There is a very peculiar thing about Fife Symington's education at Harvard, and it is that he felt persecuted there.
He is not a conspiracy theorist in other ways, not the sort of arch-conservative Republican who is likely to try to hire a private investigator to look over the shoulders of public employees because he suspects that fraud and corruption are lurking within state government. He is a moderate businessman who would not outlaw all abortions if it were up to him, and who would like Martin Luther King Jr. to have his own holiday.
It has been pointed out often since the September 11 primary that there are more similarities between his politics and Goddard's than either one is comfortable with, and no one would ever accuse the bland, smiling Goddard of seeing a communist around the next corner.
Nonetheless, Symington felt persecuted at Harvard.
He graduated a year ahead of Goddard, before the real rioting started. The violence he remembers at Cambridge was the day in '67 when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara came to speak and was mobbed by a crowd of students who hated the war. Other than that preview of things to come, the political world Symington knew in college was mainly one where the prevailing liberal view was the civilized kind held by Kennedy Democrats, and where the rumble of discontent with the presence of ROTC on campus was beginning to be heard among the students who would radicalize later, after Symington had gone.
His was nearly the same Harvard that Goddard and his cronies remember as a place with diverse political views, where it was neither unusual to be an activist nor not to be one. His own longtime friends from Harvard remember the campus much the same way.
But for Symington, it was something more menacing. "It was nothing like I was expecting," he says of the campus where he began college in '64. "I was expecting to find this tranquil educational institution that was just fascinating in its diversity. . . . I got there, and it was Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. I was a fervent Goldwater supporter, and I was lucky to get out of there with my life." He characterizes the campus as a place of "liberal tyranny" where conservative political opinions like his own were not easily tolerated.
"I just did not feel at home. I was in ROTC. We used to carry our uniforms across campus in a brown bag. We could not be seen with our uniforms.
"I felt really overwhelmed at Harvard."
These vivid memories are disturbing if they reveal that Symington can feel threatened by opinions unlike his own. It is a possibility that may have shown up again in the way that he and his campaign staff handled New Times during the primary campaign when it was their perception that the coverage coming out of this newspaper wasn't favorable.
When New Times reporter Darrin Hostetler arrived to interview Symington for his article on the Republican gubernatorial race, he was only about fifteen minutes into the hour that had been promised him when Symington reached over and flipped off Hostetler's recorder. Hostetler says Symington didn't want to answer on the record a question about the financial health of his two premier projects in Phoenix, the Esplanade and Mercado, on the basis that he wanted to keep his business and political interests separate. Symington was visibly upset by the question, Hostetler says. Within a few minutes of the time that Hostetler had started his recorder up again and turned his questions in a new direction, Symington cut the interview short, saying without warning that he had another appointment. He remembered it suddenly, despite the fact that the interview with Hostetler had been scheduled weeks in advance.
(Symington's press aide, Annette Alvarez, claims that Symington never turned off Hostetler's recorder. She also claims that Hostetler was informed when he arrived that, because of scheduling conflicts, the interview time would be shortened.)
It was remarkably thin-skinned behavior for a politico. Symington did not seem to have figured out that a political campaign is not a party to which the press must wait to be invited, and at which it must behave very nicely. He reacted, as he reacted more than twenty years ago on a campus that did not always agree with him, with fear and petulance.
But this desire for control is certainly not the complete picture of Symington's style and values.
One of the surprising things about him is that, for all the steadiness and devotion to duty that his friends say were bred into him by his old Maryland family, he is not always predictable. He is a decorated Republican war hero, for instance, who just hated the war.