YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The Bro I Can't Vote For

November 05, 2000|Steve Chawkins

If you're one of the estimated 20% of registered voters in Ventura County who will be too bored, angry, ignorant, depressed or lazy to go to the polls: I should have your problems.

I'm about to stab my brother in the back here, and I can use a little sympathy.

You see, George W. Bush and me: We're brothers, or, more precisely, we're bro's.

W.--the target of snide put-downs for his "frat-boy good looks"--was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale.

I--who have yet to be put down for my frat-boy good looks--was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the ever-so-slightly-less-elite Trinity College, just down the road from Yale.

Both of us were Dekes in the late '60s. Both of us wore the little gold rampant-lion pin on our blue blazers. We both knew the secret handshake and the secret Greek motto, which sounds something like "Ipecac, Ohio" and is to be uttered only to other Dekes, and, even then, only in a whisper.

As pledges, both of us had to sing ancient Deke songs. Today when I drive long distances, I still break into a lusty refrain, to the tune of "I'm a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech":

"Like every college fellow,

I like my whiskey free--

I'm a sonofa, sonofa, sonofa, sonofa,

Son of a D-K-E...."

To become true sons of D-K-E, we had to endure Hell Week. That meant screaming ourselves hoarse with mindless chants, doing hours of squats with mattresses on our heads and participating in gladiator games to amuse an easily bored brotherhood. As I think of it, Hell Week was terrific training for a presidential campaign.

I chose not to get into politics. But the roster of powerful Dekes through history would provide your favorite conspiracy nut with endless hours of fun.

"You think it's all a coincidence?" he'll rage. "Gerald Ford was a Deke. And George Bush, who I might remind you, headed the CIA before he was president. You wonder how Dan Quayle got where he did? He was a Deke! Theodore Roosevelt! Rutherford B. Hayes! J. Pierpont Morgan! Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System!"

W. has been widely taken to task for his fraternity membership.

In a commentary for this newspaper, Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, said W. projects a "hip, flip, cynical frat-rat image.

"So grow up, Junior," Begala wrote. "Carry yourself with more dignity. At least act like you think the presidency is more important than the latest Delta Kappa Epsilon kegger."

Speaking as W.'s brother, I say to Begala: Dude! Lighten up!

Bush and I are guilty only of joining a perfectly legal social organization of young men with like interests, such as smashing chairs and throwing gobs of mayonnaise at the dining-room wall on a slow Thursday night. Where's the harm?

I don't know about Bush's Deke chapter, but mine was a thinking man's Animal House, where philosophy majors could ride motorcycles through the kitchen at midnight and talk Nietzsche until dawn, with breaks for beer and turkey-stuffing sandwiches.

The centerpiece of Deke life, predictably, was initiation.

I don't know how W. and his brothers at Yale handled it. Maybe they quizzed pledges on the names of Fortune 500 CEOs, and made them eat brie until they dropped.

Dekes solemnly promise to never disclose such details. I'll only tell you that exhausted, hung-over pledges had to stand blindfolded for many hours in a cold attic as they tried to draw "the secret meaning" from blaring Egyptian music. And that we had to jump on fake nails and eat the entrails of the goat we had seen just minutes before in our 72-hour ordeal.

"Eat, candidate, eat!" the robed brothers would chant in the candlelight. "Eat of the entrails of the sacred goat of Delta Kappa Epsilon!"

They weren't entrails. They were clams coated in coffee grounds, but they smelled terrible and they might as well have been goat.

Fraternities have changed a little since then. My old house no longer exists. It's been replaced by what they call a "literary society" that admits both male and female students. Newsletters speak glowingly of the "siblinghood."

But W. and me, we bonded in the old days. When critics say he's a lightweight, they say I'm a lightweight. When they call him a frat-rat, they call me a frat-rat. We're brothers.

No way I'll vote for him, though.

If I can tweak the words of the great Groucho, who was too wise for college: I'd never vote for anyone in a club that would have someone like me as a member.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

Los Angeles Times Articles