Both major presidential candidates are members of a small secret society at Yale University - the Order of Skull & Bones. On different Sunday mornings, "Meet the Press" anchor Tim Russert asked George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry if they could talk about their memberships in this 172-year-old clandestine club.
Tossed off with nervous laughter, their answers were, "It's so secret that I can't talk about it," and, "Not much, because it's a secret."
Should citizens be concerned about this unwillingness to discuss an elite organization? Is it relevant? Don't we all have the freedom to fraternize with whom we please? Aren't Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and similar organizations used by many in pursuit of business and political connections? So what?
William Huntington Russell founded the Order of Skull & Bones in 1832 after he returned from studies in Germany. The Russell family's business - Russell & Co. - was the premier American opium shipper and the third largest in the world. In the 1830s, opium became the world's largest commercial commodity, and the maneuverability and speed of the American clipper ships laid foundations of great wealth with the smuggling of opium into China. Many of the fortunate sons of Russell & Co. families were sent to Yale and were "tapped" into the Order of Skull & Bones.
Fifteen new members are chosen each year from the junior class at Yale. After initiation rites that include simulated murder, the kissing of a skull and chants about the devil and death, they are known as Knights during their senior year. Reportedly, members hold weekly sessions in which they talk about their sex lives, which some say helps forge a strong fraternal bond. The initiates have privileges beyond those enjoyed by fellow students - including a near million-dollar clubhouse, a private island and access to a distinguished and powerful cadre of fellow Bonesmen.
Three Bonesmen have occupied the Oval Office: William Howard Taft (who also served as chief justice of the Supreme Court), George Herbert Walker Bush, and his son. Members have included more than 20 U.S. senators, three U.S. Supreme Court justices and myriad lesser officials.
The order is legendary in its promotion of its members above all others. As a Yale alumnus noted in 1905 about the senior secret society system at Yale, "the best man doesn't always win."
George W. Bush has appointed 11 fellow Bonesmen to government jobs: Evan Griffith Galbraith, adviser to the U.S. mission to NATO; William Henry Donaldson, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; George Herbert Walker III, U.S. ambassador to Hungary; Jack Edwin McGregor, member of the advisory board of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.; Victor Henderson Ashe, member of the board of directors of the Federal National Mortgage Association; Roy Leslie Austin, U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago; Robert Davis McCallum Jr., associate attorney general; Rex Cowdry, associate director of the White House's National Economic Council; Edward McNally Sr., associate counsel to the president and general counsel to the Office of Homeland Security; David Batshaw Wiseman, an attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Division; and James Emanuel Boasberg, an associate judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Taft and George H. W. Bush were both one-term presidents. George W's secret name in the order is reported to be "Temporary." Will he be the first member of the Order of Skull & Bones to serve two terms, in spite of his secret name, or will he hand the reins of government to his rival Bonesman, John Kerry?
This is the first time that both major candidates are members of Skull & Bones. There has been little discussion of the order in Democratic and Republican circles. The Washington Post assigned Bonesman Dana Milbank to cover the election, and he hasn't brought the question up. Even Ralph Nader has been quiet. Is this because Nader's sometimes lawyer and long-standing associate, Donald Etra, is Skull & Bones 1968, and a good friend of George W. Bush?
Author Antony Sutton in the 1980s called attention to the order's predilection for trying to politically influence both the left and the right. Is our current presidential election a contest between the two best candidates for the job, or a cynical dialectic ploy for control of our republic and our collective future?
As a Bonesman is reported to have said about Bush vs. Kerry, "It's a win-win situation."
Maybe it is for the order.
But what about the rest of us?