Elizabeth Warren’s Harvard Problem

‘Harvard’—A dirty word in politics?

“That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield!” Romney said. While he doesn’t mention it on the campaign trail, Romney holds business and law degrees from Harvard.

It is a stretch to say that the Harvard name has been a detractor for all candidates with ties to the University. There are currently 31 members of Congress with Harvard degrees.

But using Harvard as a code word for an allegedly dangerous brand of liberalism isn’t a new trick, either.

In his first presidential campaign against then-Governor Michael S. Dukakis ’60, President George H. W. Bush used Dukakis’ connection to Harvard to portray him as weak and extremist.

“Gov. Dukakis, his foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard’s boutique, would cut the muscle of our defense,” Bush said.


When asked why he mentioned Harvard specifically, Bush explained that he believed Harvard to be a “kind of a philosophical enclave,” and “a philosophical cult normally identified with extremely liberal causes.”


Warren isn’t shy about her connection to Harvard.

“There’s nothing to handle,” Warren told The Boston Globe upon being asked about her association the University. “It is what it is. I’m also 5 foot 8.”

Though Warren may be content embracing her Harvard position, her message—which has begun to emerge during an ongoing listening tour through the state—seems to aim at putting Warren’s roots front and center. Her talks to activists and constituents take on a decidedly folksy flair, attempting to expunge any reputation for liberal elitism.

In other words, Warren hopes to show that Harvard isn’t her only identity.

“Yeah, I’m a Harvard professor,” Warren told The Globe. “But I wasn’t born at Harvard. I came up scrappy. I came up the hard way.”

Warren did not respond to an interview request for this article.

At gatherings of activists and voters in August, Warren shared stories from her childhood in a small town, growing up on what she calls the “ragged edge of the middle class in Oklahoma.”

“My brother David is the best storyteller God has put on this earth,” Warren said at one event. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than sit on the back porch and listen to him tell the story of the time they put the pig on the motorcycle and ran it down the main hall of Norman High.”

In addition to emphasizing her Oklahoma roots, Warren has says she would take her “scrappy” style to the floor of the U.S. Senate.

“It’s about being willing to take a good idea and fight for it,” Warren told The Globe. “It’s being willing to throw your body in front of a bus to block bad ideas.”

—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at