Pat Buchanan’s Case That Harvard Discriminates

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Yesterday’s Ross Douthat column mentioned a 2000 Pat Buchanan speech at Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics wherein “he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians.” Tim Fernholz, amidst a larger post about Douthat’s column, said in reply:

There is also plenty of evidence that Buchanan is wrong — starting with the fact that a plurality of Ivy Leaguers are white Christians. So Douthat has to draw a narrower case — that America’s elite colleges discriminate not just white Christians, but working-class, rural white Christians. Oh, and the presumption is that they must be his kind of Christian — you can’t be liberal and Christian, nor “elite” and a Christian. As Adam notes, what discrimination exists comes down to a question of class, not culture.

As it happens I was there at the speech, and my recollection of it is that Buchanan was making a subtler point than Douthat’s paraphrase would lead you to believe. Buchanan was—perhaps ironically or perhaps earnestly—offering a “disparate impact” analysis of Ivy League admissions. His point was that due to the massive overrepresentation of Jews and Asians at Harvard relative to our presence in the American population, white Christians end up underrepresented in just the way that African-Americans do. And yet while liberals are eager to draw attention to the idea of a given institution having insufficient black representation, nobody speaks up for the poor underrepresented white Christians. One can scoff at this if one likes, but Fernholz’s point that a plurality of Ivy League students are white Christians confirms what Buchanan was talking about, it doesn’t refute it.

You can even try to run this argument on the US Senate if you want to. But you’d have to hang the argument almost entirely on the large number of Jewish Senators since there are obviously plenty of white ones. But in terms of “roots of white anxiety” I think it’d be a stretch to understand this anxiety as somehow primarily about the Jews and Asians who power Buchanan’s cute statistical point. Douthat writes about “racially tinged conspiracy theories […] Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth.” But these are conspiracy theories about blacks and Latinos who likewise experience “alienation from the American meritocracy.” So I think Douthat raises some real issues in his column—as opposed to Pat Buchanan, who was at best making fun of liberals and at worst engaging in his signature anti-semitism—but I don’t think these issues have much to do with racialized sentiments in today’s politics.