- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

In “Where the Boys Are,” the prototypical spring-break movie of decades ago, the bikini-clad coeds (it was OK to call them that in those days) who flocked to the Florida sun and fun breathlessly put a premium on finding “Yalies” to help them through the entire cut-loose experience, leaving men from mundane Midwestern institutions to flounder hopelessly in the surf of inferiority.

They obviously knew what they were doing. Not only did these dashing Ivy Leaguers shine more brightly than their less fortunate college contemporaries of the time, their futures seemed more promising even than those of Harvard men, John F. Kennedy notwithstanding. So much so that it is not difficult to believe that with each diploma must come a letter certifying that the possessor of a degree of any kind from this New Haven, Conn., institution is now eligible to become president of the United States — or, at the very least, to run for that exalted office.

Not only do Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and both George Bushes sport Yale degrees, three of the nine candidates for the Democratic nomination are graduates (that’s one-third for those who have not had the Yale experience) — Howard Dean, John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman.

This, of course, is not to say that one can’t graduate from some lesser school and make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for longer than a visit. Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon came from relatively obscure undergraduate colleges and Harry Truman did not even get a higher education. Lyndon Johnson went to a state teachers college and always had an inferiority complex about it, leading him to listen very closely to the brilliant Ivy League advisers about Vietnam. James Earl Carter went to the Naval Academy.

Sens. Kerry and Lieberman are known commodities to anyone who has been paying attention — even those intellectual giants who Jay Leno quizzes on his late-night show. (These people take “I’m stumped for an answer” to unparalleled heights.) Mr. Kerry was a war hero before running for office and Mr. Lieberman has had national-ticket experience as Al Gore’s running mate.

But it is the latest Yale political heartthrob, Vermont’s former governor, Howard Dean, who, for the time being anyway, is the most intriguing. A medical doctor by vocation — or should that now be avocation? — Mr. Dean has caught the fancy of unvarnished liberals nationwide by yelling at President Bush about health care and Iraq and deficits and other issues. His appeal is reflected in his ability to raise large sums over the Internet, a $7.1 million result for the last quarter.

He is handsome enough to have become the object of female attention on the Fort Lauderdale beaches in the old days, even without the Yale sweater, and he certainly has turned the heads of the other candidates who are now becoming nervous about his fund-raising ability, among other things, including the headway he seems to be making in his direct assaults on Mr. Bush. It probably is premature to be concerned that so far he has been elusive about how he intends to fix the economy or anything else. Here are some remarks as recently excerpted from the newspapers:

“We can balance the budget and provide health care for every American. I know because we did it in Vermont.” Would it be unkind to ask if he meant that Vermont passed a bill to provide health care to all Americans? How generous of them if they did.

“I am tired, Mr. President, of being divided by race. I am tired of being divided by gender and Title IX. I am tired of being divided by income. Mr. President, I am tired of being divided by sexual orientation. … I am tired of being divided by religion. I believe that the only possibility we have is to take back our country. I want this country back.”

To which a Harvard man might say: “I’m tired of all these Yale guys running around telling us what they’re tired of. I would be all for taking back our country if I knew who had taken it from us. Does this guy want us all to have the same income or be of the same gender or of the same sexual orientation? What the hell does he want?”

Of course, that is what a Harvard man, or even one who went to Indiana University or maybe to Michigan, like Rep. Richard Gephardt, might say.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.


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