My informant (who is not a member of the Yale secret society, but has reliable inside info) writes:
First, you observe that 5 of the last 10 major party candidates were bonespersons. Four of those five, however, were Bushes. It is more likely that Bones has benefited from the Bush dynasty than that the Bush dynasty has benefited from Bones. In fact, George H.W. Bush has complained that Bones was if anything a liability for him as a politician, and I would tend to believe him. As for Kerry, Bones membership may have conferred some modest benefit, but his rise to prominence in the early 1970s was largely his own doing. His also had helpful family connections and a talent for marrying rich women. I doubt that Bones was much of a factor in his career – although it probably didn’t have as much of a downside for him, as a Democrat, as it may have had for the Bushes.
Finally, on the current influence of the society, it has very little. The admission of women in the early 1990s was disastrous for the Skull & Bones and undermined the cohesion required to make secret organizations work. The relatively high degree of loyalty which the society once inspired depended on members’ ability trust one another, which in turn was based on members being encouraged to divulge their every secret.
Tom Wolfe wrote in his famous 1976 article “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening:”
At Yale the students on the outside wondered for 80 years what went on inside the fabled secret senior societies, such as Skull and Bones. On Thursday nights one would see the secretsociety members walking silently and single file, in black flannel suits, white shirts, and black knit ties with gold pins on them, toward their great Greek Revival temples on the campus, buildings whose mystery was doubled by the fact that they had no windows. What in the name of God or Mammon went on in those 30-odd Thursday nights during the senior years of these happy few?
What went on was… lemon sessions!-a regularly scheduled series of lemon sessions, just like the ones that occurred informally in girls’ finishing schools. In the girls’ schools these lemon sessions tended to take place at random in nights when a dozen or so girls might end up in someone’s dormitory room. One girl would become “it,” and the others would light into her personality, pulling it to pieces to analyze every defect… her spitefulness, her awkwardness, her bad breath, embarrassing clothes, ridiculous laugh, her suck-up fawning, latent lesbianism, or whatever. The poor creature might be reduced to tears. She might blurt out the most terrible confessions, hatreds, and primordial fears. But, it was presumed, she would be the stronger for it afterward. She would be on her way toward a new personality.
Likewise, in the secret societies: They held lemon sessions for boys. …And Thursday night after Thursday night the awful truths would out, as he who was It stood up before them and answered the most horrible questions. … But out of the fire and the heap of ashes would come a better man, a brother, of good blood and good bone, for the American race guerrière. And what was more… they loved it. No matter how dreary the soap opera, the star was Me.
My informant continues:
“Well, no guy is going to reveal the most shameful details of his life to any girl, even if she is a fellow bonesperson, nor is any girl going to reveal hers to any guy. As I understand it, the society’s current institutional self-understanding is not that of an exclusive brotherhood; instead, the society emphasizes the light-hearted fun they have together and how nice it is that such different people can share something in common. Thin is as the current Bones ideology is, it’s probably the only way to keep everyone together with offending each other.
Which brings us to the other threat (besides coeducation) to the society’s cohesiveness, namely, multiculturalism. About half the “taps” these days come from the ethnic organizations on campus (the Af-Am house, the Hispanic fraternity, &c). Each ethnic group tries to ensure that next tap comes from the same ethnic group. Their primary loyalty is thus to their ethnic group and not to Bones. In fact, after the “The Skulls” movie came out, the Hispanic members of the society starting to call themselves “skulls” (after the movie) rather than “bonesmen.” Needless to say, when society members get their cues about the society from pop culture rather than the society itself, the society can’t claim to have much influence over its members.
Finally, Bones is perpetually short of money and it has proven to be increasingly difficult to get alumni(ae) to donate anything. Bonespersons/”skulls” simply don’t have much loyalty to the institution.