Skip to comments.Attack of the Ivy League ***holes (It's not good that every POTUS since Reagan is an Ivy Leaguer)
Posted on 10/20/2012 12:53:30 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
The most important question in this years presidential election is not Are you better off than you were four years ago? or What about your gaffes? or even Joe Biden said what? No, the key inquiry comes from none other than John Cusack, the eternally boyish star of Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity, who asked on the leftist site Truthout.org: Is Obama just another Ivy League ***hole?
Most National Review readers would be inclined to say yes, though they might not put it quite so vividly. But the salient part of Cusacks question lies in the words just another. Ever since Ronald Reagan, a Eureka College graduate, rode off into the sunset, the ensuing run of presidents has been distinctly mediocre and all have been Ivy graduates (college or law school). Regardless of who wins this November, the streak will continue, since Mitt Romney (though he may not entirely fit the Ivy mold) has law and business degrees from Harvard. Is Cusack, an NYU dropout, onto something?
Before proceeding further, I should explain what the Ivy League is. Officially, its a group of eight colleges in the Northeast (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale) that play football against one another, rather badly. It was not formally organized until the early 1950s, when the reaction from Harvard was probably, Wait a minute, were in with who? (Actually it would more likely have been whom.)
Unofficially, of course, the Ivy League, even avant la lettre, has for centuries been a symbol of everything Middle America hates: rich, snobbish, exclusive, Eastern, and too smart for its own good. With the exception of Cornell, a postCivil War parvenu, the schools were all founded before the Revolution, and ever since, they have been filling the ranks of Americas Establishment: intellectuals, bankers, lawyers, businessmen and now, increasingly, presidents.
In that capacity, their record has been decidedly mixed. To be sure, the Roosevelts (Theodore and Franklin, both Harvard grads) managed to stay highly popular while taking bold actions that changed the country and the world, for good and for ill; but if you look at the last 50-odd years of presidents, starting with JFK, the Ivy grads have been talkers and dreamers, while the non-Ivy grads have been doers. LBJ (San Marcos State) had Vietnam, to be sure, but also the space program, civil-rights legislation, and the Great Society. Richard Nixon (Whittier) established relations with China and the USSR, signed the first strong environmental legislation, ended the Vietnam War and the draft, and even began affirmative action. Jimmy Carter (Annapolis) . . . well, well come back to him. And of course Reagan dealt a mortal blow to Communism and at least a glancing one to dirigisme, while making the political world safe for conservatism.
Now lets look at the Ivy Leaguers. JFK (Harvard, after a semester at Princeton) is best remembered except for his untimely death for almost starting a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis; Gerald Ford (Yale Law) was overwhelmed by events during his brief term in office; Bush 41 (Yale) let Reagans defeat of Communism play out, won an easy war, and then raised taxes and couldnt even get reelected; Clinton (Yale Law), while coasting on the peace dividend, flopped with Hillarycare and lost the Democrats 40-year hold on the House; Bush 43 (Yale, Harvard MBA) made grandiose plans but had considerable trouble following through; and Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) narrowly passed a health-care law that everyone hates, plus hes given some nice speeches.
This pattern has been going on for a long time. George Washington (no college) established the standard for every president since; Jefferson (William and Mary) bought much of the continent from France, defeated the Barbary pirates, and got the slave trade abolished; and Monroe (William and Mary) had a doctrine named after him. In between these, John Adams (Harvard) showed irresolution against the French, was pressured into signing the Alien and Sedition Acts, and lost control of his own cabinet; and Madison (Princeton) started a disastrous war with Britain that saw the nations capital set on fire.
Then came John Quincy Adams, who set the pattern for most modern Ivy League ***holes (IL*s) in the White House: earnest, smart, eager, ambitious, self-righteous, and uncomfortable with practical politics. In his first annual message to Congress, he proposed, to general mirth, that the federal government should establish a national university and build an astronomical observatory. The Washington political machine, much smaller back then but no less vicious, chewed him up and spat him out, and in the 1828 election he was routed by alpha-alpha male Andrew Jackson, whose success ushered in a series of hastily countrified hacks, time servers, generals, and amateurs that ended only with Abraham Lincoln (a genuinely countrified amateur, and a brilliant one).
For more than seven decades after JQA, the only Ivy graduate to serve as president was Rutherford Hayes (Harvard Law). Then the arrival of the 20th century brought Theodore Roosevelt (Harvard) and William Howard Taft (Yale), followed by the Great Ivy Presidential Smackdown of 1912, a three-way free-for-all that pitted those two against Princetons Woodrow Wilson. The nation has yet to recover.
Now, you may have noticed that while the Ivy League has eight members, the same three schools keep popping up. Indeed, within the league, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have hogged the presidency the way they used to hog the football championship. Thats why some think Barack Obamas most path-breaking accomplishment was becoming the first Ivy president to break the Big Threes monopoly.
Obama did go to Harvard Law School, though, and never mind black vs. white, East vs. West, or uniter vs. divider, because heres the true, the fundamental conflict in Obamas soul: Is he a Columbia ***hole or a Harvard ***hole? The answer is important, because those are two very different types of ***hole. Both are obsessed with showing you how smart they are, but the Columbia ***hole does it by telling you everything he knows, while the Harvard ***hole does it by acting bored with whatever you say. The Harvard variety is at least laid back, and the Columbia variety can be interesting; but put them together and you have a world-weary pest. That may not be an exact description of Obama, but hes certainly getting there.
All right, I know youve been waiting patiently for me to get back to Jimmy Carter, so here goes. Carter graduated from high school in 1941 and went to Annapolis in 1943 amid stiff wartime competition. As the son of Deep South farmers, he would not have been a likely Ivy candidate in any case. But beginning in the 1960s, the Ivies have opened their doors to a much wider class of students (women, for example) and made much greater efforts to recruit nationwide. So if high-school hotshot Jimmy Carter had come along a couple of decades later, he would probably have been an Ivy Leaguer too.
All of which raises the question of whether Ivy schools mold their students to be a certain way, or whether the students were that way to begin with. Richard Nixon won a scholarship to Harvard, but it was during the Depression, and his family couldnt afford the train fare. Would going to Harvard have removed the lifelong chip on Nixons shoulder over his social status, or just reinforced it? Probably the latter though the Watergate tapes might have had fewer expletive deleteds and more quotes from Herodotus.
In any case, as the Ivies become increasingly national and offer generous financial aid, its growing more common for high achievers to go Ivy instead of enrolling at local universities. So the recent trend of Ivy presidential domination is likely to continue. What can we expect from the IL*s of the future?
Two trends are at work here. On the one hand, there is much greater ethnic diversity throughout the league, with Changs and Patels and Rodriguezes now joining the Winthrops and Whitneys and (more recently) Kennedys and Bernsteins. The typical student is no longer a bankers son but the daughter of a doctor and a professor. So the Ivy students of today are less snobbish, perhaps, but more leftist, technocratic, self-absorbed, and hyperintellectual. The flip side of this greater openness is that the competition to get in is much stiffer, which means you have to spend your entire childhood and adolescence jumping through hoops. Todays Ivy students are even more likely than earlier ones to be that annoying and ubiquitous overachiever type that you hated in high school except now they start overachieving in kindergarten.
This explains our recent history, because the depressing truth is that the skill set required of a modern presidential candidate aligns quite closely with that of an Ivy League ***hole. Todays office seeker needs the ability to figure out how each new test works, and provide the expected answers; to be offhandedly glib on a vast range of topics; to know that he has the best solution for everything, if only people would listen; to assume effortless superiority; to skim through CliffsNotes-type briefings and act as if he read the whole book; to move among the wealthy and influential as if hes always been one of them; and to have other people do things while acting as if he did them himself. These are the skills that you need to get into an Ivy League university and to succeed once you get there. Theyre also the skills you need to be elected president in todays relentless, media-saturated, politics-obsessed, 24/7 world.
Unfortunately, theyre not the skills you need to patiently build support in Congress, or to arouse the public to action once Election Day is over, which is why IL*s make better candidates than presidents. And from a small-government perspective, this inability to enact grand schemes may not be entirely a bad thing. Still, after the current long run of Ivy League mediocrities ends, it would be a refreshing change if we could somehow have another Reagan, or even a Truman, once in a while.
Fred Schwarz, a deputy managing editor of National Review, is a graduate of Columbia University.
We need a non-lawyer and someone who served in the military.
I nominate Allen West. If David Hackworth was still alive, I would nominate him.
I’ll go with “non-lawyer” ,, military is OK but not necessary .. I want someone that has DONE SOMETHING , preferably in a position where they have had to find solutions to impossible problems on a regular basis.
I want someone that will be unafraid to fire half the federal workforce.
To a degree I faced the same sort of economic problem as Nixon. Even with the lowest possible tuition payment, the transportation and living costs were much more expensive than attending Indiana University. So, Columbia missed their opportunity because, quite frankly, they forgot to pay me to attend their school.
Four years later Harvard Law sent me an acceptance ~ but I hadn't even applied. An error free LSAT and the right ZIP Code ~ highest crime rate in the Midwest ~ helped of course.
No, didn't go there either. By the time I got out of the Infantry I didn't even like those people. One of my buddies from India was also recruited by both Columbia and Harvard. He went ahead and completed his basic university studies in India and went on to be a pharmaceutical materials sales rep, and went to law school at GWU on his own ~ we sometimes laugh about how screwed up we'd been if we'd gone to Columbia and Harvard. He can't stand those people either!
Yeccch, spitZZZZ, ugh hairball!!!!
I think we’ve been over this before, but once you get through USPS and Department of Defense, there’s less than 30% of the federal workforce left, and to begin to cut your way through to the 50% figure you use you’d have to fire them all (outside those two agencies)
It is long overdue to send the Eastern Establishment, ivy-leaguers packing. They have been a real disservice to this country for a century. This is my requirements for president
- served in the military and as spent time as enlisted
- some business background
- not a lawyer
- no education from the East Coast ivy league schools.
I wouldn’t count USPS as fed workers ,, aren’t they segregated out now? Eliminate Education , Energy , implement the FairTax and cut IRS by 50% , cut State by all RAT’s ... DoD is bloated too ...
That’s $78 billion a year ~ now, we got $2,022,000,000,000 to go! Oh, and salary? That’s a drop in the bucket there ~ they give grants. Department of Education is not a major employment center
USPS employees pay into the federal retirement funds (there are several) and without their payments the government would be up the creek.
Interesting article and historical perspective. I seem to remember that the original “Ivy League” schools were established informally to include one representative school from each of the original U.S. states in the Northeast: New Hampshire (Dartmouth), Massachusetts (Harvard), Rhode Island (Brown), Connecticut (Yale), New York (Columbia), New Jersey (Princeton), and Pennsylvania (Penn).
I know it’s gonna require huge cut backs/changes in both entitlements and defense to accomplish. I think we should only cut defense spending only after we see real entitlement reforms and spending reductions. Although, I think, eventually, defense will bear much of the reduction because cutting defense spending is slightly more palatable to politicians, especially democrats, whose main base of support comes from people they have made dependent on the system in one form or another. This is not going to be painless. A growing and expanding source of tax revenues (growing economy) will definitely help, but the time for easy gradual reductions has long since past. I don’t envy those in office that have to make these decisions. They will most likely be one-termers because the backlash will be severe. If these changes aren’t made, the next step is to default on the debt. I don’t know how that would turn out, probably not very well either.
Seventh grader links majority of U.S. President’s to King John of England
The federales can be authorized to dispose of government assets. There are trillions in that.
Good point. The Federal government needs to sell a lot of its holdings. However, I don’t want the land turned over to the Chinese.
We need a graduate from the University of Idaho.
No hand over anything ~ sell or lease ~ to peeps with money. Or, issue a currency based on arpents of silver bearing soils ~ all sorts of things are possible.