Quite a legacy

By Stephen W. Stromberg
Published August 6, 2004 7:51PM (EDT)

CNN reports today that President Bush opposes legacy admissions at American universities, the same sorts of programs he benefited from as a young man.

"President Bush said Friday he opposes the use of a family history at colleges or universities as a factor in determining admission.

"Bush stated his position to what's known as 'legacy' in response to a question during a Washington forum for minority journalists called Unity 2004.

"He was asked, 'Colleges should get rid of legacy?'

"Bush responded, 'Well I think so, yes. I think it ought to be based upon merit.'

"Under legacy programs, applicants are given an advantage if their parents or grandparents attended the school. Bush, a third-generation graduate of Yale University, joked about his own legacy.

"'Well, in my case, I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man's footsteps,' he said to laughter."

What is remarkable about Bush's statements is not that he stayed consistent on college admissions or granted that his family connections secured him success, but that he so readily admitted that he didn't deserve it. This attitude probably helps when it comes to seeming like a normal guy, not the Andover, Yale and Harvard graduate that he is. After all, you don't see John Kerry talking about his time in New Haven a la the Great Gatsby.

When did mocking your own educational credentials become a campaign tactic? The president has been doing it for years now. Turn back the clock to 2001 when Bush gave the commencement speech at Yale, his alma mater. That's when he famously said, "To you 'C' students, you too can be president of the United States." In that speech, there was no mention of his dynastic family connections.

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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