What we're talking about when we talk about Harvard - Macleans.ca

What we’re talking about when we talk about Harvard


Following yesterday’s Boston Globe story, Mark Leccese considers how Harvard has been used as a political slur.

But ponder this: If Ignatieff had been a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, would the ad have been as powerful? No way. In politics — heck, in daily life — “Harvard” is a code word for “not like us.”

Remember how George H.W. Bush (Yale, Class of 1948) used “Harvard” to pound his opponent in the 1988 president election, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis? In a speech on Houston on June 10, 1988, the Boston Globe reported, Bush stirred up with crowd with “When I wanted to learn the ways of the world, I didn’t go to the Kennedy School, I came to Texas,” and “Gov. Dukakis, his foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard’s boutique, would cut the muscle of our defense.”

The Harper Conservatives were quite fond of this stuff.


What we’re talking about when we talk about Harvard

  1. We’re talking about stirring up class resentment, class envy….and tossing in a little anti-Americanism.

    Although since Flaherty went to Princeton, this only comes into play when it’s a Liberal.

    • It’s not the going to a big name school that’s the problem – it’s the wholesale adopting of that tedious full-time-highbrow-academic world view. Flaherty managed to avoid it. Ignatieff, consciously or not, bought into the self-perception of natural superiority that plagues so many Official Public Intellectuals.

      • I don’t see anything ‘tedious’ about having a world view, since everyone does. And grads from the U of Sask have been known to discuss things in academicese. You haven’t noticed it with Flaherty because he’s mostly been restricted to numbers as the FinMin. That perception of natural superiority is yours.That’s the class envy I was talking about.

        PS if you’ve sent me anything, no I haven’t received it

  2. Intellectuals, like everyone else, live and work in a marketplace. In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison; but an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an increase in street robbery is the increase in the amount of property that law-abiding pedestrians have on them as they walk in the streets is likely to be hailed, at least until the next idea comes along. Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious. This automatically increases the propensity of intellectuals to espouse extreme or preposterous ideas that would never occur to anyone obliged by circumstances to keep their feet on the ground.” Anthony Daniels, Salisbury Review, Spring 2010

    Daniels was writing book review of Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society and gets to problem of Harvard. People from Harvard think they know it all, because they are ever so clever, but they really don’t know much of anything. Liberal Party in in thrall to intellectuals or technocrats while rest of us are not nearly as impressed. Libs are learning that there is penalty for foolishness if you choose intellectual as leader. This was also Dion’s problem.

    • “keep their feet on the ground” is also a way of saying, “never looking beyond the obvious”, aka, the appeal to the masses/common sense.

      Unfortunately, never looking beyond the obvious got us such gems as heavier things fall faster than lighter things, the earth is the centre of the universe, and humans are too small to affect the climate.

    • This is exactly the kind of class envy I was talking about. We encourage higher education because we need people who see things in a new way, and we need people to come forward with new ideas and new ways of approaching things.

      So then we punish them when they do?

    • Thwim & OriginalEmily1 – when we are talking about intellectuals, we are not discussing scientists who use scientific/experimental methods. Intellectuals are mostly social scientists, who think they know an awful lot, when in fact we know very little about human condition. Libs have faith in government programs to change people in positive ways but there is no reason to believe that is what’s happening.

      Intellectuals like to think of hoi polloi as lab rats to try out their misguided beliefs on.

      “Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science. The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest.” Jim Manzi, What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know, City-Journal, Summer 2010

      • last time I checked, “trained economists” are also social scientists, and our current Prime Minister is also quite convinced that his government grograms have been very positive for people.

      • You’re claiming that because we know so little about the human condition, we shouldn’t look into it? What kind of logic is that?

      • “…. and our current Prime Minister is also quite convinced that his government grograms have been very positive for people.”

        I bet he doesn’t believe this but is claiming it for political reasons, and if Harper does believe it, he is wrong. We have know way knowing outcomes of many government programs because we don’t understand how people will respond.

        Manzi article starts of with example of how plenty of economists – nobel laureates all – fundamentally disagreed about whether Obama’s stimulus package would do anything. Economists didn’t agree before stimulus and are still arguing about effects today.

        “Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs.” Jim Manzi

      • Political platforms are based on different ideas about the conduct of human affairs. Even if only a few of the studies by social scientists have produced reliable evidence about human behaviour, doesn’t it make more sense to use this information rather than whatever gut-endorsed a priori non-evidence-based ideas appeal to the non-analytic part of a politican’s brain?

  3. .
    It would have been less of an issue if he conversed normally.

    He did not. It was painfully nuanced, think-tank, colloquia, seminar, symposia, etc. stuff, that, when subjected to the Government of Harper/Ministry of Truth well-designed and operationalized propaganda campaign, turned into a weird, evasive morphing, ducking the ‘thousand cuts’, writhing.

    You can take the boy out of Harvard, but you can’t take the Harvard out of the boy.

    But now I see my fears are realized. The Liberal party and its adherents are going to spend the next 4 years extolling, excusing, lionizing, defending, and propping up a dead corpse who has (God have mercy, yes, please!) turned his back on the entire debacle that he never should have entered in the first place.

    • I never heard him say anything that wasn’t in perfectly normal language.

      As to Iggy himself, no one is extolling him personally….it’s the whole question of how Harvard, and higher education in general is seem as a bad thing in a politician. He’s not the first PhD in govt, and he won’t be the last….so it’s kind of important to sort this out.

  4. Canadians never had a problem with the fact that Mr Igantieff taught at Harvard. It was that he was unable to explain why he came back to Canada other than that he wanted to be prime minister. Whether this was unfair or not, it was the perception and Mr Ignatieff did not seem to grasp this.

    • He did explain it many times….perhaps you didn’t hear it. In any case, why should he have had to explain it at all? He’s a Canadian who wanted to come home and serve his country with all the knowledge and experience he’d gained abroad. Nothing wrong with that.

      • The voters, on the whole, thought there was something wrong with that. The voters in his own riding thought there was something wrong with that.

        At what point do you accept that it really was a big negative, rather than becoming indignant at the stupid proles that don’t seem to appreciate what a brilliant, patriotic genius he is?

      • You don’t have a reply button on your post for some reason AVR,
        so I’m doing it this way. We don’t have any indication that voters rejected Iggy because of Harvard. Indeed, there’s no reason why they would, other than Con attack ads.

  5. 1) The Liberal Party rejected Ignatieff in the 2006 Leadership Convention. Grassroots Liberals rejected him, yet the Liberal Party establishment foisted him upon the Liberal Party and the country anyway.

    2) The Conservative Ad campaign just repeated all the arguments against Ignatieff that Liberals themselves used in 2006.

    3) Niall Ferguson doesn’t go around pretending to be an American.

    4) The problem isn’t Harvard. It is that Ignatieff was totally uninterested in Canada, i.e. in Meech/Charlottetown, in Canada’s sovereign debt crisis, in the 2nd Quebec referendum. Important existential stuff happened in Canada in the 35 years he was away and none of that important stuff seemed to interest him in the least to return to participate in the debate.

    • When you vote for a leader, you can only pick one….that doesn’t mean you ‘reject’ the others. There is no ‘Liberal party establishment’ foisting anything on anyone. After Dion’s resignation, Iggy was the only person running for the position. I don’t recall Liberals saying such things about Iggy, although I’m sure some people did.

      I have no idea what Niall Ferguson has to do with any of this.

      And as to Iggy being ‘uninterested’, he was in fact the person the Brits and Americans asked when they were reporting on those events. Iggy followed them closely.

      • He wasn’t in Canada. He was out of the country for thirty years. A majority of the electorate considered him unqualified to be PM, and we can safely infer that the out-of-the-country/prancing-around-academia issue was a major factor in that. You can keep arguing that, in fact, he was awesome, until you’re blue (heh) in the face, but who do you think is being convinced at this point?

      • Of course he was in the country AVR, he has friends and family and colleagues here….and there are planes and trains you know. No we can’t ‘safely infer’ any such nonsense as ‘prancing around academia…that’s absurd. As I said at the beginning, it’s not about Ignatieff alone, but everyone who works abroad. Is Wayne Gretsky not a Canadian now?

        • If Wayne Gretzky wanted to run for PM after all his time in the US, I can’t say I’d feel he was qualified. He’s still a Canadian, but he’s been absent an awful long time, and apart from the odd sporting event never really seems interested in Canada. He would likely have an easier time getting over that criticism than Ignatieff did though, because he’s a national hero of sorts.

          • The question is not whether he’s qualified…Iggy certainly was….the question is when we got into this stupid ‘real Canadian’ crap.

          • No, the question is was he qualified in the eyes of the electorate (not just you). And where i similarly would wonder about motivation in your counterexample if Gretzky was suddenly the leader of a political party and asking to be prime minister, he’d at least have national hero on his resume to counter anyone attacking him for not being attached enough to this country.

            In the case of Mr Ignatieff, it’s also a point against him, and while on its own it does not exclude him, he failed to deliver enough motivation to overlook it. There’s nothing wrong with the path Mr Ignatieff took in his career. But it’s a terrible path if your end goal is prime minister. Maybe if he’d spent 10 or 15 years as a supporting member before running for the position of leader.

          • Oh I doubt anyone thought Iggy was unqualified to do the job.

            As to Gretzky….is he Canadian enough for you or isn’t he? Lots of famous Canadians live and work outside Caada without having their citizenship questioned.

          • Obviously, many people did. Or they wouldn’t have hit record low seat counts and had their leader lose his own seat…

            As to Gretzky, he’s Canadian just as Ignatieff is. I don’t think I could vote for him as prime minister though, I was just mentioning that as a national hero, he could probably get over the extended absence easier. This isn’t like birtherism in the states where it’s some technicality over whether it’s even legal for Ignatieff to be PM. If he got the support, he could be, despite being out of the country his whole adult life (again, nothing wrong with this as a life choice, just an unlikely path to follow to become PM). But i guess people thought differently about that than you did.

          • People vote the way they do for a lot of reasons….but nobody thought Ignatieff was unqualified. Today a poll is out showing many people voted NDP as a protest, not a swing to the left. This stuff about ‘how Canadian you are’ is exactly like ‘birtherism’ in the US. A lot of blather about nothing.

  6. To echo some of the other commenters, the Harvard thing was maybe #23 or so on Ignatieff’s list of problems.

    More problematic was the fact that he came back to Canada after a historically unprecedented 34 years so he could take a shot at becoming PM. Even some of Ignatieff’s Harvard friends admitted that “It did seem like something of a long shot.”

  7. Erm. I came to this comments section by clicking the link below the Elizabeth May article…

    Macleans: Your new comments section look, feel, and execution all suck. Please go back to the old system.

    • @briguyhfx is right, comments from the May post link here.

  8. So… a duly elected member of parliament is 2nd class unless they work for an old boy’s club?

    Ours is supposed to be a system based on MPs. The power is supposed to be theirs, not subject to a hierarchy of elitism.

    I didn’t vote Green, but I find this highly offensive.

  9. For god’s sake, are our comments so meaningless that you think you can just lump the responses from different articles together in a homogenous mass? Tell me this is a bug of some sort.

    I don’t mind change, but so far this one is a total fail.

    And by the way, people like to be able to disagree, and removing the thumbs down option is a pretense of political correctness I can guarantee most of your commenters are not happy about.

    Let us disagree with one another for pete’s sake. That’s the generator of at least half the debate here, and without a visual outlet, it’s just a dumbing down of opinion.

    I used to spend most of my time commenting on the Globe and Mail. I came here because it was free-flowing, open and people could directly respond in varioius ways.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!