Yale in the 60′s With the Two Georges

BUFFALO–It was a dreary, cold morning in western New York. Gov. George Bush of Texas was smiling, little glimpses of charisma fairly jumping from his blue eyes. He had just been warmly greeted in the unlikely venue of a Baptist church in the poor black neighborhood of East Buffalo, the first stop on a two-day statewide campaign tour.

Gov. George Pataki, a head taller than Mr. Bush and looking slightly awkward in the Texan’s presence, introduced the Republican Party’s Presidential front-runner by talking about reductions in welfare rolls. It was an earnest, standard-issue political speech. The crowd listened politely. When Mr. Bush’s turn came, he confidently launched into a speech filled with talk about mobilizing “armies of compassion” throughout the nation. Politeness gave way to engagement. People sat up straight in the cushioned pews of purple velvet. “Wonderful,” somebody murmured. “Inspirational.” His eyes caught those of his listeners, who later said they came away liking him, although they couldn’t point to any specific reason why.

After the speech, Mr. Bush and Mr. Pataki crammed into a tiny room to speak to reporters. Mr. Bush, quite unlike many candidates for national office, joked with an ABC News producer who interrupted him as he read a prepared statement. “Wait a minute,” Mr. Bush said with a twinkle. “I’m not quite done with this brilliant statement.” Standing next to him, Mr. Pataki grinned and shuffled. The New York Governor is not known for his jocular relations with reporters.

“You went to Yale together,” a reporter observed.

“We did,” Mr. Bush replied. “We met at the library studying for our …”

Mr. Pataki interrupted: “Friday night at the library.”

“Exactly,” Mr. Bush continued. “He was reviewing my, uh, thesis.”

Of course, that’s exactly how it might have been if the two governors–one an earnest overachiever, the other a frat boy–actually did know each other during the three years they spent together as undergraduates at Yale. But, as Mr. Bush admitted, they didn’t know each other back then. “We became friends after we both got elected governor,” Mr. Bush said. Then, in a moment of inspiration, Mr. Bush added: “He was a much older man than me in college.”

Thirty-six years ago this fall, Mr. Pataki, the tall, awkward son of a postman and a product of public schools, arrived at Yale and was assigned to Pierson College, one of the university’s 12 residential quadrangles. Mr. Pataki would become a history major, was captain of one of Pierson’s sports teams, and would remain a Republican at Yale through the upheavals of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

Mr. Bush, handsome and charming, the son of a Congressman running for U.S. Senator and the grandson of a retired U.S. Senator from Connecticut, arrived in New Haven a year later. He was assigned to Davenport College, so close to Pierson you could almost roll out of bed and land in the Pierson courtyard. George W. also became a history major, also became captain of one of his college’s sports teams and also remained a Republican over the next four years.

But the college days of the two Georges could not have been more different. Mr. Pataki, a diligent, ambitious student, was immersed in politics from his freshman year and defied the campus’ Democratic, activist majority. Mr. Bush, the product of an intensely political family, was more likely to be found at a party than at a political debate during the highly charged mid-1960′s. Mr. Bush’s yearbook entry notes that he played football and baseball, and was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon and Skull and Bones. Mr. Pataki’s entry, by contrast, noted his membership in the Yale Political Union and the Calliopean Society, a conservative discussion group. It also noted that he made the dean’s list.

If you were guessing which of the two Georges would wind up a player in national politics, you very likely would have chosen the overachiever from New York rather than the underachiever from Texas.

In his autobiography Pataki , Mr. Pataki wrote candidly about how out of place he was at Yale: “I’d meet someone named DuPont and think, ‘Gee, what a funny-sounding name,’” never considering that the DuPonts of the world might be thinking the same thing about somebody named Pataki. He knew no one but his older brother Louis.

Mr. Bush came from Andover and socialized with the preppies in his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon. He was a third-generation Yalie. Everyone knew his name.

Within a week of Mr. Pataki’s arrival at Yale in 1963, four young black girls were killed in a church basement in Birmingham, Ala. It was the beginning of the turmoil that would engulf the decade, as well as campus life. In November, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. “There was an overwhelming loss of innocence, a change from holding a shining light up to the world to setting loose a dreadful career politician, Lyndon Johnson, who to me represented much that was wrong with our system of government,” Mr. Pataki would later write.

In the next year, Yale students and a few professors would begin to trickle down to Mississippi to register voters and participate in protests there. Mr. Pataki, by all accounts a brilliant scholar, stayed on campus and remained a Goldwater Republican. “George Pataki, Renny Scott and Mac Hansing became synonymous with the right even as early as freshman year,” his yearbook, the 1967 Yale Banner , noted. Not so the rest of the Yale campus. A Yale Daily News survey found 69 percent of Yale students preferred Johnson to Goldwater.

George W. arrived on campus in the fall of 1964. His father, then a freshman Congressman, was running for the U.S. Senate in Texas. In the Yale Daily News survey, students preferred Mr. Bush to his opponent, Ralph Yarborough. But the Democrat, buoyed by the landslide victory of fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson, prevailed. Mr. Bush has since said that loss taught him a lesson in “resilience.”

Um, What’s an Intellectual?

A widely circulated story has it that Yale’s chaplain, renowned anti-war activist William Sloane Coffin Jr., told Mr. Bush, “Your father lost to the better man.” Mr. Coffin has said he cannot recall saying such a thing, and that if he did, it was said in jest. The two have patched things up, Mr. Bush’s friends say, but at least one new biographer, according to columnist George Will, asserts that his political ideology was shaped in reaction to “left-wing intellectuals” like Mr. Coffin.

But that seems like campaign-biography hindsight. Not one of the Yalies interviewed by The Observer remembered Mr. Bush showing much interest in the college’s intellectual and political life at a time when federal troops were patrolling some cities to keep peace and students were shutting down campuses to protest the Vietnam War. J.D. (Mac) Hansing, an Ohio radiologist who was president of the Yale Republicans and Mr. Pataki’s roommate, remembered trying to recruit Mr. Bush. “I knew about his father and grandfather,” Mr. Hansing said. “But it was a very brief meeting. We didn’t see much of him after that. He was not real active in organized politics.” Mr. Hansing’s memory squares with more than two dozen members of the classes of 1967 and 1968 who were interviewed for this story.

Mr. Pataki, however, was in the thick of the university’s volatile political life. He rose to be chair of the Yale Political Union’s conservative party. The union was where visiting senators and Congressmen spoke to undergraduates and where vehement political debates were held, then dissected in Mory’s, the venerable Yale supper club, just a few blocks over on York Street and conveniently located not far from Pierson College.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was active in the political union as chair of the liberal party, and so was Yale Daily News political columnist Victor Ashe, now the Mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., and a onetime candidate for the U.S. Senate against Al Gore. Former White House counsel Lanny Davis covered the union for the Yale Daily News , and he recalled the impressive spirit and urgency of those union debates, one of which featured the earnest Mr. Pataki. “We were getting off the platform, and as we left I said, ‘Too bad you’re a goddamn Republican.’ He said: ‘If I ever get in trouble, I’d want you to defend me.’” Years later, during what Mr. Davis described as “the worst day I had at the White House,” he received “a very nice, gracious note from George saying, ‘You’re doing a great job for the President.’”

Mr. Bush is often described as a “frat boy,” as opposed to the diligent, engaged Mr. Pataki, but that doesn’t really explain what it meant to be in a fraternity at Yale. The center of the university’s social life was, and is, the residential colleges. In 1963, the Yale Daily News editorialized, “Fraternities are out of tune with a university which seeks to prepare men for the broadest possible service in a society of tremendously diverse components.” Mr. Bush was not just another member of D.K.E., known as Deke, but was the fraternity’s president. Deke had the reputation of being the party frat on campus. “We drank a lot and partied a lot, and what we did on Friday nights with women I wouldn’t want to tell you about,” said Mr. Davis, who was in Deke with Mr. Bush. “It was one of the unhealthy aspects of Yale weekends.”

A Party Boy

But Mr. Davis, who once said on national television that Mr. Bush “shouldn’t throw stones” about character but then immediately retracted his statement, insisted that he couldn’t think of “anything bad that George ever did other than nice parties.”

George W. also became a member of Skull and Bones, Yale’s most elite senior society. Though the slots in Bones were usually reserved for people like the chairman of the Yale Daily News or, as in Mr. Bush’s senior year, Don Schollander, an Olympic swimming champion, Mr. Bush, son of a Bonesman, was admitted on a “legacy spot.”

That was not the kind of life Mr. Pataki led as a student. Yes, he stayed up till 3 a.m. playing poker with, among others, the late film critic Gene Siskel. But he apparently has no reason to be embarrassed, as Mr. Davis was, to talk about his social life. Mr. Pataki’s roommate, Mr. Hansing, noted that the future Governor “had [a] hometown girlfriend. He never dated anyone else. He was Catholic, she was Catholic; in those days that meant no premarital sex.” Even in his social life, Mr. Pataki remained outside the new college mainstream. “The rest of Yale had completely transformed,” Mr. Hansing recalled. “Freshman year, it was extremely strict. You couldn’t have a girl in the room if it was a minute past [midnight], and if you got caught, you literally got kicked out of school. It was coats and ties at dinner every night. By senior year we broke the coat-and-tie rule, it was free love, so everyone else was having girlfriends, and here was George back in the old era.” Mr. Pataki and his roommates got connecting rooms during senior year, Mr. Hansing said, so “I would have one of my girlfriends on one side, my other roommate would have his, and we’d cross back and forth and party. Poor George would be in his room alone.”

As the Vietnam War escalated, as protests began to dribble onto campus, Mr. Pataki did not change his increasingly unfashionable positions–or, for that matter, his unfashionable fashions. His yearbook photo shows him with immensely thick, nerdy glasses and hair so slicked down that it looked like a comb-over even then. Too nearsighted to serve in the war, he went to law school, then became an attorney and a local politician who eventually stunned the state with his dramatic win over Mario Cuomo in 1994.

War? What War?

By Mr. Bush’s senior year, 1968, students were on the march against the war. “To my mind the war was the defining issue,” said Bush classmate Rex Cowdry, now in psychiatric research in Washington, D.C. But Mr. Bush, fraternity president, Skull and Bones, etc., apparently was too busy with such activities to notice his peers’ unrest and anger. He told The New York Times in 1992 he couldn’t remember discussing the war at Yale. Friends have the impression he was vaguely in favor of it, but say they mostly talked about sports with Mr. Bush. The eerie sense of unreality was brought home in the fall of Mr. Bush’s senior year. On Oct. 23, 1968, the F.B.I. swooped down on the Yale campus, interviewing students about their draft status. A few weeks later, Mr. Bush found himself involved in controversy–not about the war, but about Deke’s policy of branding a Greek “delta” on initiates’ backs. Of the sophomoric ritual, Mr. Bush said: “It’s only a cigarette burn.” Mr. Bush’s brand presumably remains on the small of his back to this day.

Still, despite Mr. Bush’s detachment from his fellow students’ concerns, not one of his classmates, including Mr. Davis, has a bad word to say about him. Mr. Pataki, though, seems to be the only one who thought Mr. Bush would run for national office.

So as the two men left Buffalo and trekked across the state in early October, it’s easy to wonder if the diligent, by-the-rules Mr. Pataki found himself just a little envious of his well-connected, silver-spoon-fed colleague. Friends say they’ve never heard Mr. Pataki utter any such sentiment. “But you’ve got to wonder if somewhere, deep down, there isn’t some feeling,” said one friend.

“I don’t think anyone realizes the extent to which Pataki was taking the Presidential option seriously [earlier this year],” said another friend. “When he endorsed Bush, there were a lot of tears. It could have been him.”

Mr. Pataki left Yale in 1967; Mr. Bush left in 1968. Two years later, after Mr. Bush moved on, Hillary Rodham arrived at Yale Law School, followed a year later by Bill Clinton. It was a new era.

George Walker Bush. Born July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, son of George H. W. Bush (Class of ’48) and Barbara Pierce Bush. Prepared at Phillips Academy-Andover, Andover, Massachusetts. Entered Yale, September, 1964. History Major. Resident Member: Davenport (Social Council, 1964-68; Football, 1964-68, Captain, 1967-68; Baseball, 1965-68); Delta Kappa Epsilon, President, 1966-67; Skull and Bones; Inter-Council, 1966-67; Freshman Baseball, 1965; Rugby Club, 1966-68. Roommates: R.J. Dieter, C. Johnson III, C. Johnson Jr. Address: Apt. 8, 5000 Longmont Drive, Houston, Texas, 77027.

George Elmer Pataki. Born June 24, 1945, in Peekskill, New York, son of Louis P. Pataki, Sr., and Margaret Lagana Pataki. Prepared at Peekskill High School, Peekskill, N.Y. Entered Yale, September, 1963. History Major; on Dean’s List, fall, 1963; Ranking Scholar, spring, 1966. Member: Pierson (“B” basketball, 1963-67, captain, 1966-67; touch football, 1963-67); Calliopean Society; Political Union, Conservative Party, 1963-67, vice chairman, 1964-65, chairman, 1965-66; Connecticut Interscho-lastic Student Legislature, 1964-67; Republican Club, 1963-67; WIYU, 1963-64; track, 1966. Roommates: J.D. Hansing, H.L. Scot, Future study: law, Address: Frost Lane, Peekskill, N.Y. 10566.