Since its founding in 1966 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University has encouraged generations of Harvard students to pursue careers in politics and public service. The HPR interviewed some of eight former students and two former directors to reflect on their experiences at the IOP and to celebrate the various paths they have taken to realize the mission of the IOP.


HPRgument Posts | May 3, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Alan Simpson


725simpsonalankSenator Alan Simpson served as a United States Senator from Wyoming
 from 1979 to 1997. In 2010, Simpson was appointed by President Barack Obama to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Democrat co-chair Erskine Bowles. Simpson was the Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University from 1998 to 2000.

Harvard Political Review: Many of your positions have gone against the traditional platform of the Republican Party (e.g., you’ve supported issues such as LGBTQ rights and access to abortion). Have you ever received backlash for not toeing the party line?

Alan Simpson: I would characterize many of my detractors as rigid fireplace pokers but without the occasional warmth. When you corner them, they are like mad dogs and they–in their anxiety and hatred–will call you a baby-killer, queer-loving son of a bitch. I do what I can, and I’ve been called a lot of things. If you are a leader, you can get called a lot of things. If you want to bitch and whine and you think compromise is a four-letter word, you need to move to another country. A lot of my political opponents know how to do emotion, fear, guilt, and racism, but they don’t know politics. Democracy is politics, and politics is democracy.

HPR: It certainly takes courage to stand up for your beliefs despite all the backlash.

AS: It isn’t about courage. It’s about not believing in bullshit. As a student, I would hear politicians talking, and I would get up and tell them that they are saying terminological inexactitudes. I’m not Don Quixote. I don’t drive my head into a wall. But I refuse to let people use emotion, fear, guilt, and racism on me when I share things about immigration reform, nuclear high level waste, social security, and more. That’s what I did! I had to do my homework and that made me skilled. I’m not brilliant. I’m not smart. I just work my ass off. And the purpose was so that I wouldn’t make an ass of myself.

At town meetings in Wyoming, I would speak for five minutes and stay for two hours and answer every question–not to their satisfaction, mind you. But people would come up afterwards and say, “I don’t agree with you at all, but, by God, at least you had the guts to come in here where we were after your ass and you still answered our questions.”

HPR: The Republican Party has been undergoing a period of change and disruption during the past year. How do you view the future of the Republican Party?

AS: I have no idea, but I do know one thing: it’ll still be around. We’ll piece ourselves together. But I don’t know where the hell we’re going. It’s a tough time to watch because we’re cutting each other to ribbons in ways I’ve never seen before. Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave. He’s a pinwheel down there!

HPR: The HPR’s most recent  covers topic was “Who is our enemy?” How would you answer this question?

AS: It’s a group of people who enjoy thinking that we’re all a bunch of hedonistic, rotten bastards filled with booze and pornography. They like to chop off people’s heads, burn them alive, put them in cages, and rape women. But of course according to their bizarre observation of their religion, they don’t want to rape a woman who’s pregnant, so they feed them a contraceptive before raping them.

I have a thought for people like that: kill those sons of bitches. I’ve never said that in my life, but when you find a group of people who take joy at planting a suicide vest in a playground or in a plaza of people shopping, you need to get rid of those sons of bitches. I don’t want to hear anything about me being a madman or loving capital punishment–those are separate things. I’m talking about subhuman people who are trained to destroy innocence and civilization, and we cannot let that occur. The world will join together, and we will stomp them out. Like we say in the Wild West, string ‘em up!

HPR: You served as Director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in April. How was your experience coming back on campus?

AS: The IOP is in good hands. It couldn’t be in finer shape. After hearing the seminars during the 50th Anniversary weekend and visiting with current students, I am absolutely thrilled! I especially enjoyed the pleasure, joy, humor, and the seriousness of this whole new group of people. Thank God the music lasts!

Image credit: Jackie Hartman

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