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Jewish World Review March 29, 2000 /22 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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Battle of the underachievers -- NO MATTER whether George W. Bush or Al Gore wins this November, America is going to get an underachiever at its helm.

Though both men want to be known as the "education" president, a review of their college grades reveals they barely got one.

We have known for several months that Bush largely partied his way through Yale -- in four years he never got an A -- but that is not the bad news. The bad news, as Jay Leno joked, is that Bush may be the smart one.

As The Washington Post revealed last week, Gore's grades in his sophomore year at Harvard were lower than any semester Bush spent at Yale. Gore got a D, one C-minus, two C-pluses and one B-minus.

As the Post noted, this was the year Gore spent "shooting pool, watching television, eating hamburgers and occasionally smoking marijuana."

And the vice president, who now so closely identifies with the high-tech revolution that he momentarily forgot that he didn't invent it, never took a single math course in four years.

But Gore did have the potential to do better if he had only applied himself: His verbal SAT score was 625 (out of 800), compared to Bush's 566 and Princetonian Bill Bradley's 485. (If you're wondering how your kid can get into Princeton with a 485 SAT score, the answer is that she better have a killer jump shot.)

"No one has ever questioned whether Al Gore has what it takes," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane told me, "but there is a very serious question when it comes to George W. Bush as to his perspective, judgment and experience."

Just as Bush has begun making Gore's honesty, or lack thereof, the centerpiece of his spring offensive, Gore is going out of his way to remind people Bush might not be a mental giant.

"Does Gov. Bush have the understanding of America's problems to be president?" Gore asked recently. "Does Gov. Bush have the kind of decision-making tests under his belt to be president? The experience? The sense of perspective?"

One unanswered question, however, is just how much mental prowess a president really needs.

"Frankly, in American politics the standard of intelligence and academic excellence is not very high," said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers. "Deeply reflective people are not common in American politics, and they are often not successful. If you were to look at the IQs or standardized tests scores of most successful politicians, you'd think they were lay-about high school dropouts or shade-tree mechanics."

Which means that both Gore and Bush should count themselves lucky to fly in Air Force One rather than be changing its tires.

Recent exit polls have shown, however, that some voters are worried about whether Bush has what it takes to run the government, a feeling fueled by the media's fascination with his every gaffe, including such howlers as "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and when he recently relocated Mexico to "South America." (It's in North America and notably close to Texas. )

On the other hand, Bush never paid anybody $15,000 a month to tell him what color shirts to wear, and he is confident that people who underestimate him often end up being bested by him.

"It doesn't bother me, because I know it's wrong," Bush has said of his "Dumbya" image. "It's just part of the game. It's part of the media elite game. I think anybody who doesn't think I'm smart enough to handle the job is underestimating. I hope Al Gore feels that way."

Turns out Al Gore does. Gore was recently asked by The Associated Press if he believes Bush is "too dumb" to be president. "Gore convulsed in laughter while taking a drink of Diet Coke," the AP reported. "He grabbed a towel to hold against his mouth then, finally swallowing, insisted the tape recorder be stopped for an off-the-record observation."

We do not know what that observation was, but Bush might point out that he, at least, is capable of drinking a Diet Coke without carrying a towel around with him.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate