James E. Doyle

Courtesy of M. Stewart

IOP Fellow Jim Doyle

In this mini-series, Flyby profiles one of the seven fall 2012 IOP Fellows each week. This week: James E. Doyle.

After four decades away, Harvard Law School graduate and former Governor of Wisconsin James E. Doyle has returned to Cambridge as an IOP fellow, noting that many aspects of the Harvard Square atmosphere have changed.

"I was here in the 70's, and let's just say the world was different. You could get high just walking from one end of Harvard Square to the other," Doyle joked.

However, many parts of Doyle's life, such as his passion for politics, have stayed the same. Both Doyle's parents were active members of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, allowing Doyle to grow up meeting politicians such as Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy '40.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1967, Doyle served in the Peace Corps and then came to Cambridge to study at HLS.

With such a politically charged background, Doyle returned to Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked in law. After serving as an attorney for 30 years, he felt compelled to run for governor in 2002 and defeated the Republican incumbent.

"It was really a question of leadership. The incumbent was a nice person, and I had known him for years, but there were a number of issues," Doyle said.

Doyle served two terms as governor. He acknowledged that politics are a tough game and that it takes a certain kind of person to be a politician.

"I probably shouldn't say this at the Kennedy School, but politics isn't about policy. It's about people," Doyle said.

However, Doyle admitted that politics isn't always pleasant. In his study group at the IOP, Politics as a Noble Pursuit, Doyle discusses both the good and the bad in politics.

"[Politics] is a tough—at times nasty, at times exhilarating—business, and I really want students to think hard about whether this is something they might want to do," Doyle said.

Meeting every Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the IOP, the study group has featured notable guests including New Mexico Senator Thomas S. Udall and Governor Deval L. Patrick '78.

After Doyle finished his second term as governor, he decided to apply to be a IOP fellow because of his admiration of the Kennedy School’s namesake.

"I went in the Peace Corps completely and entirely because I was inspired by [John F.] Kennedy. Being able to come back and be at the place that's the living memorial to his commitment to service is really incredible for me," Doyle said.

While Doyle's days of electoral politics have ended, he said he is positive about the future of American politics and the country.

"If anyone has worries about the future of America, they can just come to a place like this. It doesn't have to be Harvard—any college across the country. You walk away from there realizing that we're going to be okay," Doyle said.