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Bush, Kerry, and Yale

While most alumni magazines would write proudly of two graduates competitively chosen for the U.S. presidency, strangely you selected two graduate authors who show no such pride (“For Country,” May/June).

Warren Goldstein’s failure to praise Kerry and Bush, can, perhaps, be excused since he takes a historical look, stressing Yale’s emphasis on service, its broadened admissions policy, and Yale’s phenomena of class and other networking (although in the interest of fairness he might have acknowledged that most of the “privileged” admittees prior to the late 1960s could also have been talented).

Jacob Weisberg damns Kerry as an opportunistic networker who avoided hard courses. And C student “Little George” is beneath Weisberg’s dignity.

Underpinning Weisberg’s disdain is a haughty arrogant intellectual pride in “bracing engagement” that undervalues humor and other qualities. “Bright college years, with pleasure rife” suggests that unbroken friendship, the rigors of debate, and nonacademic leadership should also be lauded.

I’m voting for Bush but proud of both.


What contrasts to be found in the Yale family! In one issue of the alumni magazine: William Sloane Coffin Jr.; in the next: two advocates of violence, deceit and torture.

As Warren Goldstein’s article glowingly relates, we’re having a veritable torrent of Yalies in high office: Bush I, Clinton, Bush II (plus Cheney), and now presumably either Bush II again or Kerry. The article chatters on about how Yale calls its graduates to “public service.”

The question is whether these regimes are a credit to “country” or to “Yale” or are even legitimately called “public service.” I’ll let God make up her own mind about whether they have served her. Holding public office is one thing. What you do while in office is quite another.

Deceit, torture, violence against citizens, and subversion are not what I have in mind when I think of “public service.” Kerry, whose early reputation was based on his speaking out boldly, is keeping mum and blandly, corruptly urges us to “stay the course.” We are in the hands of violent subversives. Neither of the two Yalies who are campaigning to be the next commander-in-chief shows signs of changing that—and they won’t, unless we stand up and tell them that they must.


Yale’s ethic of service to others, discussed in both “For Country” (May/June) and “Quarrels with Providence” (March 2001), was eloquently set as a challenge by Dean Georges May, whose welcoming speech to freshmen in 1968 focused on Andre Malraux’s question, “Que m'importe ce qui n'importe qu'a moi?” [If it matters to no one but me, why should it matter to me?]

This challenges us spiritually, to transcend the ego or “smaller self,” and materially, as we face unprecedented global environmental and sociopolitical problems that are largely of our own making. To not only survive but thrive, we must realize our greater selves and selflessly apply knowledge rigorously wrought—or is that too Arminian for an institution rooted in Calvinism?


Bravo to Jacob Weisberg for showing how both Bush and Kerry missed out on a Yale education. Their lack of intellectual curiosity was by no means rare at the time. When I became active in the Political Union in 1964, I was advised by upperclassmen to major in history, where one could skip either the classes or the reading and still get a “B.” I was considered quite odd for studying foreign literatures.

But, in a deeper sense, the tragedy of their incomplete educations has also had an impact on their national leadership. George W. Bush could have developed his communication skills either by paying attention to them in his courses or even spending time in the Political Union or another activity where one was required to think on his feet, sometimes even when sober. It is easier to develop these skills at 20, and they sink deeper roots.

Kerry’s case is more tragic still. It was said of the Yale before meritocracy and coeducation that Yale was a competition where “He who is loneliest, wins.” John Kerry wanted to win. My vivid memories of John consist of respect for his discipline and skills combined with profound antipathy for his personality and for his lack of grounding in any allegiance outside of himself. As a Christian, I had long deemed it a fault that these negative feelings endured. But I must say I was astounded that John has managed to create such negative feelings among literally thousands of other human beings unto this very day.

I do believe that John was a victim of being the last of the old guard, of being on the wrong side of the sixties. Had he entered Yale even a few years later, it would have been much more difficult for him to treat himself as some kind of glorified object to be lionized and worshiped. It should be clarified that the antipathy people feel to John is not to him as a person, but to the false and idolatrized self that he feels compelled to project with such intensity. If anything keeps him from being a leader for our times, that is sure to be it.


Jacob Weisberg’s labored attempt to tar Kerry at Yale with the same broad brush he aptly applies to a listless Bush is, I submit, misplaced. Kerry made the most of the opportunities Yale provided, which are more than the sum of its courses. Unlike Weisberg, I knew Kerry at Yale and was profoundly impressed with his intelligence, both extracurricular and academic. He was an eloquent public speaker; I partnered with him on the three-man team that defeated Harvard in the 75th annual Triangular Debate in 1966. He was also a brilliant essayist. As research assistant to political science chair Herbert Kaufman, I had occasion to read Kerry’s senior comprehensive exam. Quite frankly, I was astonished by its intellectual maturity and its analytical rigor—and I was not unfamiliar with what passed at Yale for academic excellence.

In his perfervid rush to debase Kerry, Weisberg slams political science, Kerry’s major, labeling it a “non-discipline,” and ridicules his roles as varsity debater and president of the Political Union. But Yale possessed an impressive political science faculty, including internationally acclaimed professors Robert Dahl, Karl Deutsch, and Charles Lindblom. And how better might Kerry have prepared for his chosen field of public service than by participating actively in varsity debate and the Political Union, which promoted dialogue on public policy and had produced some of America’s most prominent senators, governors, and members of Congress?

But Weisberg must know that his criticism of Kerry is unfounded. In a 1999 Slate article, he dismissed the notion that the best candidates for the highest public office are only those who secured the best grades. “Leadership, integrity, and determination are all more critical qualities,” he wrote. “And was FDR, who took gentleman Cs at Harvard, truly less than highly intelligent?”

Kerry at Yale impressed me as having all of these qualities—leadership, integrity, determination, and high intelligence—the makings of the next great American president.


Instead of “What makes Yalies run?” shouldn’t the question on the cover of your May/June issue have read, “What makes Yalies so inarticulate and unfocused?”

I fear that the president and Mr. Kerry represent the least educated and inspiring graduates Yale has produced. The fact that both are Yale graduates should be both a point of pride and of question.


Surely Jacob Weisberg jests when he says, “The ethos of Yale—as opposed to, say, Harvard—is not just academic excellence but an embrace of intellectual adventure that doesn’t point directly toward professional success.” This insults both Harvard and Yale graduates. As an African American woman from Texas who now practices interventional cardiology in New York, I must say that it was the embrace of intellectual adventure at Harvard that led me to be an honors medical student at Yale. By the way, my undergraduate honors thesis was entitled “German Attitudes toward the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa,” and I admit it has nothing to do with cardiology. Perhaps a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard for Mr. Weisberg is in order.


Regarding your May/June cover article, “For Country,” you also could have mentioned that a few years ago, the governors of the three largest states all were Yale graduates: Pete Wilson '56, California; George Pataki '67, New York; George W. Bush '68, Texas.

Rep. Smith is one of 13 Yale alumni in the U.S. House of Representatives. There are 7 alumni in the U.S. Senate, and two current governors, Pataki and Bob Taft '63 of Ohio.—Eds.


In the national interest, John Kerry and George W. Bush should resign from Skull and Bones. Their repeated and identical assertions that this organization is “too secret to talk about” are slaps in the face of voters who are just now confronting the disquieting probability of a Bones-versus-Bones presidential contest. Only resignation from this furtive leadership cult will dispel the impression that the Bones code of silence has a higher claim on their loyalty than the American people.



Meeting Yale women

I was intrigued by the comments of Christopher Buckley '75 in “When Yale Men Meet” (May/June). Oddly enough, I can agree with his assessment, as I have often had the same feeling when I “run into a Yale man.” Perhaps it is living among Yale men in New Haven for four years that develops these sensibilities. However, it leads me to wonder, if we were to meet, would he sense those same qualities in me, a “Yale woman"? I would certainly hope so.



Corporate mindset

An open letter to Linda Koch Lorimer:

I have decided not to vote in the alumni fellow election (Light and Verity, May/June) and I would like to state why.

It occurs to me as I look at the ballot that I have been given only two choices: businessman or lawyer. David A. Jones Jr. is described as founder of a venture capital firm, and Frederick O. Terrell as chief executive officer of a private equity investment firm; Margaret H. Marshall is chief justice of the Massachusetts supreme court. I have no doubt that each of these individuals is tremendously credentialed and capable. But I do not see on what basis any of them is an appropriate candidate for the Yale Corporation at this time.

The preponderance of current members in or affiliated with the business world is disheartening: G. Leonard Baker, managing director of a venture capital firm; Roland Betts, CEO of Chelsea Piers; Susan Crown, vice president of a firm that “manages investments in banking, transportation, oil and gas"; Charles Ellis, senior advisor of “an international business strategy consulting firm"; Holcombe Green, principal of a private investment partnership; Richard Levin, professor of economics; Linda Mason, chair of an early-childhood education empire; Indra Nooyi, chief financial officer of PepsiCo; Theodore Shen, formerly chair of a capital markets group; and Janet Yellen, professor of business and economics.

Those representing all other areas of activity are decidedly in the minority on the Yale Corporation. Of those, only one, Maya Lin, could be said to represent the arts and humanities. Since two lawyers sit on the Corporation already, I fail to see how Justice Marshall would bring a fresh perspective.

In that I consider the arts and humanities the soul of the university, I find the current composition of the Corporation truly bizarre. Perhaps if Yale were nothing but the School of Management, a governing board with this makeup would make sense. But I do not trust the Corporation as it exists to make decisions affecting the drama school, the English department, the art museums, the divinity school, and all the other entities that exist to make the mind large, not the wallet fat.

When I’m given the opportunity to vote for a passionate humanist, artist, or educator, I’ll be happy to cast my ballot. In the meantime, I see no point in voting in a sham election.



Another view on headscarves

While Mr. Faroud Laroussi’s article “Why I became an American” (Forum, May/June) is totally appropriate for publication in the French newspaper Le Monde, which should be complimented for publishing it, it is totally inappropriate for the Yale Alumni Magazine. It is one thing to passionately advocate the use of headscarves for girls at school in a French paper, where the readers know and understand the context of the debate; it is another to take it out of that context, and to laud America for its lack of racial discrimination—a position that is courageous in France and absurd in the United States—when addressing an American audience. For such an audience, it would have been more laudable to try to explain what is at stake in France, to mention a few arguments for the opposing point of view. Mr. Laroussi could, for instance, have pointed out that many girls are forced by their parents to wear headscarves when they do not want to; to stay good Muslim girls getting ready for a prearranged marriage with an unknown man; to go live in his family, obedient to their mother-in-law and reduced to cooking and bearing children; to refuse “indecent” exposure in gym classes and biology lessons. The matter is more complex than is exposed in the writing of someone who represents the point of view of a male Muslim who, incidentally, seems to be doing very well using an education he received in the derided French system.



More on Coffin

Bill Coffin’s work as a Yale chaplain (“Crisis of Conscience,” March/April) was not well known to his classmates but was, I’m sure, of value to certain undergraduates. Later, however, his appeasement of Viet Cong aggression gained embarrassing notoriety, as did his support of the radical fringe involved in draft card burnings, etc. He may be a hero to some of his contemporaries, but I would guess it to be about proportional to the election results of the Nixon-McGovern presidential race. Like McGovern, Coffin failed to grasp America’s dedication to the concept of self-determination, for which we have fought a number of wars.


As an upperclassman in the late 1960s, I was an antiwar activist at Yale and often met with Bill Coffin. I can assure you that my friends and I were keenly aware of the Columbia students' building takeovers and considered occupying buildings and disrupting Yale in those years. Please recall that the raging war would eventually claim over a million lives and was led by a president who knew nothing of Asia and a Secretary of Defense who now says he knew even then that the war was “terribly wrong.”

Bill Coffin was a principal reason we did not do such things. He may have been a “lightning rod” (your words) for President Brewster, but for us he was a mentor. He was willing to spend hours and hours discussing this terrible conflict and what to do about it. Throughout, he praised and argued for study, libraries, and scholarship. His reverence for academia demanded that we think through our views and impulses, even while we were so furious. More than the faculty, who remained largely passive, he inspired us and taught us that we could take the high road of nonviolence.

Given all we know now, one thought remains clear. In the time of that dreadful war, no one stood stronger for God, for country, and for Yale, than William Sloane Coffin Jr.


Your excellent article on William Sloane Coffin Jr. mentioned briefly that he plays the piano. What an understatement! Bill is an outstanding pianist. I was a classmate of his at Andover where we both were members of the academy orchestra, and I can remember concerts where he flawlessly performed works such as Beethoven’s C Major piano concerto. One can only wonder how different the sixties would have been had he decided to pursue a career in music.



More findings on fat

In “The Belly of the Beast (March/April), Jennifer Kaylin (quoting Kelly Brownell) ascribes America’s obesity epidemic to “the confluence of abundant and affordable food, declining physical activity, corporate opportunism, and government complicity.” These claims are undoubtedly true, but she doesn’t go far enough in explaining the insidiousness of the last two.

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (“The [Agri]Cultural Contradictions of Obesity,” October 12, 2003), the root of the problem is the government-subsidized overproduction of corn. Cheap corn is converted to high-fructose corn syrup; corn sweeteners are added to every processed food, including many, like salad dressing, that shouldn’t take sugar at all. American cheap corn fattens our chicken and beef, keeps overseas farmers poor, and fattens Americans with ever-proliferating highly processed junk foods. The interests of Big Food and agribusiness coincide as they collaborate to keep farm production and subsidies high, the price of corn low, and Americans overfed and fat.


“The Belly of the Beast” generally endorses Kelly Brownell’s answer to America’s fat problem: U.S. government intervention. The contention is that we humans cannot help ourselves, due to evolution’s impact on our biology. We surely can extend this theory to all kinds of human action.

Somewhere in the past I think I heard of humans being different from animals—as humans had free will, could exercise self-control and self-discipline, and could accept the responsibility for our own action. Perhaps we should let evolution continue, and some eons from now natural selection will have solved the personal obesity problem.

On the other hand, we can stick with Flip Wilson’s rationale when he said, “The Devil made me do it.”




In the article “Flipping It” (May/June), we neglected to credit Scott Garrett for the two drawings on page 35.

Our photo essay “When Yale Went to War” (May/June) included three errors. In a caption, we referred to the airplane fuselage seen on the Old Campus as a “B-26 Mitchell bomber.” It is in fact a B-26 Marauder. It was the B-25 bomber that was known as the Mitchell. In another caption, we identified a military parade on the New Haven Green as a “V-12 drill,” but it appears that the photo depicts an Army Air Force Technical Training Cadets parade. Most egregiously, we rewrote history when we referred in the subhead of the article to the “invasion” of Pearl Harbor. The naval base was, of course, attacked, not invaded.

In “For Country (May/June), Warren Goldstein’s article about Yale graduates running for president, we indicated that historian Peter Dobkin Hall was affiliated with the School of Management before moving to Harvard’s Kennedy School. Although he held lectureships at SOM, his primary appointment was to the research faculty at Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies.  the end


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