Watergate: Camelot Regained?

Harvard-graduated politicians had it pretty good during the glory days of Camelot. From the Kennedy brothers on down they enjoyed a special sort of respect during the early part of the 60s: People admired them for their style and grace, and not least of all for their intelligence. The folks back home in Cambridge took extra pride in their Washington-based brethren and were generally relieved that "we" were back in power again.

Vietnam changed all that. It was a group of Harvard men, after all, that dragged us by hook and by crook into the war. And it was another group of Harvard men, serving another administration, that helped keep us in the war when most everyone else wanted out. If Harvard's image suffered because of Vietnam, that is well and just. Harvard's involvement in the war was nothing to be proud of.

But Harvard has not survived for three and a half centuries by letting its enormous institutional pride be too easily wounded. Nor has it survived by questioning its intimate relationship to the pinnacles of power. Harvard likes to think of that relationship as a proper and natural one, one that serves the interests of the nation. Watergate, coming as it did on the heels of the Vietnam debacle, gave this university the perfect opportunity to resurrect its much-adored self-image as the home of respectable political leadership.

Like the McCarthy hearings of the 50s, Watergate is the type of political event about which liberals can easily draw the distinction between right and wrong. With the exception of presidential lawyer James D. St. Clair, a Law School graduate and lecturer, Harvard men who have been actively involved in bringing the case to its resolution over the past year have been on the "right" side with near uniformity. The result of all this has been a rebolstering of Harvard's conception of itself and a return to the sense of glory that predominated during the Kennedy administration.

The way people around here construed last October's Saturday Night Massacre as one of Harvard's finest moments is a good example of the effect the whole affair had on this place. During that dramatic confrontation between the forces of good and evil, the decisive difference between the two camps appeared to some to be a Harvard education. The three heroes of the hour, Archibald Cox '34, Williston Professor of Law, Elliot L. Richardson '41 and William Ruckelshaus, a 1960 graduate of the Law School, were held to be typical of what Harvard-trained politicians were all about. Dean Rosovsky summed up the feelings of folks in Cambridge that night when he said, "We're very proud of them all, proud of the role of Harvard men in government."


President Bok made a surprise appearance at Memorial Church early one morning soon after the Massacre to praise Cox and to make clear the relevance of the matter to Harvard. "In retrospect," he said, "it appears that he taught us more in government service that he could have hoped to achieve in those Harvard classrooms where we welcome him back with admiration."

Bok did well to choose this occassion to make one of his infrequent stetement's one national issues because Cox's deeds in Washington deserve praise and admiration. But the accompanying sense that Cox was performing as a Harvard teacher may not be appropriate as some may like to think it. And Cox's remarkable display of courage during his last term in Washington may not be typical at all of the Harvard-trained politician.

If Harvard ever had a just pride in the role its alumni play in American politics, that pride can not be restored so quickly after the moral disgrace of Vietnam. Elliot Richardson can not approve of the Christmas bombings of Hanoi as a government official one day and then turn around and serve as an ideal of moral politics the next because he stuck with Archibald Cox. Things do not work that easily. Despite Watergate and Archibald Cox, Harvard needs to do a lot more soul searching about its relationship to the seats of power.