Harvard Hates America, by John LeBoutillier, South Bend, Ind.: Gateway Editions, 1978, 161 pp., $7.95.
Mr. LeBoutillier has written a very fine title. Unfortunately, readers attracted by that title will find that the title is much better than the book. This fact does not, however, become clear until one has been fairly well entertained by the first long chapter in which the author recounts the story of his sophomore tutorial in 1973 as a Harvard history concentrator, interspersing it with other anecdotes about his time as a Harvard undergraduate. According to LeBoutillier's memory the class began with the following speech from his tutor:
"I don't give a shit about American history. I don't give a damn about facts or dates or any of that traditional crap. Hell, I don't even know what year the Civil War began. As far as I'm concerned, that type of history just plays along with the right-wing fascists who run this country…the very people I'm dedicated to overthrowing."
As the author continues to report his memories of the tutor (who turns out to be living in luxury off the money of his wife, who is the daughter of a wealthy banker), one gets really interested in what the book will contain. To be sure, the reported academic atrocities just aren't very shocking to anyone who spent the late '60s and early '70s in an academic surrounding. (Somehow people seem to be forgetting that a lot of what is called "the '60s" happened in the early '70s.) Nonetheless, this tale by a recent graduate is entertaining and raised in me the hope that LeBoutillier had been led by this disillusioning tutorial to spend his remaining years at Harvard in cataloguing similar instances in order to make the case for his splendid title. But what a disappointment lies in store, for the next four chapters deal with his relationship with the Republican Party!
Even LeBoutillier's Republican adventures begin interestingly enough and help to reveal both charm and the very considerable abilities he must possess. He was deeply moved by the desire of a former Vietnam POW, Lt. Colonel Leo K. Thorsness, to run for the Senate seat of George McGovern. On impulse, LeBoutillier called Thorsness in South Dakota and offered to help in his primary campaign for the Republican nomination. Thorsness told him that the principal need was for money, so from his college room LeBoutillier began to raise money, using letters and follow-up phone calls. In the end, he raised more money 2,000 miles away than Thorsness raised in South Dakota. As a result, LeBoutillier became finance chairman of Thorsness's general election campaign against McGovern, which is of course a rather surprising place for a 20-year-old college student to find himself.
The reader is now subjected to the tale of LeBoutillier's inevitable disillusionment with the inept outfit that is the Republican Party. At this point one would have hoped that LeBoutillier, who already was aware of the vices of the Democrats, might have encountered the Libertarians as likely beneficiaries of his fund-raising talents. But, alas for us all, and especially for the reader, what he actually does is undertake a long dissertation on why he is a Republican and what he thinks the Republican Party should be. If one is reading the book for an exposé of the anti-American sins of Harvard University, one begins to lose patience.
To make a long, long story short, LeBoutillier decides to remain a Republican because of his admiration for the principles of some of the founders of the party. I am not an expert in American political history, but I recognize romanticized history when I read it, and Mr. LeBoutillier's history of Republicanism is much romanticized.
On the basis of this renewed devotion to Republicanism, he constructs a program for his party consistent with his view of its origin. I will forego a report of this program in favor of a short quotation that will tell readers of REASON all they need or want to know about it: "We need to reaffirm the idea that the federal government does have a purpose. And that purpose is to guarantee to each family the availability of education, homes, nutrition, and medical care. Yet, we also need to return to the idea that, as Lincoln said, 'government should only do for people what they can't do for themselves.'" With such vision Mr. LeBoutillier hopes to give us a reasonable alternative to the Democrats!
In the end I felt cheated by this book. The title promised a very different book from what I found inside. I should add, however, that in spite of that feeling I found it hard not to like John LeBoutillier. He seems an impressive and able young man. He retains a pleasing sincerity and a rather attractive naiveté. I suspect that he would be a very likable person. On top of all of this, his adventures to this point show very considerable courage. Thus, I can only hope that his later experiences will lead him to see the dead-end he is headed for with the Republican Party. Perhaps some day he will even want to write a book that does what his title led one to expect this time. He can call it America Hates the Republican Party, but it can be about Harvard University.
Charles King, a professor of philosophy at Pomona College, is a Harvard graduate.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Harvard Hates America".