If you ever wander around campus on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, you may run into a curious spectacle. You are likely to see a bunch of people with seemingly nothing better to do than sit around college common rooms drinking, banging gavels, and discussing some terribly obscure or dreadfully obvious “resolutions.” Sadly, I am usually one of those people, and you probably ran into a meeting of one of the parties of the Yale Political Union (YPU). The political union is by no means a “cool” organization. If you ever come to its events you will find that the proportion of people with a fixation with becoming president and those who like to drink on weekdays is abnormally high, even for Yale. Surprisingly, some of the political union people do make it big. The most famous example right now is John Kerry.
If I had to paint a portrait of a typical YPU guy, I would simply take a picture of John Kerry to save time — not today’s Senator Kerry, but a young John Kerry when he was still a student at Yale College. Kerry was the quintessential, stereotypical “YPU man.” The News’ article about Kerry’s life at Yale, published on Feb. 14, 2003, provides a lot of insight into his early personality (“Kerry ’66: ‘He was going to be president'”). Apparently, one of the first things he told his freshman year roommates was that he was going to be president one day. He clearly had nothing better to think about, such as de-bunking his bed or freshman English. Okay, fine, we all did some pretty silly stuff when we arrived at Yale. Kerry’s problem was that he apparently never got better during his years at Yale.
Just like many members of the YPU, Kerry was an amazing speaker. In fact he was probably the best. And it seems that at Yale, he was generally disliked.
The Yale Liberal Party, of which I am a member and John Kerry used to be chairman, passes on many unpleasant stories about him. According to Liberal Party lore, Kerry was among the worst chairs in its history. Jorge Dominguez, currently a professor at Harvard and a member of Kerry’s Liberal Party Executive Board, reports that under Kerry’s leadership the party went on YPU probation. Probation means that the party’s leader could not get enough of the party’s members to sign a YPU attendance roster. Although getting people to sign in turns out to be a surprisingly arduous job, very few chairmen fail to do it in the end. Not getting enough signatures suggest one of two things: either the chairman faced some unfortunate circumstances or he has some personality problems. According to Dominguez, Kerry’s leadership caused his probation.
In order to get back at Kerry, members of the Liberal Party formed the Dixwell Society. By now, the group is largely defunct, although it still officially meets during Liberal Party reunions and its story gets retold for everyone wishing to hear. The society’s major point was to include every former chairmen except one who most people disliked. You can guess who. In addition, the News’ article reports that due to its conflict with Kerry part of the Liberal Party split off to form the Party of the Left.
But wasn’t Kerry later elected YPU president? It is true that he got elected. It proves much less then you think, however. First of all, the YPU presidency is a hard and often thankless job that very few people actually want. A person usually becomes political union president through some mixture of personal desire and Tammany Hall-like backroom deals. In my experience, very few political union officers get elected because they are liked or respected.
Personally, I would not let Kerry circa 1966 run a public toilet, let alone a country. Hopefully, today’s Kerry is a different man. Perhaps his service in Vietnam changed him for the better. Perhaps time has changed him. But maybe he has not changed. Recently Kerry mentioned that George Bush remains the same guy he was in college. If Bush didn’t change, why would Kerry?
Every time I go to a political union debate, I shudder to think one of those YPU people I see in front of me may one day run the country. It may happen sooner than I expect. Although I certainly do not think a hard-drinking frat boy of the George Bush kind is any better prepared for the presidency. Still, Democrats ought to consider other options. Edwards anyone?