In the spring of 1969, Herman Cain and I independently came to the same decision; we would start our graduate studies at Purdue University in the fall.
Although Cain did not know it at the time, by choosing to become a Purdue Boilermaker he was rendering himself an outlier in a political arena that our putative Ivy League betters have come to dominate.
Purdue, you see, is a state university – in Indiana no less, where people proudly call themselves “Hoosiers.” Not only that, but Purdue concentrates on unglamorous pastimes like engineering, agricultural, home economics (or whatever they call it now) and computer science, the field in which Cain enrolled.
While Cain and I were driving west in 1969, the politically ambitious were heading east to the Ivy League. Bill Clinton went to law school at Yale. So did Hillary.
John Kerry went to Yale as well. George Bush went there, too, and then on to Harvard Business School. Al Gore went to Harvard. Michael Dukakis went to Harvard Law. So did Michelle Obama and Mitt Romney.
Political pundits went Ivy as well. Frank Rich went to Harvard. So did Conan O’Brien. After attending the Hackley School, Keith Olbermann went on to Cornell. So did Bill Maher. The New Yorker’s David Remnick went to Princeton.
Future conservative pundits, though less reliably, went Ivy as well. Bill Kristol got his Ph.D. from Harvard. Charles Krauthammer got his M.D. from Harvard. Fred Barnes was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.
Given his healthy self-esteem, when Barack Obama was contemplating law school, he applied to just three schools, “Harvard, Yale, Stanford.” So he tells us in his ghosted memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”
This was a guy who did not graduate from Columbia so much as “cum laude,” but he was ambitious. And having gone Ivy as an undergrad, Obama knew where the bread got buttered.
Long time Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter – Phillips Academy ’75, Harvard ’79 – explained in his Obama hagiography, “The Promise,” why Harvard attracted a man of Obama’s presumed talent.
Writes Alter, likely with a straight face, “Obama’s faith lay in the cream rising to the top.” The reason why: “He himself was a product of the great American postwar meritocracy.”
As Alter’s gush makes manifest, Ivy types tend to overestimate their own. This leads to wonderful nonsense like Harvard-educated historian Michael Beschloss describing Obama as “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.”
Christopher Buckley went gaga as well. A Skull and Bones Yalie like the old man, Buckley severed his National Review ties in 2008 to endorse Obama.
“I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate,” said Buckley explaining his endorsement. “He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine.” Yes, imagine!
About “Dreams” Time magazine’s eminence grise Joe Klein echoed Buckley but without junior’s Oedipal excuse. He called it “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.” Like Olbermann, a Hackley grad, Klein honed his literary instincts in Penn’s ivied-halls.
The Ivies prefer to elect their own. In fact, the last non-Ivy to be elected president was Ronald Reagan in 1984. The establishment rewarded his impudence, courtesy of insider Clark Clifford, with the snobby little designation “amiable dunce.”
America elected a black man president before it elected a Big-10 grad. That will be tough. The closest we got was Gerald Ford, a proud Wolverine but an unelected president. Ford was also arguably the best athlete ever to occupy the White House.
You wouldn’t know it. “I wanted [Jimmy] Carter in and I wanted [Ford] out,” said Chevy Chase of his “Saturday Night Live” impersonations of a dumb and bumbling Ford, “and I figured look, we’re reaching millions of people every weekend, why not do it.”
A graduate of the prestigious Riverdale Country School in New York, Chase went boho and attended Bard College upstate. Tina Fey, of Upper Darby, Pa., and the University of Virginia, performed much the same outlier defamation service on Sarah Palin (U. of Idaho ’87) that Chase had on Ford.
If being a state school in the Midwest is not liability enough, Purdue presents Cain a second problem. Unlike, say, Wisconsin or even Michigan, Purdue is not cool, never was.
As a case in point, in April 1969 I had narrowed my two choices to Purdue and Cornell. That month a hundred or so members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society illegally occupied Willard Straight Hall. Two of them, armed and wearing gun belts across their chest, made the cover of Newsweek.
I can’t speak for Cain, but at that point, I said, “Boiler up!” Shortly before Cain and I signed on, in fact, Newsweek dubbed Purdue a “hotbed of student rest.”
Cain used his time at Purdue to get a Masters in computer science and do exterior ballistics work for the U.S. Navy on the side. That is not what our Ivied betters expected out of Cain. They wanted a bandolero like the guys at Cornell.
Last week, MSNBC’s very white Lawrence O’Donnell – St. Sebastian School ’69, Harvard ’76 – actually scolded Cain for not being revolutionary enough a black man.
“You watched black college students from around the country and white college students from around the country come south AND BE MURDERED, fighting for the rights of African Americans,” said an indignant and impressively ignorant O’Donnell. “Do you regret sitting on those sidelines at that time?”
Among other offenses, O’Donnell got his chronology wrong. He claimed that Cain attended college “exactly when the most important demonstrations and protests were going on.”
Cain started college in the fall of 1963. The Civil Rights Act was signed in July 1964 despite the epic filibustering of Clinton mentor, William Fulbright, who would go on to filibuster the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well.
After 1964, “civil rights” protests, like the student protests on campus, increasingly became the bailiwick of the indulged and the unhinged. I knew lots of these clowns. I expect Cain did too. Imagine the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Now arm them, and you’ve got the ’60s in a nutshell.
The ones who survived the ODs and the shoot-outs, the self-immolations and the accidental bombings, these are the people who now run our media.
I think America is ready for a Boilermaker president, but are they?