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Ignatieff learns “Harvard” a code word in Canadian politics, too

Posted by Mark Leccese  May 9, 2011 03:23 PM

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They don’t like Harvard in Canada either.

A story in this morning’s Globe, headlined “Harvard connection plays in Canadian’s loss,” reported how incumbent Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign used a statement Liberal Party candidate Michael Ignatieff had made to the Harvard Crimson in its ads attacking Ignatieff.

The ad shows a clip of Ignatieff on CSPAN in 2004 saying, “You have to decide what kind of American you want. It’s your country just as much as it is mine.” Then: a CBC audio clip from 2001 in which Ignatieff says, “I love the republic I live in.”

“No wonder he’ll ask Harvard to let him back,” the voice says, with malevolent sarcasm, while on the screen appears this November 30, 2005 quote from the Crimson: “If I am not elected, I imagine I will ask Harvard to let me back.”

The ad ends: “Ignatieff: He didn’t come back for you.”

The Globe headline was careful to say the Harvard connection “plays in” — and did not cause — Ignatieff’s loss. Most of the story was the reaction of Ignatieff’s former Harvard colleagues to his defeat.

Ignatieff lived outside Canada for more than 30 years, in the U.K. and the U.S., before returning in 2005, and that is what Harper’s ads hammered home.

But ponder this: If Ignatieff had been a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, would the ad have been as powerful?

No way. In politics — heck, in daily life — “Harvard” is a code word for “not like us.”

Remember how George H.W. Bush (Yale, Class of 1948) used “Harvard” to pound his opponent in the 1988 president election, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis?

In a speech on Houston on June 10, 1988, the Boston Globe reported, Bush stirred up with crowd with “When I wanted to learn the ways of the world, I didn’t go to the Kennedy School, I came to Texas,” and “Gov. Dukakis, his foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard’s boutique, would cut the muscle of our defense.”

The next day, Globe reporter Walter Robinson pressed Bush on using the code word “Harvard.”

Bush, asked yesterday whether his references to Dukakis’ Harvard connection were intended to raise the class issue, replied: “Not class.” Harvard is “kind of a philosophical enclave. I see this as a philosophical cult normally identified with extremely liberal causes.”

Bush, who denied that the same might be said of Yale, where he went to school, added, referring to Harvard Yard, “Out of that yard comes a specific Massachusetts liberalism.”

He was wrong on both counts, of course, and he knew it. Massachusetts liberalism did not grow at Harvard, and the code word “Harvard” most definitely meant — and still means — “a socioecominic class way above ours.”

In a post-election analysis, Globe reporter Mark Muro wrote:

“See, down here in Dallas, ‘Harvard’ and ‘Massachusetts’ are not nice words to conjure with,” reports Bill Murchison, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News.

That “Harvard” is not a nice word at first appears to be an astounding statement — I doubt anyone, in the heat of anger, would say, “Oh, go to Harvard” — but to conservatives it is a dirty word. Thirty-three years ago, a conservative Harvard grad who would go on to become a Congressman got a lot of press for his book Harvard Hates America.

In the event, the defeated Ignatieff did not ask Harvard to let him back. He took a job at the University of Toronto. Which, in the United States at least, is a code word only for “foreign.”

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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