All together now, let’s sing: We are poor little lambs who have lost our way…. Not bad. Now repeat after me: I pawked mah cah in the Haw-vawd yawd. Once more and this time with less of a Texas twang, or we’re doomed.
The reason we are boning up on Ivy League pretentions is that we live in a time when the pathway to power is not only money, family connections and education, but all three in one. If you want to become a Supreme Court Justice or president or four-star general, you absolutely must have attended Harvard or Yale or to a lesser extent, another Ivy League school.
Just look at the latest nominee to the high court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Yes, she is a daughter of immigrant Latino parents, grew up in the Bronx housing projects, blah, blah, blah. However, her real qualification is that she attended Princeton University and Yale Law School. Wow, that’s ground breaking. Seats on the current U.S. Supreme Court are held by seven other Ivy League graduates. Justice John Paul Stevens is the lone outsider having graduated from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University Law.
My suspicions that SCOTUS (that’s journalese for Supreme Court of The United States) is a virtual monopoly of Skull & Bones and the Harvard Crimson was confirmed by a recent story in The New York Times. It said in the history of the court, half of the 110 black robes came from the Ivy League either as undergraduates, graduate students or law students. Their death grip is tightening: since 1950, the percentage is 70.
Of these, 18 went to Harvard Law, 8 to Yale Law, and 6 to Columbia Law. Two members of the very first SCOTUS were Ivy Leaguers.
From the beginning of the 20th century, every president who has seated a justice has picked at least one Ivy League graduate, and in this regard, President Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) is a traditionalist in the extreme. Four of the six justices on Obama’s short list studied at Ivy League institutions, either as undergraduates or law students. Sotomayor, being a double dipper, was the President’s clear choice, especially when we remember that Obama even married another Ivy Leaguer. Michelle is Princeton and Harvard Law.
Not everyone is smitten by that Academic Axis of Ivy. When nominee G. Harrold Carswell (Mercer University school of law) was deemed “mediocre” in 1970, Sen. Roman L. Hruska said, “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”
My own research discovered the Oval Office is also wrapped in poison ivy. Harvard has produced five undergraduates who became president. William and Mary and Yale have three each. Two presidents went to Princeton and two to West Point. Nine presidents did not attend college, the most recent was Harry Truman.
In the 2000 presidential elections, the top two on both tickets — Bush, Cheney, Gore and Lieberman — all attended Yale and/or Harvard, although Cheney, as he stated, “flunked out” of Yale. In 2004, it was Bush & Cheney again, vs. Kerry & Edwards. Three Yale men and one from North Carolina. Three of our last four presidents were Yale or Yale Law grads.
Although George W. was a governor-rancher of Texas, he had not attended a Texas public school since the seventh grade. The only president to graduate from a Texas college was Lyndon Johnson – Southwest Texas (now Texas State for some unknown reason). To be fair to ourselves, Ivy League schools have been around longer than our own colleges. Remember that Harvard was celebrating its bicentennial while Texans were defending the Alamo.
The military is not immune to this power grab. Do you think Gen. David Petraeus, became Commander, U.S. Central Command, just because of his prowess in combat, his thunder-browed command of the lightning? No. He got that job because he earned a master’s and doctoral at that well-known cradle of military macho, Princeton. It could be worse. During the Spanish-American War the U.S. Navy renamed two of its warships, the USS Harvard and USS Yale.
Once again, Texas is left out in the Rose Garden. We could count Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was born in El Paso. But she graduated from Stanford and Stanford Law. We haven’t had a true Texan on the Supreme Court since Tom Clark, who retired in 1967. Actually, these days, comin’ from Texas is a problem, I tell ya. (Now I’m channeling Rodney Dangerfield.) Texan Alberto Gonzales became attorney general. What ever happened to him? Congressional subpoena servers want to know. Never mind. Gonzales went to Harvard Law. When President George W. nominated Dallasite Harriet Miers to the high court, she was criticized by her conservative opponents because she had attended the Dedman School of Law at SMU. Huh? That is a drawback? How conservative can you get? SMU will be home to the Bush Library & Waterworld.
In Congress, remember when LBJ ran the Senate and Mister Sam ruled the House? Recently Rep. John Culberson of Houston gave a speech to students that was so awful it aired on Comedy Central. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis made national news when, just prior to President Obama’s first speech to Congress, Barton’s office sent out a tweet: “Aggie basketball game about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” That was shortly followed by: “Disregard that last Tweet from a staffer.” Makes us proud to be Texans.
George W. is gone. Karl Rove and Tom DeLay no longer frighten. Where are you now that we need you, Jim Wright? We’ll know that Texas is restored to its rightful place in Washington’s corridors of power when the navy launches the USS Longhorn and USS Aggie. Until then we’ll have to tolerate the nuclear submarine Whiffinpoof.
Ashby is waiting at email@example.com.