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President of what?
George W. Bush led the Delta Kappa Epsilon branding regime at my university. Now he wants to lead the free world.

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By Simon Rodberg

Oct. 6, 1999 | Humorist Calvin Trillin recounts a story of returning to Yale in 1970, 13 years after his graduation, and asking a group of seniors if anyone in their class would become president.

The students looked befuddled. One asked, "President of what?"

Trillin's visit missed George W. Bush by a couple of years -- the GOP hopeful graduated from Yale in 1968 -- but the point is a good one: What makes this man presidential material? By all accounts, Bush's Yale career included as little public service as one could imagine, though he did volunteer his time as president of the notorious Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Garry Trudeau, Yale class of 1970 and "Doonesbury" author, recently reported that DKE's notable accomplishment under Bush's leadership was branding its pledges with the fraternity symbol.

Ouch.

I wanted to be president once. I stuffed my bookshelf with tomes like "A Young American's Guide to Politics" and "Young Abe Lincoln," went to work in the Senate when I was 14 and, yes, bought "Doonesbury" collections to brush up on recent political history.

Then Bill Clinton happened -- and I don't mean the Monica affair. I remember saving the 1992 election special of Time magazine, the one featuring Bill biting his lower lip beside the headline "A Man From Hope." I also remember throwing it out, after the campaign finance scandals and the innumerable political betrayals, after everyone but Bill himself realized that eight years in office would leave him no legacy worth remembering. I remember thinking to myself: Is this what it takes to be president? Why would anyone bother?

If Trillin visited Yale with his question today, I don't know where I'd look for an answer.

But maybe I'd start in the DKE house. Like George W. Bush, the fraternity has matured. They no longer brand their pledges. Rumpus, the campus tabloid, reported last year that the "Buttholes" -- as the frat brothers are delicately known -- now only have to endure minor tortures, like pouring honey and salsa into each other's rectums.

I think of these activities as a sort of White House warm-up. Following George W. Bush's example, future presidential candidates needn't come from the prize-winners, the Phi Beta Kappas or the Political Union secretaries. No, the future president will more likely emerge from the ranks of the sodden, the wild, the on-academic-probation masses yearning to do coke.

At Yale, those already vying for political office are called "hacks" and "tools" -- labels that reflect a general American disdain for politicians. Given this disdain, why would the best and brightest ever want to run the country? And as Bush's popularity shows, who really wants them to?

Next page | "Compassionate" and "conservatism" in the same sentence!



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