George Bush was in one, Bill Weld was in one, Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn was in one. The 1990 Professional Golf Association (PGA) Championship was going to be held at one. In the not-so-distant past, any American trying to "get ahead" might have wanted to join one.
But times have changed. For those entering politics today, membership in exclusive private clubs--such as the nine all-male final clubs at Harvard--is as often a stigma as a social asset.
In the case of Weld--an active member of the Fly Club in his undergraduate days--the potential political liability is strong enough that he has severed most of his ties with the club "I haven't been there is years," Weld said yesterday when asked about his Fly Club ties.
Club President Bertram G. Waters '60 said that Weld "has completely disassociated himself with the club" because of its unisex membership. He said that Weld, who has capitalized on his prochoice stand on abortion rights, would not want to alienate women voters by making use of his final club ties.
"It's irrelevant as far as the campaign goes," Walters said.
Although membership in exclusive clubs is by no means a barrier to political success-George Bush was a member of the Skull and Bones society in his days at Yale University--past involvement in such organizations has come under increasing public scrutiny in the past decade.
From senators to Ivy League administrators, all types of American leadership--even those which traditionally represent the elite--have adopted the anti-discrimination cause.
Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D--Ohio) stated the argument bluntly in an April 23 New York Times editorial. A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he supported a proposal to condemn membership in discriminatory clubs among judicial appointees.
"Membership in a discriminatory club raises serious questions about a nominee's personal commitment to discrimination," Metzenbaum wrote, warning aspiring judges that they have "either got to resign from any discriminatory club or start changing the club's policies."
Nonetheless, in other branches of government, club membership is not as severe a liability. Since figures like Weld and Bush do not appear to be active members in their clubs today, they are not linked in the public eye with the organizations' discriminatory policies.
As Martin A. Linsky, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government, put it, "It didn't seem to hurt George Bush."