It Couldn't Happen Here

Poisoned Ivy By Benjamin Hart Stein and Day; 254pp.; $16.95

ONE PASSAGE in this book is so extraordinary it is worth quoting outright:

Downstairs, on the slime coated floor of the basement, one could find what was known to the administration...as a horror show. Mike Lempress had chugged his tenth straight beer and had some notion of breaking the all-time Dartmouth record of thirty-three. He failed, but not from want of trying.

Buddy Teevens, the starting Dartmouth quarterback, had convinced a freshman to place a beer cup on his head, the idea being that Buddy would try and knock the plastic cup off by throwing a beer keg at it. It turned out that Buddy was better at throwing footballs than kegs--much better. Buddy missed and the poor freshman spent the rest of the night in the clinic, a not-uncommon consequence of the sport popularly known as William Tell...

But a smallish fellow, by the name of Charlie, stole the show when he used his forehead to cruch an unopened can of beer. He stood the can on its end and smashed his head squarely on its top. As the metal sides of the container burst, beer flew all over the room. Life in the fraternity basement, despite its lack of class, had a certain primitive charm. I decided I would probably join the house in the spring; most of the people there knew how to have a good time.

A certain primitive charm?

Poisoned Ivy, Ben Hart's attack on the Dartmouth administration that fought his beloved fraternities, is a silly book. But it is also an important and interesting one, because it presents a telling example of the thought of a young conservative today.

Most of this book is not a description of Dartmouth drinking habits, but a dissection of the blight of liberalism at the Hanover, New Hampshire campus. Slings and arrows fly at many targets in Poisoned Ivy--the Dartmouth administration, mushy-headed liberals, activists of any kind, modern education--but the main point of this rather pointy book is simply that conservatives have more, well, fun.

Hart, one of the founders of the brash Dartmouth Review and the son of a Dartmouth English professor who is an editor of the equally level-headed. National Review, isn't content to annex only John Kennedy for the Republicans now that the Democrats have slipped off the left side of the earth. He wants it all: Football, drinking, girls (but only the cute ones who wash and wear bras), plus homey things like the flag, religion and the family, which President Reagan has already claimed. If Hart is to be believed, conservatives have irrevocably cornered the market in pleasure commodities. Liberals, particularly those who support affirmative action (which Hart, taking a cue from hero William F. Buckley, Jr., calls "reverse discrimination") are introspective ideologues wracked with guilt and shot through with hypocrisy. Can you imagine them throwing a party?

THE BOOK is the bittersweet tale of one boy's love-hate relationship with Dartmouth. Hart entered the school in 1977 and found himself, happily, rooming with Jeff Kemp, now quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams and the son of congressman Jack. There were dignified professors with whom to study Shakespeare and St. Thomas Aquinas, and the splendrous White Mountain scenery to enjoy.

But outside his close circle of reonoclastic conservative friends (the most outrageous and witty one wears an "I Love Ron" button and tugs a rubber shark on a leash when he goes to nuclear freeze rallies) Hart was pitted against what he calls the liberal "ethos" that diseased the administration and most of the student body.

The ethos, according to Hart, is an all-out attack on the Western tradition. "Area studies" (such as Afro-Am or Native American studies) supplanted the clasics. Flag burning replaced flag waving. Worst of all "during the late sixties, cultural relativism settled in as the orthodoxy at Dartmouth. 'Value judgements" were evil. We were to be 'non-judgemental.' What they really meant to say was that the core values of the West were now defunct."

The ethos was also unbending. Those who challenged it endangered their academic lives. In the middle of a hockey game, a student skated out onto the ice dressed as an Indian (the Dartmouth symbol which was thrown out by the administration because it was offensive to Native Americans on campus). The crowd went wild. The administration, however didn't join the cheering. They suspended the student, then removed the suspension and imposed a strange penalty; the student had to take a Native American student to lunch every week for a year.

And Hart's descriptions of left-wing rallies are pint-sized imitations of Tom Wolfe's roasts of the trendy liberals of the sixties:

"I've always expressed my concern for the underprivileged," said the pretty little red-haired girl as she leaned forward in her pink pants suit, fur collar, and "Abortion Now!" button.

Afros, pony-tails, goatees, leather jackets, funny-looking shoes, Trotsky glasses, foul smells, guitars, pot fumes, couples of all sexual peculiarities making out, women nursing babies. It was all there...