Friday, Jan. 13, 2006
CAP and Gown: For the past few days, Sam Alito must have been kicking himself for ever adding the Concerned Alumni of Princeton to his job application. He never meant to hang out with a bunch of conservative, grumpy old men at college. He just wanted to do that on the Supreme Court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has wrapped up its investigation of Princeton, unless Sen. Lindsey Graham carries out his threat to get to the bottom of which eating clubs Woodrow Wilson, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bill Frist joined in college. What should concern the Senate most about Alito's Princeton's ties is not that he was a card-carrying member of CAP, but that in the mid-1980s he thought it would help to claim to be one.
Senate Democrats are right to doubt Alito's professed shock to learn that CAP harbored ill will toward women and minorities. Whether or not he was ever a "concerned alum," Alito has long been an active, interested one. His name appears regularly in the alumni notes for the Class of '72. He goes back for reunions every five years and drives up for the Harvard game. He chaired an alumni careers committee even after he became a federal judge.
Moreover, CAP wasn't a secret society—it wore its reactionary nostalgia on its sleeve. No Princeton student or alumnus could get through the 1970s without receiving the group's mailings or reading members' angry letters in the Alumni Weekly.
This Old Man: What set CAP apart wasn't simply its conservatism—compared to other Ivies, Princeton was never a hotbed of liberalism—but that it was conservatism for crotchety old men.
By the time I came to Princeton in the late '70s, no one under the age of 50 had any interest in the issues CAP droned on about, like the folly of co-education. For students, liberal and conservative alike, the biggest complaint was that the place wasn't co-educated enough. We envied other colleges that had moved much more quickly toward the normalcy of having equal numbers of men and women on campus.
As a nerd who steered clear of eating clubs—the book on me as well—Alito had even less connection to CAP's old-world order. After traditionalists lost the battle over co-education, they fought their last stand at the clubs. Alito preferred the company of ambitious pre-laws at the Woodrow Wilson School.
Nor was CAP a rallying point for conservative young Turks. It was more like a political retirement home for alums who had hoped that after all the money they'd given and P-rades they'd walked, Old Nassau could be their Alamo against the '60s.
One of CAP's founders, William Rusher, said as much in an online Q&A this week with the magazine he used to publish, National Review. Asked if he was still "concerned about Princeton," Rusher said: