Is America ready for the ‘Harvard Way of Life’

Published 2:01 pm Thursday, May 13, 2010

She’s more likely than not to win confirmation to the Supreme Court. Thus, the really big question about Elena Kagan is blunter: How and when does the United States as a whole get out from under the sway of an alien enterprise such as her university, Harvard?

That the Kagan nomination positions one more Harvard graduate to tighten the Harvard-Yale vise on the court no more than reintroduces the consideration that Harvard isn’t notably fond of the American Main Street. Out of Harvard, on a nonstop basis, pour some of America’s worst ideas, such as that government has all the answers, old moralities have to go, and racism and sexism infest America — though not Harvard, you better believe it! — from top to bottom.

The old chestnut of a Harvard joke turns out to have merit: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much. It’s because he — and these days, she as well — doesn’t need to be told the rest of us are wrong about many things.

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Back to Kagan, whose Harvard career underscores with splotches of crimson paint the Harvard community’s intellectual and emotional remoteness from America.

Among other topics, the Kagan confirmation hearings will also bring to mind her and her university’s long and deep resistance to allowing U.S. military recruiters on campus. Let us think that one through. The dean of the Harvard Law School is against affording her country’s government a facility to meet with potential leaders of the very forces pledged to guarantee her country’s freedoms. True, by the time she became law school dean, the Bush administration had threatened to take away Harvard’s federal money if it persisted in resisting recruiters. Kagan submitted reluctantly to the new order. “I abhor the military’s discriminatory policy,” she said.

That was the matter in a nutshell: the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule respecting gay and lesbian personnel. The policy violated Harvardian sensibilities. The military shouldn’t judge its own policies for maintaining discipline — not when Harvard could do the job better. Dean Kagan agreed in essence. Senators will certainly quiz her on this point at the confirmation hearings.

Anyway, here was — is — characteristic Harvard know-it-allness at work. Harvard knows what’s good for us: thereby saving common folk the time it takes to make up their own minds. That Harvard takes an advanced view on the gay rights question doesn’t surprise. Not Harvard’s viewpoint alone, but that of pretty much the whole Northeast, is that enlightened people, many of them residing in faculty and magazine offices, have settled the question in our behalf.

Where once the great unwashed thought legitimate sexual relationships were those involving partners of the opposite sex, all that old stuff has been declared null and void, not to mention rural and out-of-date.

Here’s what’s really interesting with respect to “don’t ask, don’t tell”: The big question, for Harvard, wasn’t how Harvard can help the military meet its professed needs. No, it was why doesn’t the military acknowledge that, look here, when Harvard talks, America listens? Or sure better!

The military might or might not have judged aright of its position on how well gay and straight soldiers function at close quarters. Was it for Harvard (other liberal universities, it must be pointed out, made the same judgment) to demand that issues of military effectiveness and public safety give way to the single, burning imperative of sexual preference rights? At Harvard it was fine. Nothing else seems to have mattered.

Red State and Blue State America: you can call them smears on the map, yet they embody large realities. The two Americas are seriously at odds: “Reds” perpetually put off by the perpetual condescension of “Blues” unwilling to entertain the backward viewpoints of outsiders. Comes now yet another “Blue,” headed for the highest bench in the land — a wonderful vantage point for putting down the preoccupations of Americans screwy enough to believe not every Great Idea was born in 1965.

Can we hardly wait?

(William Murchison is the author of “Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity.” To find out more about William Murchison and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at