Politics

05.13.14

Ex-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner Relives College Glory Days

In his memoir, the former financial titan settles some old scores—really, really old scores.

College fights never die; they just resurface in hardcover. That’s the lesson to take, apparently, from the publication of former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s new memoir, Stress Test—and the flak that book is receiving.

Geithner, who presided over the government’s response to the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, takes time out in his memoir to attack… some conservative trolls he really didn’t like on campus while at Dartmouth. And those conservatives, true to form, still don’t care for Geithner either. “Catty, petty, and self-serving,” is how one of those way-right-of-center folk described Geithner to me.

In the book, Geithner writes that as a Dartmouth undergrad in the early 1980s, he found himself in opposition to the Dartmouth Review, a confrontational campus publication that, in the process of nurturing future prominent conservatives—Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham, and Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Rago, to name a few—found itself printing articles in ebonics, using a Nazi slogan to describe a Jew, and (allegedly) publishing a roster of gay students.

Geithner writes that although he “had no passion for politics,” he “did develop a strong aversion to the strident conservative Republican political movement that was spreading across college campuses at the time.” Geithner writes that the Review was “the intellectual center of the movement.”

Following in the footsteps of his father and “several other relatives,” Geithner (at the time, he writes, a registered Republican) enrolled in Dartmouth in 1979, just before the Review was founded (with the support of Dartmouth English professor Jeffrey Hart, a former speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Reagan).  

The Review quickly garnered national attention for its not-exactly-PC content. Reading up on the incidents, it’s easy to think of the publication—founded in a pre-Drudge world—as a sort of precursor to the hard-edged, alternative conservative media of the Internet age. Many of the people involved in the Review, in fact, played key roles in kick-starting that new class of media.

When Dartmouth students fasted for world hunger, the Review reportedly held a formal lobster-and-champagne dinner for themselves. 

The Review published a column titled “Dis Sho’ Ain’t No Jive, Bro,” written in ebonics. The piece—an intended satire of affirmative action—was not received quite as warmly as the “I speak Jive” scene from Airplane!. Then-Congressman Jack Kemp, an upstate New York Republican, reportedly resigned from the Review’s advisory board in protest because the column “relied on racial stereotypes.”

"I ran into a 'Review' writer named Dinesh D'Souza at a coffee shop and asked him how it felt to be such a dick… he would later become a celebrated right-wing intellectual and author of conspiracy-minded best sellers about President Obama, so I guess I didn't sway him."

The Review made a target of Dartmouth professor of music William Cole, a celebrated musician and author of books on John Coltrane and Miles Davis, for his teaching style, once even reportedly publishing transcripts of one of Cole’s classes. William F. Buckley Jr., in The Manchester Union, then wrote a column discussing Cole’s class, writing that he “sounded as though he were strung out on dope…” The differences between the Review and Cole would culminate with an in-person confrontation, wherein Cole was alleged to have “knocked the flash off the Review photographer’s camera.” The incident resulted in the suspension of several students. 

The publication ran an article titled “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Freedman,” which parodied Dartmouth President James O. Freedman (who was Jewish) by comparing him to Hitler and his impact on the campus to the Holocaust. Many cried foul, but then-editor in chief of the Review, Harmeet Dhillon, was quoted by The New York Times as saying critics were “trying to twist the issue to their own ends.”

The New York Times reported that the Review “published an interview with a Ku Klux Klan leader, illustrated with a staged photograph of a black man hanging from a tree.” (Jeffrey Hart responded to the New York Times with a letter to the editor in which he wrote that the claim the publication was racist was “nonsense,” and that the interview with the former Klan leader had been “conducted by a black reporter” and “was anything but friendly.”) 

But arguably the most controversial event in the Review’s history was when, in Geithner’s words, it “published a McCarthy-style list of gay students on campus.” The New York Times reported at the time that after "membership and correspondents files of the Gay Student Alliance” disappeared, some of the information from those files appeared in the Review. One student, according to the Times, became so depressed as a result of being outed that he discussed suicide. The grandfather of another student “who had not yet found the courage to tell his family of his homosexuality” learned about it “when he got his copy of The Review in the mail.”

Geithner writes that after the list was published, “I ran into a Review writer named Dinesh D’Souza at a coffee shop and asked him how it felt to be such a dick.” Geithner then takes another dig at D’Souza, saying he “would later become a celebrated right-wing intellectual and author of conspiracy-minded best sellers about President Obama, so I guess I didn’t sway him.”

Funnily enough, Bloomberg reported in 2009 that when students protested the Review’s criticisms of affirmative action, some even suggesting physical harm be done to D’Souza, Geithner was the one who played the role of peacekeeper, suggesting that those angered by the publication start their own publication to counter its influence. His former classmate, Justin Rudelson, said that event was evidence that Geithner “was always the natural mediator.”

D’Souza has been trolling Obama for years, with articles that charge Obama governs according to his father’s worldview--or as D’Souza put it more colorfully “the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s” with a book called The Roots of Obama's Rage and with a follow-up “documentary,” 2016: Obama's America, which cautioned viewers that nobody really knows who this Barack Obama guy is. In January, D’Souza was indicted for violating campaign finance laws when he funneled $20,000 to the campaign of Wendy Long (who lost to incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY]).

Geithner says those at the Review, like D’Souza, who became part of the professional conservative movement “would not be big fans of my later work."

Also not a big fan of Geithner’s later work: Harmeet Dhillon, a former Review editor—she graduated way after him—who is now a litigation attorney and chairwoman of the San Francisco GOP. 

“I think that what he has written—or what has been reported in the press—is inaccurate, based on my knowledge,” Dhillon told The Daily Beast about Geithner’s claim that the Review published a “McCarthy-style list” of gay students.

“Geithner’s comments appear to be motivated by animus for a successful author and journalist, Dinesh D’Souza, than by anything having to do with Geithner or his Dartmouth experience,” Dhillon said. “It’s catty, petty and self-serving.”

But, Dhillon said, “I have low expectations for Timothy Geithner, so it doesn’t surprise me one way or the other.”

Geithner graduated Dartmouth in 1983; Dhillon in 1989. Which means the two of them won’t share a reunion any time soon. That, on balance, seems like a pretty good thing.