Some 1,200 students and faculty had signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak, saying McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and abortion were not in keeping with the prevailing views on campus.More details from Ari Berman's blog at The Nation:
Kerrey urged students to exercise the open-mindedness he said was at the heart of the university's progressive history.
"Sen. McCain, you have much to teach us," Kerrey said toward the beginning of the ceremony, drawing a smattering of boos and hisses.
The Senator spoke in a dull monotone, without his usual charisma or charm. He was noticeably deflated by the crowd's harsh reception towards him. Remarks such as "I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq," were met with loud boos.I just read that last block quote to my son John. So, what do you think of that -- yelling out "Wrongly!"? John: "He's just asking for it when he phrases it like that."
"I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."
"Wrongly!" one student boomed from the back. Sitting directly behind us, Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.
As McCain droned on, students became increasingly restless. One cried, "This speech sucks!" Several students walked out early.
Yeah, McCain. Get some better speech writers. Don't lob softballs at the hecklers.
And isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges? He's taking advantage of an opportunity, a shot at a captive audience that's under tremendous social pressure to sit still and listen. How hard can you be on the audience that also sees fit to take advantage?
Yeah, yeah, everyone should be respectful and civil. It would be better to find what you can appreciate about a man of his stature when he deigns to appear at your institution -- his service and suffering in wartime, his long years of statesmanship. But I'm not going to get too exercised about this -- and I doubt if he is.
UPDATE: More details here:
Mr. McCain seemed uneasy, but stuck to his script and did not acknowledge the barbs. As [a student] had predicted [in one of the earlier speeches], he spoke about the importance of civil discourse, and he reiterated his defense of the war.Were the students inappropriate if he was inappropriate? He ought to have shown up prepared for the occasion. At the very least, he should have prepared a graduation speech and not a political speech. A genuinely with-it politician would also have come prepared to talk directly and spontaneously to the situation unfolding in front of him. You can go on about the students' rudeness if you want, but what is more important is whether he's a politician who has what it takes to run for President. The fact is he sleepwalked through what could have been his moment. But Mr. McCain seemed uneasy... stuck to his script and did not acknowledge the barbs.
"I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks," he said. The protests grew louder and more frequent as he spoke. Some graduates walked out. Others laughed. When Mr. McCain returned to policy after briefly quoting Yeats, someone shouted, "More poetry!"
At another point, someone yelled, "We're graduating, not voting!"