St. Albans School

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
Aug. 11 2000 8:30 PM

St. Albans School

Why does the D.C. prep school spawn so many politicians? 

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The St. Albans indoctrination creates a very distinctive kind of politician. St. Albans helps explains why Gore, Bayh, Ford, and Jackson are so unlike their fathers. Their fathers shook up politics. Gore Sr. was a civil rights maverick. Ford Sr. was one of the first black politicians of the Deep South. Jackson Sr. is a champion rabble-rouser. The Albanians, by contrast, are superb at fitting in. St. Albans is a tiny school—only 70-odd boys per class. It is too small for cliques. Its size and traditionalism compel conformity. Students adopt the St. Albans style—athletic, sarcastic, hardworking—or they drown. Nonconformists detest the school and usually leave or suffer. (Gore's mother once called him "a born conformist.")

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The Albanians lack the overt, grasping ambition that defines many politicians, including most of their dads. Thanks to the school's Service First ethos, they consider themselves "selfless public servants," says Lemann. The St. Albans pols are allergic to their fathers' populism: After all, they have not spent much time with the people. Except for Ford, they are not natural glad-handers.

Their fathers were vigorously liberal. The sons are not ideological. (Ford and Jackson are probably the least ideological black politicians in the United States.) St. Albans trained them to trust cool analysis and the reasonable solution. It is no surprise to anyone who went to St. Albans that Gore, Ford, Bayh, and Jackson are relentlessly moderate. The school's old money, old manners, and old traditions breed excellent New Democrats.