Thursday, May 31, 2012

Harvard vs. Harvard

Harvard has a symbolic ring to it that thrills some and threatens others. When I was a graduate student at Princeton in the mid 1970s, people often commented on the large number of Harvard Ph.D.s on the faculty and lamented how some of them seemed to feel they were in exile teaching there. Both observations were undoubtedly a bit exaggerated.
Exaggeration would be a polite way to characterize a recent statement by presidential candidate Mitt Romney - a rather curious statement from a truth-telling perspective. I refer to his strange statement in Harrisburg, PA, back in April, that President Obama spent too much time at Harvard - strange indeed since Romney actually spent more time at Harvard than Obama! President Obama attended Harvard from 1988 to 1991 and has one Harvard degree, a J.D. Candidate Romney attended Harvard from 1971 to 1975 - one year  more than Obama - and has two Harvard degrees, a J.D. and an M.B.A. But does it really matter how many years a candidate spent there, or how many Harvard degress he actually acquired? Or is just his having been a student there the telling factor?
How much does it matter that the 2012 election is Harvard vs. Harvard? Does Harvard somehow symbolize what we all already know - that this election is a competition between representatives of competing wings of our dominant national elites? Modern Presidents haven't all come from Harvard, of course. (This isn't an oligarchy, is it?) Indeed, President Obama's three immediate predecessors - Clinton and the two Bushes - were all Yale men. (Does that mean the elite circle is not completely closed?)
What does matter is that this election is evidently a competion between two competing components of our reigning national elites - an "economic" elite, which has, especially in recent decades, become increasingly emboldened to pursue public power to advance its economic interests however much to the detriment of the common good, and a "cultural" elite, which combines some otherwise potentially laudable concerns for the common good (an admirable commitment to universal health care, for example) with an obsessive embrace of almost every morally problematic idea to have arisen in the last 50+ years. The likely prospect, therefore, whichever faction finally crosses the 270 electoral viote threshold, may be continued moral, cultural, social, and economic decline, while the world's climate keeps getting hotter and our hearts grow ever colder.

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