cademic achievement in college doesnt necessarily correlate with success in the Oval Office. FDR, for example, was an indifferent student, while Nixon was a brilliant one. But recent history also suggests that a candidate who was a left-leaning Rhodes Scholar in college might make a better president than a candidate who was a right-wing bozo in college. In other words, we can learn something from looking at a candidates college days.
Thats the idea behind the accompanying matrix, which attempts to plot our current presidential contenders according to where they were politically and academically during their college days. Were they strivers or slackers? Were their political beliefs more in line with Karl Marx or Karl Rove? Each candidate has been numbered, so readers who are interested can check out the corresponding explanatory details. Also interspersed in our grid are a few past presidents, for the sake of historical reference. With any luck, this will help readers make a more informed decisionif not necessarily a sensible one.
1. Rudy Giuliani: Ardently supported JFK (and, later, RFK) and, as an undergraduate at Manhattan College, wrote a column in the school paper calling Barry Goldwater an incompetent, confused and sometimes idiotic man. By the late 1960s, Giuliani was even farther to the left. Republican Congressman Peter King told the New York Times about getting to know Rudy in 1967: That summer, there were riots in Newark and Detroit, and Rudy was very sympathetic to the rioters He told me he had gone to a bar and started in on a black guy because he wasnt radical enough. Rudy said before the conversation was over hed turned him into a Black Power guy. Giulianis academic performance was strong enough to land him in law school at NYU, from where he would graduate cum laude.
2. Barack Obama: Started at Occidental College in 1979 as a less serious student who, according to his autobiography, hung out with Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. Obamas mother worried that he was turning into a good-time Charlie. Two years later, though, Obama was a diligent transfer student at Columbia University. Obama would later recall his time there as an intense period of study, during which I didnt socialize that much. I was like a monk.
3. Hillary Clinton: Arrived at Wellesley in 1965 as a Goldwater supporter, even assuming the presidency of the college Republicans in her freshman year. By the time she graduated in 1969, however, Hillary Rodham had gone over to the other side, spurred largely by her support for civil rights and antiwar presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. Her academic performance, though, remained solid, and she graduated with honors.
4. Bill Clinton: Came fresh from the backwoods of Arkansas but managed to be elected class president within weeks of his arrival at tony Georgetown University. A summer internship with Senator J. William Fulbright (and a looming draft) soured him on the Vietnam War, and he strongly supported those fighting for civil rights. His diligence at school would earn him a Rhodes Scholarship and a spot at Yale Law School.
5. Ronald Wilson Reagan: Entered Disciples of Christ Eureka College in 1928 in Eureka, Illinois. He was never a stellar student, spending most of his time participating in extracurricular activities. But he already had certain political interests that placed him left of center on the political spectrum. He became a popular student body figure when he led a student strike to protest the colleges decision to lay off teachers as the Depression approached, and he quickly became a New Deal supporter after FDRs election.
6. Chris Dodd: Likes to say that hed be the first president from Providence College, at which he imbibed idealism, values, and commitment that have sustained and motivated me. If Dodd managed to soak up a belief system at Providence, however, he nevertheless neglected to soak up much in the way of textbooks. A recent article in the Cowl, the Providence College newspaper, describes Dodd lightheartedly acknowledging that he may not have been a shining example of academic excellence.
7. Joe Biden: Never got too involved in student activism or 1960s counterculture at the University of Delaware (Im not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts, you know, thats not me, he recounted to the St. Petersburg Times), but he was very concerned about the civil-rights movement. While political moderation has always been a Biden trait, academic achievement is another story: Biden graduated 506th out of 688 in 1965. (Later, at Syracuse Law, he managed to rank seventy-sixth in a class of eighty-five.) Never known for being the quiet type, however, Biden received high marks from a professor for his command of English language.
8. John Edwards: Hoped to parlay his high-school-golden-boy status into a football scholarship at Clemson College. Edwards made the team as a walk-on but didnt get the scholarship, so he transferred to North Carolina State, majoring in textile studies and graduating with honors in 1974. He later attended law school at the University of North Carolina, from which he graduated cum laude. Edwards remained mostly uninterested in politics until well into his career as a trial attorney.
9. John McCain: Arrived at the Naval Academy with a famous name, since both his grandfather and father had attended the academy and gone on to distinguished military careers. Any interest McCain had in academics, however, was overshadowed by his interest in having a good time. McCains rebellious antics earned him the nickname John Wayne McCain and entrance to the Century Club, a group for students with more than 100 demerits. McCains academic performance placed him at 790 out of 795 students. He was not yet politically active.
10. Richard Nixon: Turned down a full scholarship from Harvard (it couldnt cover all his expenses) and instead attended Whittier College, a Quaker school, from which he graduated in 1934, second in his class. Nixon told a biographer that he had been more left-leaning in his college days: I came out of college more liberal than I am today, more liberal in the sense that I thought it was possible for government to do more than I later found it was practical to do.
11. George Herbert Walker Bush: Entered Yale as a war hero and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948 with a degree in economics. Bush admired and probably shared the political beliefs of his father, Senator Prescott Bush, a typical Northeast, pro-business Republican moderate distrusted by movement conservatives.
12. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Followed up an undistinguished academic career at elite Groton with an equally undistinguished academic career at Harvard. His close ties to his cousin Teddys White House helped earn him the editorship of the Harvard Crimson, though, in which he ran full-throated exhortations to fellow students to participate more in extracurricular activities. Noted one such editorial: The Freshman Glee, Banjo, and Mandolin clubs offer an opportunity not only to make new acquaintances but also to gain valuable lessons in singing or instrumental playing. But Roosevelt had little use for the less advantaged. In fact, one editorial was devoted to scolding the laxness of membership enforcement at the Union, one of Harvards exclusive clubs. Many men who have no rights to the privileges of the Union are continually seen in the building, it complained. Apparently, the noblesse had yet to meet up with the oblige.
13. Fred Thompson: Had been a notorious class clown in high school, but his college career at Memphis State University marked his entrance to adulthood. Though he entered the Tennessee GOP machine soon after leaving school, Thompson kept his head in books long enough to win admission to Vanderbilt Law School, where he earned a JD in 1967.
14. Mitt Romney: Didnt fit in so well with the countercultural movement already sweeping Stanford in 1965 and, according to the Boston Globe, was mocked as a square. (And not because of his presidential jaw.) Romney befriended fellow traditionalists, though, and managed to keep favoring LDS over LSD. After completing his missionary work, Romney would transfer to Brigham Young, graduating as valedictorian in 1971.
15. Tommy Thompson: Was inspired by Barry Goldwaters Conscience of a Conservative and found himself rebelling against the liberalism at the University of Wisconsin. Starting college as an introvert, Thompson struggled to become more socially confident. A former classmate of Thompsons told the New York Times that Thompson would approach strangers and say, Im Tommy Thompson, and I appreciate your vote and support, although he was not actually running for office. Thompson eventually gained a reputation as an outgoing partier and graduated with grades good enough to gain him admission into the University of Wisconsins law school, from which he earned a JD in 1967.
16. George W. Bush: Entered Yale in 1965, as the university was moving increasingly to the left, and felt sufficiently alienated by the political and cultural climate to move correspondingly to the right. Academically, Bush excelled in the Gentlemans C range.