Harvard grapples with rejection

Harvard is far more accustomed to giving rather than receiving rejection. But in the wake of the devastating electoral rejection of alumnus/professor Michael Ignatieff and the Canadian Liberal Party, the university community is struggling to cope.  As Tamsin McMahon of Canada's National Post chortles, "Boston's chattering classes are struggling with the stunning political defeat of one of Harvard's most popular academics at the hands of Canadian voters, painting Michael Ignatieff's historic loss as Liberal leader as a new low in Canadian politics."

Keep in mind that the putative best-and-brightest Ignatieff didn't just lose an election, under his leadership, the most dominant political party in the Western world, holding power for 69 years of the 20th century and the first 5 years of the 21st, lost its status as the Loyal Opposition, dropping to number 3 behind the loony left New Democratic Part.  Humiliatingly, Ignatieff lost his seat in Canadian Parliament, to boot. He immediately resigned as the Party's leader.

Harvard degree holder Barack Obama continues to hold the American presidency, of course, but as auguries go, the utter rejection of Ignatieff is downright scary to denizens of the 02138 zip code, and elsewhere in Blue State America. Which explains why so little media attention has been directed at the startling Canadian election results. You can bet your last dollar that if the Conservatives had lost power, the American media would have trumpeted the voters' decision.

Ominously, Canadian and American  pundits alike completely failed to predict the Conservative sweep in Canada, just as so many now predict with high confidence that Obama is all but undefeatable in 2012.

To American liberals, Canada has always seemed a kinder, gentler, more enlightened land of  government-provided health care, excellent mass transit, "smart growth" apartment living, and all but permanent liberal dominance. To have Canada  reject one of Harvard's own thus stings like a bite from a serpent's tooth.

The Boston Globe, which generally treats Harvard as family, featured an unintentionally hilarious front page story:

At Harvard, he was a superstar - a handsome and popular academic with crossover appeal whose essays appeared in the New Yorker and whose fiction was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

His foreign policy classes were oversubscribed, and students scrambled for invitations to the dinners he hosted at his residence at Mather House. Few from the Kennedy School have appeared on the cover of GQ. But he did.

Then Michael Ignatieff's charmed life became something else entirely when he plunged into the surprisingly caustic world of Canadian politics in 2005.

How could they? The ingrates!

Having spent a couple of decades at Harvard myself, in both student and faculty capacities, I am well familiar with the mindset which regards political power as the natural, virtually inescapable consequence of the sheer brilliance one is presumed to have by virtue of one's presence at Harvard. It is part of the illusion that sustains the kind of driven people who excel at the demands Harvard and other elitist academic institution place upon them.

For all the left wing complaints over supposed rising income inequality in America, the real social and political transformation of America over the last few decades consists of the increasing dominance of a tiny, self-referential academic elite over the political and economic life of the nation. Voters on both sides of the 49th Parallel have noticed that this rise of the purportedly brilliant minds has not led to better decisions or outcomes.

Hat tip: Herbert Meyer
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