The Tribes of Yale

Bush, the Clintons, and Dean at the Birth of a Culture War

The Democrats lack this depth of passion and focused clarity. They aren't as heated or as hardworking as the Republicans. They still sip sparkling water and make smug little jokes about Bush's malaprops. They keep telling themselves how much smarter and slicker they are than the boobs on the right and the bohunks in the middle. They still think that getting straight A's and appearing on television and having famous friends will dazzle the hoi polloi.

Both parties are led by women and men who believe it's their God-given right to make more messes—from the Yale Commons, to blighted cities, to White House sleeping arrangements, to failed health reform, to bankrupt companies, to gutted industries, to post-war Iraq. They count on a wide and appreciative following in the media to report their antics and a silent servant class to clean up the wreckage.

Animal houses: In the late '60s, a raucous Yale saw the rise of competing political elites.
illustration: W. David Fish
Animal houses: In the late '60s, a raucous Yale saw the rise of competing political elites.

Wrapped in their college-era insecurities and appetites, their hurts and their fears, they continue to sacrifice substance and progress on the domestic and foreign fronts to their internecine wrangles.

That's why the American public needs to find new political expressions and create new political responses in the years ahead. The present political landscape is like East Brooklyn or the South Bronx in 1980—devastated, stark, reduced to rubble, given up for dead. It is no irony that these fabled urban wastelands were rebuilt while the media were distracted by the posturing press conferences of Bush and Dean, Clinton and Rove. No great man or wonder woman, no sour ideologue or graying adolescent, accomplished this monumental task.

American politics is ripe for reconstruction and renewal by institutions and individuals who can imagine new structures and healthier dynamics. It's a landscape still largely occupied by decent, tolerant, moderate Americans. They are not waiting for a white knight. They could care less about the 40-year feud between one privileged left and two privileged rights.

They remain ready and willing to respond to those who respect the complexity and challenges of their daily lives and who speak to their needs and their dreams.

Michael Gecan is on the national staff of the nonprofit Industrial Areas Foundation. He is now based primarily in New York City and on Long Island. Gecan's recent book, Going Public (Beacon Press), is an account of some of the successes and challenges of organizing. A graduate of Yale, he studied history, the arts, and letters.

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