The Harvard Stigma

In 1976, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan first ran for the Senate in New York, he was up against incumbent Republican James Buckley, brother of the famous conservative philosopher and commentator Bill Buckley. Moynihan had served in the Kennedy and Nixon administrations in a variety of capacities, including Secretary of Labor and ambassador to India and the United Nations. But at the time of the 1976 campaign, Moynihan was teaching at Harvard University which then was not considered a stepping stone to public office.

When Moynihan and Buckley met in a televised debate, Buckley did not address Moynihan as Secretary Moynihan or Ambassador Moynihan. He very carefully and slowly addressed him as "Professor Moynihan." "Oooo," Moynihan purred, "the mudslinging has begun."

I have been reminded of that seminal event in political history as I watch the brittle contest for the Senate in Massachusetts where Republican Scott Brown is trying to defend his seat from challenger Elizabeth Warren. Brown won the seat two years ago in a special election to replace Ted Kennedy, and is now trying to win a full six year term. Republicans are an endangered species in Massachusetts, but Brown has a folksy charm that seems to transcend party loyalty. He spins around the state in his old pickup truck conveying the image of the common man standing up for ordinary people against the elite insiders in Washington.

Warren, of course, is a Harvard professor like Moynihan was, only she does not have Moynihan's track record of public service. She is almost a caricature of the eastern liberal elite intellectual and makes no apology for it. If elected, she will probably take her place to the far left of everyone else in the Senate. When they met in debates, Brown addressed her as Professor Warren which in this case was perfectly proper. It is the highest title she has ever held, and it accurately reflects her background and point of view.

Both candidates are attractive, intelligent, and articulate. The latest polls I have seen have them dead even. For his part, Brown has gone to great pains to distance himself from the right wing fringe of his party which is anathema to voters in Massachusetts. But, of course, he is still a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Warren rose to public prominence on the basis of her work helping create the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau, a new government agency charged to curb the worst excesses of Wall Street and the finance community. The political left wanted her to serve as chairman of the new agency, but her reputation for anti-business extremism prevented that.

It would be interesting watching Warren tweaking conservative Republicans in the Senate, but that would be unlikely to foster consensus. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Scott Brown and think him the better choice. The last thing we need in Congress today is more extremists of left or right. Brown is a pragmatist who seeks the middle ground. That is exactly the attitude we need most in Washington today.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.