Thursday, April 18, 2024

Harvard’s Law School has a tea party group, and is hosting party-friendly events this month. (Photo: Eszter Hargittai)

Considering the tea party’s dislike of elites and Harvard’s position as the No. 1 breeding ground of those elites — and a belief, however overstated, that “Harvard hates the tea party” — it may surprise many to learn there is a tea party at Harvard.

No joke.

The Harvard Law School Tea Party, founded in the spring semester according to its website and presided over by students John Thorlin and Christopher Mills, advocates

for economic liberty in both legal theory and government policy. Our advocacy takes the form of inviting speakers to campus, holding public discussions, and airing our views through our blog and other campus media. We are unaffiliated with any national Tea Party groups or political parties and welcome friends of free market capitalism from across the political spectrum.

Neither the conservative media nor The Harvard Crimson seems to have written about the group despite an apparent burst of tea party energy on campus: A Conference on the Constitutional Convention co-hosted by liberal law professor Lawrence Lessig and the Tea Party Patriots group (separate from the law school group) is expected to draw 400 to talk Sept. 24-25 about “reducing the role of private money in politics, curbing corporate rights, increasing the number of members of Congress, term limits and expanding state rights,” according to a Reuters report. And the law school group is hosting a speech at 2 p.m. Wednesday on “The Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences” by John Allison, retired chairman and chief executive of the finance firm BB&T Corp. It is free and open to the public.

The claim of lack of affiliation with other tea party groups is interesting, since the wider tea party has been generally reported to be at best a loose conglomeration of people with their own squabbles about definition and representation. But the views of the law school circle can come across as hysterical as the complaints about their own institution.

Even as the most liberal of Harvard professors invites the tea party to campus to find commonalities, NewsBusters (“Exposing & Combating Liberal Media Bias”) blasted Harvard last month as haters based on a New York Times essay by Harvard’s Robert Putnam and Notre Dame’s David Campbell “regurgitating the CBS-Times polling on the alleged growing unpopularity of the Tea Party and calling the Tea Party ‘toxic’ for the GOP.” Citing that poll and their own data, Putnam and Campbell are quoted for six paragraphs dissecting numbers and applying analysis in what seems a fairly even-handed manner. For that, writer Tim Graham, director of media analysis at NewsBusters funder the Media Research Center, sums up that “Putnam and Campbell couldn’t more perfectly align themselves with the secular leftists at the Times” and his group slaps on the rather unearned headline “Harvard Hates the Tea Party: Xenophobic, Racist, Theocratic Whites Less Popular Than Muslims and Atheists.”

Graham not only shoots the messenger, but launches a bunch of nuclear missiles at the messenger and claims self-defense.

Critical thinking skills

Back at Harvard Law, Mills and Thorlin are blogging away with similar gusto and lack of leaps of logic. Theirs are the only names on the site, which makes one wonder just how many students or members of the Harvard community identify themselves as tea partyers, but Thorlin said Tuesday it would be wrong to think it’s tea for two.

“We don’t keep a members list because our goal is more bringing in speakers and airing views to the community at large than holding social events for people who already agree with us,” he said, mentioning that the group gained Law School approval to form only at the end of the last academic year. “That said, several dozen people have signed up for our e-mail distribution list or expressed a desire to volunteer to assist with our events.”

That e-mail list may be about to grow exponentially. The Allison speech has already drawn media inquiries from a variety of local and national media outlets and will be recorded by C-Span, Thorlin said.

They may even get more bloggers, or people who will give their blog posts a more critical read. From work done past spring, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

From April 18, written by Mills:

One of the “mental shortcuts” used by the left is the idea that “capitalists” are only pro-free market because they seek to dominate other social groups, and thus that capitalists tend to be racist, intolerant or just plain mean.

Being a staunch liberal and somewhat familiar with the liberal echo chamber, I’ve never heard this idea, much less thought it. Capitalists (no quotation marks needed, so far as I can tell) are pro free market because they want to make money and provide a good return for their shareholders, and as a class they can do some pretty brutal and possibly short-sighted things in pursuit of those goals. That can come across as mean, sure, but racist and intolerant? I’d be surprised to find anyone on the left believing and saying anything except that pure capitalists would exploit anyone at any time for good financial returns.

Thorlin follows that the next day by quoting a Wall Street Journal article as the underpinnings of saying, “Contrary to the Pollyanna expectations of Obama administration officials, the GM bailout appears to be heading out with a whimper,”but it’s worthwhile to add the context that the bailout began in 2008, under President George W. Bush and that it was, as the name more than suggests, a bailout — not a profit-making venture. “These are not ordinary circumstances. In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action,” Bush said, as quoted by the Journal in 2008.

Then, on April 22, Thorlin is back to weigh in on the National Labor Relations Board filing to force Boeing to return a production line to unionized facilities in Washington instead of moving to a nonunion plant in South Carolina. He writes:

I have trouble understanding the mentality of the NLRB members who filed this complaint. By what right do they tell a productive company that it has no right to decide for itself where it wishes to produce its goods? How can they look themselves in the mirror knowing that they are ruining the lives of thousands of honest workers in order to lend a political favor to their union cronies?

That sort of gleeful destructiveness is hideous to behold. It’s like seeing a man torture a dog, savoring his arbitrary power to cripple those subject to his control. It’s an utterly wasteful, depraved act, and it fills me with a sense of despair about the future of our country.

Well, okay. But what the board did was file a complaint so a judge could weigh in on whether Boeing was retaliating against striking workers, which is illegal.

So in this case, since the board is the man and Boeing is the dog, it’s really more like a man asking an impartial third party whether his dog has misbehaved and should be made to stop misbehaving. And discarding the metaphor, Thorlin seems to be saying that filing a complaint ruins the lives of Boeing workers in South Carolina (who are honest because they are not in a union) by possibly keeping work in Washington, but he isn’t bothered by Boeing ruining the lives of workers in Washington (who are dishonest because they are in a union) by moving work to South Carolina.

Also, “gleeful destructiveness”? The complaint reads, in part, “the relief requested by the acting general counsel does not seek to prohibit respondent from making nondiscriminatory decisions with respect to where work will be performed, including nondiscriminatory decisions with respect to work at its North Charleston, S.C., facility.” That not only doesn’t sound gleeful — it doesn’t even sound destructive or unreasonable.

Straw men arguments, selective facts, lack of context, flawed metaphor, over-the-top rhetoric …

Based on this level of reasoning, the tea party can stop hating Harvard. The school is much less elite than the conservatives think.

This post was updated Sept. 13, 2011, with comment from John Thorlin.