The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, May 19, 2014


As the number of politically incorrect college commence speakers has grown, even the media has begun to take notice, but at the same time, left-leaning commentators have begun to circle the wagons, suggesting that the speakers are "afraid" to speak and therefore cancel. James Goldgeier provides a typical example:
News reports on college commencement season previously consisted of anodyne lists of the famous and near-famous appearing on campuses across the country, with occasional sound bites of their remarks. Now there appears to be a media watch list to see who will be the next high-profile speaker to decline to appear in cap and gown rather than address restive graduates angry at what the honorary degree recipient represents. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, still tarred by the Iraq war, chose not to give her planned remarks at Rutgers University. Smith College students seem not to have anything against International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde personally, but blame the organization she leads for various ills inflicted on other parts of the world—and the ensuing controversy over her remarks kept Lagarde away. Students at Haverford College demanded Robert Birgeneau apologize for the deployment of campus police against university students protesting tuition increases and budget cuts during his time as chancellor of Berkeley. He, too, chose to cancel.

As the pace has picked up in recent years of commencement no-shows, the invited speakers have provided a familiar magnanimous refrain: Commencement is a time of celebration for students and their families, and we do not wish to be a distraction. Of course, with that statement and their decision not to appear, they provided further distraction, and certainly much more media attention than if they had actually attended commencement. When Rutgers invited Rice, the university knew that any high-level George W. Bush administration official remains controversial due to the Iraq war, as did she. Presumably that would not have been the subject of her address, and her distinguished career provides much motivational material for graduates.
What unmitigated nonsense!

By definition, most commencement speakers have achieved something in their lives. They have had to make difficult decisions, have been outspoken on one or more issues, and yes, may have made mistakes. Why on earth should they submit themselves to being shouted down by a tiny group of (far-Left) students who want to suppress the speaker's desire to speak without interruption? Why should they be the catalyst for the [guaranteed] disruption of an important graduation ceremony?

The self-righteous students who protest these speakers have accomplished almost nothing in their short lives, they have extremely limited experience by virtue of their age, and should have the humility to recognize that not everyone has their world view. Instead, they, like many on the Left, excel at moral preening, spending their time expressing "outrage" that a Hirsi Ali or a Condolezza Rice (racism, anyone?) might have something important to say and should be allowed to say it without interruption or abuse.

At the risk of being crude, these snot-nosed kids have every right to express their feelings. They (and the professors who manipulate them) do not have a right to censor what others in the university community might want to hear nor do they have a right to disrupt a graduation ceremony that the vast majority of students want to enjoy. They are leftist thugs who do what leftist thugs have done for almost a century—ad hominem attacks on people they don't agree with followed by uncivil behavior if their attacks fail.

UPDATE (5/20/2014)
Yale Law Professor, Stephen L. Carter nails it in an open letter to the college students who refuse to listen to opposing views:
In my day, the college campus was a place that celebrated the diversity of ideas. Pure argument was our guide. Staking out an unpopular position was admired -- and the admiration, in turn, provided excellent training in the virtues of tolerance on the one hand and, on the other, integrity.

Your generation, I am pleased to say, seems to be doing away with all that. There’s no need for the ritual give and take of serious argument when, in your early 20s, you already know the answers to all questions. How marvelous it must be to realize at so tender an age that you will never, ever change your mind, because you will never, ever encounter disagreement! How I wish I’d had your confidence and fortitude. I could have spared myself many hours of patient reflection and intellectual struggle over the great issues of the day.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are graduating into a world of enormous complexity and conflict. There are corners of the globe where violence and war and abject oppression still dominate. Capitalism is concentrating wealth in fewer hands but, in the developing world, lifting tens of millions out of poverty. Traditional societies are caught in an increasingly desperate struggle between the perils of fundamentalism on the one side and the perils of modernism on the other.

Given your generation’s penchant for shutting down speakers with whom you disagree, I am assuming that you have no intention of playing any serious adult role in mediating those conflicts. And that’s fine. We should leave the task of mediation to those unsophisticated enough to be sensitive to the concerns of both sides.

And then the inimitable P.J O'Rouke provides the following comment, applicable, I suspect, to the students who Carter refers to: "Greetings, Class of 2014. So Condoleezza Rice was too offensive for you. Just wait until Monday morning. Did you learn how to spell KFC?"