Before they were presidential candidates in 2004, they were presidents at Yale in the 1960s.
Years before he would move onto the White House, George W. Bush ’68 ruled the roost as President of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. And before John Kerry ’66 hit the campaign trail, he practiced his rhetorical skills as President of the Yale Political Union.
Members of DKE and the YPU do not often cross paths on campus. But nearly 30 years after Bush and Kerry left New Haven, the two groups — and their respective student presidents, in particular — suddenly find themselves with something in common.
Richard “Dickie” Shanor ’05, a right-wing Midwestern man, has filled “Dubya’s” cowboy boots as the current President of DKE. Lindsay Bliss ’06, a Libertarian from the “Constitution State,” now holds the podium where Kerry once stood as the President of the YPU. The two have never met.
Yale has changed a great deal since the era when Bush and Kerry presided over their respective organizations. Women are no longer imported for formal dances, jacket and tie are no longer required in the dining halls, and rap has replaced rock. But one thing remains the same: Politics plays a role in nearly every facet of campus life, from Cross Campus to the classroom.
Shanor and Bliss head very different organizations: DKE, an athletic frat known for its annual drinking competition, and YPU, the formal podium debate society. Nonetheless, despite the very different stereotypes revolving around their respective organizations, the two leaders both follow in a long tradition of Yalies with strong political convictions.
Formerly spotted in a red, white and blue cape spreading his American spirit on the ice at Ingalls Rink, Shanor is one student for whom politics and patriotism go hand-in-hand. The Wyoming resident and retired Captain Freedom is never hesitant to boast his national pride. His voicemail message even ends in an emphatic “Long live America.”
Describing himself as a “partisan Republican” or “very adamantly right wing,” Shanor said he will definitely vote for Bush come election day. But though he shares these political views with his now famous DKE predecessor, he was reluctant to take the comparison any further.
“I wouldn’t draw too many comparisons other than the fact that we belong to the same fraternity and went to the same university and have similar beliefs,” Shanor said. “I can only hope to be in as good of shape and to have as much hair on my head when I am his age.”
Like Shanor, Bliss, whose friends describe her as “thoughtful, dedicated and strong-willed,” dodged comparisons with her presidential-candidate forerunner. Raised in Westport, Conn. by Libertarian parents, Bliss said she will vote for Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik come election day.
“Being in Connecticut, it doesn’t look like there is going to be a small marginal victory, so I want to take my first presidential election as an opportunity to make a statement,” she said.
After serving last year as the president of the Yale Libertarian Party, Bliss decided she wanted to help the Union expand its membership and improve its debates. At the time Kerry lead the YPU in 1964, the Union was one of the most influential organizations on campus, drawing ambitious orators to its debates. But in recent years, as Yale’s political environment has expanded, the membership of the Union has dropped, Bliss said.
Bliss, however, said she did not think the decline was indicative of a decrease in political interest on campus.
“[The decline] is more a sign of the diversity of organizations on campus,” she said. “If you go back as far as the 1960s, there was this sense that if you are an intelligent man on campus, this is what you do. That is no longer the case because there are so many other areas in which Yalies can excel.”
Although the number of fraternities on campus has grown as the student body has become more diverse, DKE has not suffered the same membership decline as the YPU. Through its long history, Yale’s DKE, the “mother chapter” of the national fraternity, has consistently produced noteworthy public figures. Both Bush senior and the current President boasted the title of DKE President while in the Elm City, and a total of five US presidents were all members of DKE in different chapters nationwide.
Nonetheless, Shanor said he would not describe his brotherhood as inherently political.
“I think it’s some luck and some just pure chance that it seems to attract the type of man that aspires to be a leader,” he said.
In the same DKE house where rowdy hordes of partiers chug pitchers of lukewarm beer hangs a picture titled “Mt. DKEmore,” which highlights the fraternity’s famous faces.
But neither Shanor nor Bliss felt they would see their own visages carved in stone anytime soon. When asked whether she felt she was “more beautiful, as beautiful, or less beautiful” than Kerry, Bliss modestly said she thought Kerry, the budding public figure, must have been a rather “charming fellow” in his undergraduate years. Though in top physical form as an offensive lineman on the football team, Shanor also ranked his physical appearance as inferior to the President.
Beauty aside, Shanor said it is Bush’s policies that have garnered his vote.
“I believe he has a clear vision of the future and that he is the best man to handle the war on terror, which I believe is the number one issue facing us and the world right now,” he said,
Likewise, Bliss said that if forced to pick between the two major party candidates, she would choose the DKE brother over the former YPU debater. Despite Bliss’ political interests, however, she said she does not envision herself ever running for president. Bliss is a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry major planning on entering medical school after college.
“I don’t think I would be prepared to subject my life to the public like that,” she said. “I consider myself a very personal individual, and I couldn’t do that to my family.”
The White House is not on Shanor’s agenda either, but the aspiring criminal prosecutor would not turn down a political opportunity should it land on his plate.
“I would never say no to being president, but I’m not counting on it,” he said. “But I do love my country very much, and any form of service to it would be a desired position for me.”
And although DKE and YPU may be in competition on the national scale, at Yale, the rancor has not created any animosity. Shanor and Bliss both expressed mutual respect for each other’s organizations.
Taking it one step further, Shanor even spoke on behalf of his brothers to open DKE’s doors to YPU members: “DKE would like to give a formal invitation to all members of the YPU to our Mortician’s Ball on the eve of Halloween, October 30th.”