee time.

    But the mediocre students – the ones who can write a 12-page paper on a single haiku they didn’t even read – are primed for the political world. They can arrange urgent factfinding missions to Aruba. They can run for jobs they already hold on platforms of change. They can skim a 500-page bill and generate meaningful-sounding criticism such as “This is the exact kind of thing the people who wrote it would want to see passed into law.”

    So while only five bad students have been president during the past 50 years, you big-dreaming lower-than-average students need not despair.

    You could be the next John Kerry.

    Scott is a third-year law student. If he got any facts wrong in this column, it’s because his undergraduate grades were mediocre.