Notebook — From the March 2009 issue
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The recommendation deserves to be ranked with the ones until recently in vogue at the Palm Beach Country Club among the members acquainted with the achievetron Bernie Madoff. For the past sixty years the deputies assigned to engineer the domestic and foreign policies of governments newly arriving in Washington have come outfitted with similar qualifications— first-class schools, state-of-the-art networking, apprenticeship in a legislative body or a think tank—and for sixty years they have managed to weaken rather than strengthen the American democracy, ending their terms of office as objects of ridicule if not under threat of criminal arrest.
The Harvard wunderkinds (a.k.a. “the best and the brightest”) who followed President John F. Kennedy into the White House in 1961 hung around the map tables long enough to point the country in the direction of the Vietnam War. Henry Kissinger, another Harvard prodigy, imparted to American statecraft the modus operandi of a Mafia cartel. The Reagan Administration imported its book of revelation from the University of Chicago’s School of Economics (“privatization” the watchword, “unfettered free market” the Christian name for Zeus) and by so doing set in motion what lately has come to be seen as a long- running Ponzi scheme. Take into account the Ivy League’s contributions to the Bush Administration—Attorney General John Ashcroft (Yale), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Princeton), director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff (Harvard)—and I can imagine a doctoral thesis commissioned by the Kennedy School of Government and meant to determine which of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning over the past fifty years has done the most damage to the health and happiness of the American people.
Lewis H. Lapham Lewis H. Lapham is the National Correspondent for Harper’s Magazine and the editor of Lapham’s Quarterly.
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