i didn’t know…

That John McCain graduated 894 out of 899 students from the Naval Academy. That’s in the bottom 0.6%. Which is shocking to me. Especially since class rank takes into account grades, conduct, and leadership. I know this isn’t a political blog. And I am about to write a post bemoaning the lack of political diversity in sociology. But all that aside, this performance worries me. I was not a college super-star. But I was far from the VERY BOTTOM. It seems he barely got by, and was greatly helped by the fact that his father and grandfather were 4-star admirals in the navy. This makes Bush’s intellect seem downright impressive, by contrast (being in the middle of his class – right next to Kerry, in fact – something which was often overlooked).

8 thoughts on “i didn’t know…”

  1. This is an interesting inference from the data. Some alternative perspectives:

    -the 899 graduates started as a much larger group, and there was substantial attrition along the way, both by way of self-selection and failure
    -success in a military college environment, which is a highly stylized, very ceremonial context, is probably at best only weakly predictive of success as a leader in the working military
    -ranking systems like this generate reactivity, where those rated on the low end may pursue personal goals that have no or even negative impact on ranked performance. Cadets may take perverse pride in this, as a kind of rebellion against such a structured environment.
    -simply surviving a high-stress, immersive experience like a service academy is an accomplishment in itself, one that comparatively few can claim.

    I am not an American, and my interest in US political discourse is only moderate. My comments are motivated more from a social science standpoint than anything else.


  2. Re: Kerry and Bush – the problem with Bush was never that he was stupid, but rather that he sold America on the idea of an anti-intellectual president you’d want to have a beer with rather than listen to a lecture from (well, America was already sold on it but he carried it even further than say, Bill Clinton, who would alternate between the two modes a bit more). In particular, I think this recent (although perhaps not especially novel, I don’t know enough about political discourse before, say, 1992) trend of demonizing any change in a position is tied to the Bush-style anti-intellectualism. My question is, does McCain sell himself as an anti-intellectual in the same sense? I don’t think he does, but I’m not 100% certain. He certainly attacked economics with the full anti-intellectual rhetoric during the whole gas tax debate.


  3. Can someone give a few pointers towards the role of intellectual prestige (acquired through educational training) in US politics? In France, graduating from ENA is a persistent marker among executive politicians and high civil servants, although the last election was interesting since the elected candidate does not fill the criterion.


  4. Mondoman raises the right questions about the selection process, though having read accounts of McCain discussing his own USNA experience and early career, it seems fair to conclude that but for the family connections he might well have washed out. The bio on Wikipedia notes that McCain had a couple of crashes early in his career — not sure how many crashes naval aviators usually get before being asked to consider duties other than flying.

    McCain certainly has pursued strongly anti-intellectual lines in economics policy — to the extent that some Republican economists who probably would support him otherwise have had trouble bringing themselves to whole-hearted support — and James Galbraith recently offered a devastating review of McCain economics guru and former Senator Phil Gramm’s dissertation.


  5. Not only is Tom right about washing out except for his family’s juice, but flight school after the academy does not go to the bottom of any class with some very few exceptions. McCain’s all-purpose exemption from criticism: “he was a POW” doesn’t work for the stuff he got away with BEFORE he was shot down.


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