May 19, 2006

"Several dozen students and faculty turned their backs and lifted signs saying 'Our commencement is not your platform.'"

John McCain gives a commencement address at the New School.
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.

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.
More details from Ari Berman's blog at The Nation:
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 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.
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."

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.

"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!"
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.


HaloJonesFan said...

I wouldn't get upset about it either. They're college students, and the one constant of college students is that they are assholes. Sure, some are assholes to a greater degree than others, but they've all got the asshole in 'em. Mostly it's by virtue of not having lived long enough to realize it; with age comes wisdom, but try telling your average undergrad that.

Nels said...

Sounds as though he was asking for it, if "it" is the 2008 Republican nomination.

Michael Wade said...

I respectfully disagree. When I was in college in the Sixties - hardly a harmonious time - it was still possible for speakers of all viewpoints to communicate without members of the audience turning the event into a circus. Our campus had Robert Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg and others speak without any rudeness. Make no mistake. These disruptive students are no friends of freedom of speech. Shrug at them today and it will be worse two years from now.

Palladian said...

I don't much like McCain, but not for the reasons these New School for Socialist Research students don't like him (I can't forgive McCain-Feingold). But you think it's impossible to expect a crowd of graduating college students to sit and listen respectfully to a speaker with whom they disagree? That's pretty scary. I thought the point of a college education was to develop intellectual acuity and the ability to reason and learn from different arguments.

The last I heard, commencement ceremonies were optional. If one can't make it through a speech without behaving like drunken groundlings then stay home and have them mail your diploma.

I actually have first-hand experience with this exact scenario. When I graduated from Yale in 2001, President Bush was awarded an honorary degree and was asked to give a short speech. Much of the same antics ensued, the groaning and shouting and hissing and back-turning, but Bush took it in stride and just made jokes. Someone kept shouting "C minus" in reference to Bush's GPA (I don't know if it's true or not) and Bush quipped "You graduate from Yale with a C and you can be president. You drop out (referring to Cheney) of Yale and the best you can do is vice-president". This was several months before 9/11, when even I couldn't stand Bush, but I didn't make any catcalls. I doubt it would be possible for him to make the same speech at Yale (or any other university) now. Apparently even a moderate like McCain can't either.

But try to boo Tony Kushner or Hillary Clinton at a commencement. See how that goes over.

Thorley Winston said...

Sounds as though he was asking for it, if "it" is the 2008 Republican nomination.

Agreed, one has to wonder if the morons in the crowd who heckled him realized that they (a) just made John McCain even more palatable to moderates and (b) just strengthened his bona fides amongst conservatives while (c) making the Left look like a bunch of jackasses.

Jennifer said...

Normally I can't stand when college students do this to speakers they disagree with. Free speech only for my friends! Dumb, dumb, dumb.

But, this is their commencement. This is supposed to be about them. And, they went the civil route, first, with the petition.

Dave said...

The New School for Stalin Research is replete with idiots.

John Jenkins said...

Jennifer, it would have been about them had there been no petition and heckling. By doing those things, they made it about McCain, not them.

Of course, Katie Couric spoke at my university commencement (that I didn't attend, though for other reasons), and I don't recall a petition and complaining by the vastly conservative student body over having a very liberal speaker.

It does show a lack of respect for the speaker, and for yourself, when you can't find the restraint for behaving with good decorum, even toward those with whom you disagree. Of course, I doubt any of those students, coming from that homogeneous environment, were ever taught the value of opposing viewpoints, even if those viewpoints are objectively wrong (and not just something you disagree with).

Unknown said...


"Tremendous social pressure"?

Maybe, but I'd hope the pressure would resist such immaturity--or, in modern parlance, such assholiness.

Should he, or anyone, be exorcised over a bunch of boorish spoiled children?

Sure...Their parents.

Anonymous said...

making the Left look like a bunch of jackasses.

How do you know it's the left?
"">No one likes Bush anymore.

You guys are just deadenders in the last throes of your passion.

Suppressing speech is a characteristic I find mostly on the right.

Liberals are too pansy-assed traitors to take such an aggressive step as yelling.

Ross said...

Fabian Nunez -- the speaker of the California Assembly -- felt free to work in digs at Bush during his commencement speech at Pitzer college last weekend. (Link: No mention of much crowed reaction.

I skipped my college graduation, but if I'd gone I would have been happy if the speaker had skipped the politics.

buck turgidson said...

McCain did not "ask for it" by poor phrasing, but by being inflexible in approaching his audience. Giving essentially the same speech at Liberty and at the New University is definitely "asking for it" no matter what he said.

buck turgidson said...

One other thing. McCain asked them to "be open-minded". They disagreed with him, yet they attended the ceremony, they listened to him patiently, but eventually they grew tired of his nonsense. They were open-minded! They gave him a chance and he blew it. Once upon a time, there might have been a difference between McCain and other top Republicans. No longer. McCain is becoming the more likeable version of Bob Dole--he might have earned his candidacy for president by his years of service and his past "straight talk", but it no longer applies. McCain is as much a has-been as Gephardt was two years ago, as much as Dole was when he ran. If he runs the same way in '08, he has no chance. Kow-towing to the lunatic fringe does not help

The Drill SGT said...

It's amazing how rude today's youth can be. I expect my youngest niece, whose politics are slightly left of Trotsky would behave as badly.

I went to the University of California during the peak (1968) of the Vietnam War. We students weren't as rude to our elders at formal events like graduation.

Whether you agree or not with McCain's politics, he's a true American hero and a suitable speaker for a graduation ceremony. Those students could learn much from him about honesty, loyalty, heroism, and keeping the faith with your friends. Unfortunately he didn't give that speak, though I wish he had.

His book, Faith of my Fathers was a great read. He was honest, and admits the NVA broke him. Everyone can be broken, given enough time and enough pressure. His message was that you should not give up information too soon, and you should make them earn everything they ultimately wring out of you.

Not everyone knows that his father was the Commander in Chief in the Pacific when McCain was in the camps. The NVA knew that and offered young McCain special treatment, but he refused, They offered early release and he refused.

The man is a hero, regardless of his politics.

Harkonnendog said...

There's no doubt in my mind that the majority of those students were embarassed and angry at the hecklers because

1) the hecklers political views are NOT representative of the views of all or even a majority of their fellow students
2) the hecklers lack of civility is an aberration, not the norm at that college
3) the vast majority of students believe McCain deserves deference due to his age and experience

I went to a college known for being liberal, and when those 1 or 2 people in class, whether they were professors or students, started on one of their rants the eye-rolling began.

The majority's liberal impulse to be tolerant of different opinions, even if those opinions champion being intolerant to other opinions, allows intolerant self-identified liberals to monopolize attention. (read that sentence again, it makes sense I promise)But that doesn't mean the majority of students don't recognzie the loudmouths for what they are.


lindsey said...

Just last weekend he spoke at Liberty University so he's hopping around the political spectrum.

Jennifer said...

John Jenkins, I see what you're saying.

I guess my point, stated more clearly, is why are politicians giving political speeches at commencements? Shouldn't it just be some sort of touchy-feely-go-take-on-the-world deal?

Beth said...

And isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges?

Should anyone who's made the pilgrimage to Liberty University be taken seriously at a credible institution? Where's he off to next, Bob Jones U.?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

If you want to see egregious commencement behavior, it would be Jody Foster, trying to rap to the graduates at University of Pennsylvania.

Sebastian said...

I seem to recall a few weeks ago Senator McCain mentioning that he thinks his notion of clean government should take precedence over the First Amendment.

One of the things I hate about the political climate today is how we nitpick over what, in the big picture, is a trifle. Shouldn't they be worried that McCain's views on the First Amendment aren't "in keeping with the prevailing views on campus"? Is no one really concerned about freedom anymore beyond a woman's right to cut a fetus out of her body and "Adam and Steve's" right to file a joint return? Are people really so wrapped up in the vogue political issues du jour that no one worries John McCain has no issues about about burning part of the Bill of Rights?

There are many reasons not to like Senator McCain, and one's views on Iraq or abortion aside, I would think the fact he doesn't believe in one of the most important principles of a free society should be a more overriding concern, whether you're on the left or the right.

Simon said...

"And isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges?"

Well, preaching to the converted is fun and all, but periodically, all conservatives are required to undergo the hazing ritual of going out and prosetylyzing to the heathens. ;)

I have much more fun - and I honestly think it's more productive - posting at blogs like Althouse, Prawfs and Concurring Opinions, where you're mostly talking to people who disagree, but who are open-minded and can debate (disagree, even) for the most part without the monotonous rancor of most left-leaning sites.

Joe said...

Short of Holocaust denial or something equally egregious by McCain, there is no excuse for such behavior by these graduates.

Sanjay said...

It seems like to the extent he was asking for it, in the speech he's sayg, let's respect one another whether I was right or wrong. In that context the student looks like an ass; he's asking them to talk to each other respectfully whether they think he was right or wrong, and the student is missing the point. Or worse, getting it and rejecting it.

Drew W said...

I haven’t spent much time on a university campus since I graduated a quarter-century ago (yick, why did I put that way?), but just a couple years ago, I let a friend at City University of New York persuade me to take a psych test to help out a graduate student. Used as I am to the battle of ideas I read everyday on blogs like this one, I was stunned by how ideologically monochromatic everything seemed there. Reading the school press, and especially the flyers taped everywhere, expression of opinion was all around, but the menu was pretty short: Left or Extreme Left.

This seemed to agree with the portrait of academia that one tends to hear about. And I got a sense of why we’re turning out graduates who are unable to debate an opposing viewpoint. They’ve never actually heard an opposing viewpoint. Not only do we get ruder students than ever before (a consequence of society’s general coarsening, I fear), but we also get more brittle students than ever before. We’re now beset by self-important ninnies who sniff, “John McCain Does Not Speak For Me.” Well who in God’s name said that he had to speak for you? When did that become a requirement?

One of the most exciting things about our democracy is the clash of viewpoints. Whenever I hear about students who are just beside themselves that somebody dares express an opposing viewpoint (no matter what the fine points of his text or delivery might be), I despair at a new crop of My Fellow Americans who don’t understand what free speech is about. From their viewpoint, hearing an opinion with which they might disagree seems certain to create a, y’know, hostile environment. And nobody is allowed to get away with that. They know their rights.

Robert said...

P.J. O'Rourke once quoted a friend's mother as asking him and his then-collegiate leftwing friends "why do you have to have such terrible mores in order to defend admirable morals?"

A boor is a boor.

McCain, I am sure, knew he would be horribly maltreated and went with that hope. Being treated so shabbily by such a despicable crowd will be worth many, many votes among the right. Not my vote (never - not even to defeat Hillary) but I am not everyone on the right.

Craig Ranapia said...

Well, Ann, you may well ask "isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges?"

Well, I'll ask you if you self-censor your teaching - and avoid using the considerable "social pressure" you can exert in the most unequal power-dynamic of the teacher/student relationship - so as not to offend 'liberal' sensibilities.

And I think it's worth pointing out that the 'politically liberal' are just the people who bitch and moan that the right (particularly the Bush White House) live in an Orwellian echo chamber where never is heard a discouraging word. Well you can't have it both ways, darlings.

Mark Z said...

Jennifer got it right. Commencement is about honoring the graduates. McCain's address was a political stump speech. Sure, proper political discourse is fine and good, but political discourse of any sort isn't the point of a commencement ceremony. The students should've kept quiet and listened to what he said? I bet most of em already knew what he was going to say, word for word--seeing as how he gave them the same speech as Liberty. I'm a huge McCain supporter, but if someone's idea of an address at my commencement is to recycle a stump speech to further their own presidential ambitions I will not be impressed.

TWM said...

1) I am not a McCain fan.

2) The college kids were rude, and liberal college kids are normally the rudest.

3) He is smart enough to know that and I am sure he expected what he got or worse.

4) He handled it very well and made them look small and intolerant, which, well, is what they are.

5) Commencement speeches should be about the students and not political in nature, but that doesn't seem possible today. Either the universities invite politicians or people who have known political agendas who give political speeches, or the people from other careers choose to make political statements to make themselves feel more important than they are (Jodie Foster comes to mind). The result is that the students get stuck listening to stuff they do not want to hear.

6) The students should pick the speaker. Someone they agree with. Unfortunately after all the liberal brainwashing most colleges give them these days, that is going to result in few conservatives being invited to speak.

michael farris said...

Is anyone really upset by this? And if so, why?

Believe it or not, I think this was a win-win situation. McCain got paid for a phoned-in stump speech and a little more publicity than is normal for the occasion (and gets a little conservative street cred from the further right). The students got one last chance for an ostentatious display of self-righteous anger before having to go out into the cold, cruel world and choose between their ideals and paying their debts.
The system works!

I do think the war in Iraq (no matter the opinion of the speaker) is not an appropriate subject for a commencement speech (the only appropriate subject is "We've screwed up, hope you can do better").

Ricardo said...

John McCain is in a process of trying to figure out where to position himself for the election of 2008. In this case, the wrong McCain showed up for this audience. Had the McCain of the "Straight Talk Express" shown up, the response might well have been different. Instead, a McCain showed up who was trying to justify his voting record on the Iraq issue. I, for one, don't mind that politicians take time to figure out "who they really are" before entering an election year. You could argue that McCain is old enough to have figured out who he is by now, but the political dynamics (red-blue) have so changed in the last ten years, that politicians need to keep constantly reinventing themselves in order to keep in tune with the electorate. While I feel sad that the students couldn't have had a more pertinent speaker for this one last celebration of their college years (mine was Bob Hope, and he was wonderful), I also believe that we should cut McCain some slack, respect his many years of service to his country, and let him prepare himself for the next presidential election. We'll have ample time to judge all these people in 2008.

MadisonMan said...

I was not at the Commencement, so of course I don't really know what happened -- but if I had to sit through a political stump speech during my commencement, I don't think I'd be respectful and quiet. Bored young adults do unfortunate things.

If McCain gave a speech on his life story, that would have been more interesting, and maybe more appropriate.

TWM said...

At another point, someone yelled, "We're graduating, not voting!"

And, based on the voter turnout of that age group, they probably haven't voted much, nor will they for a few years.

And I might be wrong, but I doubt many of these students would have been interested in McCain's war years.

dick said...


Since Liberty University routinely beats the Ivy colleges at debate contests your narky comments need a little revisiting. When you consider the one note politics of most of the major universities (your choice of words) is left of Trotsky, why shuld a reputable non-liberal speaker even consider showing up there. The cant spoken there (think Colorado or Hamilton) is far more out of the mainstream than anything from Liberty or Hillsdale yet that is acceptable to you. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to listen to almost anyone speak and then ask questions. Why defend idiots who are so close-minded that they cannot be bothered to listen to someone who doesn't regurgitate Marx.

KCFleming said...

And here we see the usual definition of free speech, lefty style:

Speak left: How courageous!
Speak Center: Not allowed. Shouted down.
Speak Right: The Devil! Get Him!

Maybe a commencement speech is supposed to be "about" the graduating class. So what? The inability to respond to such adversity as the wrong speaker or the wrong speech without attempting to disrupt the proceedings is not only evidence of immaturity, or arrogance, or incivility.

It portrays the "ugly left" in its purist form: rigid, intolerant, uninformed, bullying, and wholly un-American. They would have fit in well at a National Socialist rally in the 1930s, a Cultural Revolution attack on a bourgeios professor in the 1960s, or a Year Zero "re-education camp" in the 1970s, disciplining or killing their own parents (a group McCain had direct contact with, BTW). It's all the same: a love for the totalitarian, a ken for being a boot on the human neck.

How shameful. What a crap school.

bearbee said...

Both sides lose. Schools for inviting people with political or otherwise axes to grind ....... the extraordinarily privileged generation of graduates living in an incredibly free society, who, I suspect, for the most part have rarely experienced a moment of extreme strife and discomfort (excepting of course the time that the *&%# cell phone battery ran out), who have not been taught an ounce of graciousness or good manners, who view booing an ultimate act of courage and who after 15 or so years of schooling do not understand the concept - freedom of speech.

Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.
More profiles in courage.........

The result is that the students get stuck listening to stuff they do not want to hear.
Oh dear......

Someone they agree with.
Why? God forbid someone should attempt to awaken dormant brain cells

Terry Ott said...

The only relevant learning in this scenario has to do with McCain himself --- not the students or the school, or even the speech (same as an earlier one).

We know that virtually all college campuses are populated by left-leaning faculty. We know "former students" eventually form their own political convictions based on real world experiences and discourse after leaving the collegiate nest, so they cannot be seen as quite "fully formed". We also know that those on the political extremes are closed-minded, self-righteous, and tend to be intemperate and obnoxious (in the sense that invective seems to be their weapon of choice). So, we can presume what kind of reaction is most likely at this particular school.

We know McCain has been willing to go into enemy territory (as it were) and to take a licking and keep on ticking, But I think we learned something ELSE about McCain here, and I think a little less of him because of it. His job, in this setting, was to figure out a message, and a way to deliver it, that would resonate on some level with a substantial percentage of these students --- knowing where THEY'RE coming from --- and produce something other than catcalls and the predictable leftist shouting and groaning. He failed to do that.

To extrapolate, he didn't come across as a skilled diplomat, which calls for understanding and dealing effectively with adversarial viewpoints. I don't want or expect him to be two-faced (we have plenty of those types in elected office already) or to abandon principles to curry favor with various demographic and socio-economic groups (which the Democrats have made an art form in recent years). But I would have liked him more if he had crafted his remarks in a way that (1) would catch the students a bit off guard in terms of presenting thoughts they didn't necessarily expect to hear from him, and (2) would have (if nothing else) made some of them think instead of react, at least a little bit.

dick said...


The only problem with what you have written is that the students have to listen to what he is saying to open their minds at all and the likelihood of that with this group is nil. He might as well have just read the telephone book to them and they would have booed that as well. Score one for the libs!!

somefeller said...

"Since Liberty University routinely beats the Ivy colleges at debate contests your narky comments need a little revisiting."

Whoopee. And I suspect Liberty's fencing team sometimes beats Yale's in competition. Sorry, but it'll be a cold day in Hell before anyone serious considers Liberty University or Hillsdale (and I could name other right-wing degree mills, but I'll be nice today) as being universities of any real intellectual stature. Reputable conservative think-tanks like AEI prefer to hire Ivy League grads or grads from good public and private schools (i.e. University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, Rice, Duke) ahead of grads from the right-wing degree mills. For that matter, it's no accident that you don't find many Liberty grads working at major law firms, Fortune 500 corporations or other employers that have selective hiring criteria. Elizabeth's snark is quite warranted.

That having been said, I don't think the New School students behaved properly here. While McCain may have been giving a lame stump speech, booing him doesn't do much for the causes they are trying to promote. If you are a politically mature person, you should always consider whether your actions are helping your side or hurting it. While there is a time and a place for venting and making it clear what you really think about your adversaries, a public ceremony with a US Senator on the podium isn't the right time and place.

knox said...

If they're going to shout him down, I wish they'd shouted him down for McCain-Feingold. What a mess that left us with.

These students weren't mad because it was a political sppech. They're mad because it was given by a conservative. Anyone who tries to say different is being disingenuous. If it was Dean up there they would have been swooning.

OK, so Bob Jones U represents intolerance... I suppose this incident doesn't? I love how rigid ideology on the right is ridiculed, while identical behaviour on the left has been excused a hundred different ways in these comments alone.

sean said...

Well, it would seem to me that it's Prof. Althouse's university professor colleagues who generally inflict their political views on captive audiences who have to sit still, listen, and pretend to agree (as I did). Is Prof. Althouse saying that it's fine to inflict your political views on an audience that doesn't share them so long as you possess the power to punish dissent, but that McCain is foolish to say something controversial when he lacks that power? That's an interesting, kind of quasi-Stalinist, point of view. It does explain why the classroom lectures at most colleges skew rather to the left of the alumni fund-raising solicitations, though.

Laura Reynolds said...

Given McCain's history, an hour in front of a bunch of folks armed with signs and a attitude, hardly seems like much of a problem for him. He knew what he was getting into, whether it smart to do it, in the way he did it, is another thing.

I'm just glad there's no record of what I did at that age, other than a transcript and a diploma. There's lots of ways to be stupid.

PatCA said...

A poster characterized the atmosphere on campus as monochromatic. How true--and how sad. The ideologues are not able to debate their dogma and don't feel they have to.

Showing their asses is somehow apt. Let's just hope that the silly protest du jour does not escalate into something more dangerous.

amba said...

I'm inclined to agree with Thorley, John Jenkins & co.
(Linked back to this post.) McCain might have handled it better, but it mostly makes the left look worse than ever.

amba said...

But, Buck Turgidson: giving the same speech at both (or all 3) venues was a deliberate decision and statement. It might not have been good theatre, but he was saying, "I have the same message for both sides." It was also a way of protecting himself from the accusation that he'd given something special and exclusive to Falwell, that he'd favored the far right in sme way.

amba said...

Mark: Stump speech or no, it is perfectly appropriate to talk to graduating college seniors about what it means to be an active citizen of a democracy. Wouldn't it have been "so September 10" If he'd talked about sunscreen?

Kirk Parker said...

Jennifer, do you realize that what you're saying is, they deserve to get their way no matter what? The right thing to have done, after they petitioned and failed, was to suck it up and act respectably.

Not that this takes away from telling Ann's point:

"At the very least, he should have prepared a graduation speech and not a political speech"

No kidding! This may not, sadly, disqualify him from either commencement speaking or politics, but it certainly does futher lower his standing as a decent person.

Beth said...

Dear dick, politicians go to Liberty U. not to woo the bright students but to pay homage to Jerry Falwell. No revision of my "snarky" remark is necessary. Falwell is a hack, a boil on the butt of the GOP. But year after year, decent people make their deals with the devil that holds the religious right political power. Shame on them, and shame on the voters that keep rewarding them for that compromise.

I think our political season would be much more fruitful if we didn't have a reverance of politicians. Why not call out questions and comments? Why not demand that they not stick to the script? Why treat American politicians like monarchy, or honored guests? Make them work for respect, and take their chances with the voters, in person. I have quite a few things I'd like to nail Dean on, by the way.

Laura Reynolds said...

Elizabeth: As a republican, I agree about Falwell, et al. The media continues to grant these guys stature and the politicians feel compelled to respond. While I may agree with Falwell, Dobson, Robertson on many issues of faith and politics, they don't represent me. I suppose the same can be said of NAACP or NOW, its the lowest common denominator and over simplifies the issues.

Who's gonna win the runoff?

Beth said...

SteveR, it's too hard to poll this one, with thousands of voters living outside the city still. There's probably around 25,000-30,000 votes from evacuees, so those are a wild card. Landrieu is polling higher in the city limits, but this one is too close to call.

Landrieu has my vote, but I won't have a heart attack if Nagin wins. He's a terrible speaker, but he's not totally incompetent, and he's as clean as we've ever had in terms of patronage and doing business. He's not going to be dispersing contracts to close friends and family.

dick said...


Then nail Dean for a change. What I see from the left is how bad the right is, which is not primarily the religious right at all, but then when the left makes its deals with the devil we hear nothing. I remember when Hillary was running that Al Sharpton said he would not support her or Al Gore unless they came to his location and asked him in person for his support. They showed up like good little puppy dogs and praised him to the skies and begged for his support. Where were the complaints about Sharpton then from the ones who complained about him later. Not a word was spoken but we heard all about the support that Hillary and Gore got from the Sharpton followers. Not a word about what they had to do to get it. Not a word about what they were in effect supporting to get his followers to support them. However let Bush show up at Bob Jones and you would have thought that the world was coming to an end. That is why I was mentioning what I did.

And as to the snarky reference, I do think that it is possible to get a good education at Hillsdale and St Thomas Acquinas and Grove City and even at Liberty. You don't win debating contests unless you do the work to get the points in order and present them in a logical fashion and you don't do that unless you know what you are doing.

PatCA said...

"Why not call out questions and comments? Why not demand that they not stick to the script? Why treat American politicians like monarchy, or honored guests?"

It's about civility for its own sake and for democracy's sake, not as an honor that we bestow on someone. What would happen in the classroom if every time an English prof brought up Norman Mailer, for instance, half the students shouted down the teacher because Mailer is not feminist-approved?

A few boos is one thing--but pies in the face and organized intimidation is another.

Knemon said...

"Giving essentially the same speech at Liberty and at the New University is definitely "asking for it" no matter what he said."

Somebody missed the point of the speech!

Triumph of context over content, I guess.

"We have to hear the same words as those ... those ... those redneckbiblethumpingfascistsheep?

Our special ears deserve special words!"

Beth said...

dick, prove that no one on the left criticizes Al Sharpton. Good luck with that.

Pat, a politician making a stump speech and a teacher in a classroom are not comparable. Students aren't being asked to vote for the teacher; the teacher isn't demonstrating his or her plan or platform for holding office. Civility is overrated; we end up with bumpter-sticker slogans, the worst people running for office, the press reducing the public discourse to the most shallow of questions, officials who feel beyond any public accountability other than the vote, and an intrenched incumbancy.

No one shouts me down in my lit courses, but every student has the opportunity and right to speak. Do you see that happening at political speeches?

sean said...

Well, Elizabeth, permitting people to speak freely when you hold their future in your hands is pretty hollow. Are you suggesting that I would have done myself some good by raising my hand and objecting when my literature professors referred to Nixon and Kissinger as war criminals? (Not that I have strong enough feelings on the topic to object, other than the objection in principle to taking up classroom time with silly left-wing politics.)

Juliet said...

somefeller: Sorry, but it'll be a cold day in Hell before anyone serious considers Liberty University or Hillsdale (and I could name other right-wing degree mills, but I'll be nice today) as being universities of any real intellectual stature.

I won't speak for Liberty, but I know several alumni of Hillsdale, and I would be loath to denigrate their intellectual capacity, or that of most of their professors. The Hillsdale grads I know are damn smart people, many of whom continued on to highly rated graduate or professional programs in their field. I attended the "other" UW, which is a university with real intellectual stature, and I'm convinced that outside of my fabulous experience in Washington's classics department, my Hillsdale friends received a liberal arts education superior to mine.

Beth said...

Sean, all I can tell you is that I did raise my hand and disagree with my professors in college. Over and over, in undergrad and grad school. That was the atmosphere fostered in the university I attended. I allow that same atmosphere in my classes. The image of college as a brainwashing center where students are forced to march in lockstep just isn't one that I've experienced. I'm not saying you didn't, but I also think that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Student sits and smolders, then leaves class and says of COURSE he couldn't state his opinion; everyone KNOWS the professor would fail him just for being a _______ (fill in the blank.)

MadisonMan said...

Somebody missed the point of the speech!

Exactly -- why go to a graduating ceremony and talk about yourself, and not the students (I'm assuming that's what he did -- I wasn't there).

Does anyone here even remember who their graduation speaker was? I left college almost 25 years ago...I have no clue who spoke -- I vaguely recall spending most of my time chatting with the other people in my major who were graduating. I wonder if the boo-ing graduates will recall who spoke 25 years hence. I wonder how many were sober.

reader_iam said...

But Mr. McCain seemed uneasy... stuck to his script and did not acknowledge the barbs.

Ann, am I reading into this that perhaps you were intimating a parallel?

Sanjay said...

Wow, I couldn't disagree more, Professor Althouse. Now, I _love_ to see a speaker engage with hecklers (nobody will ever beat Schwarzenegger's "That guy owes me bacon!", shouted after someone threw an egg at him) and it would be particularly fitting given McCain's call for dialogue.

But, sheesh, it's a graduation. God's most boring event (I've skipped all of mine: but been dragged to some). Of course he sleepwalked it. The dialogue would've, rudely, done what the students implied: made the whole thing about McCain and a McCain campaign stop. That might've been good politics but it would've been really crappy etiquette, no? And there's no question McCain can give as good as he gets, when he has to -- if anything he needs to go the other way.

Simon said...

"Now, I _love_ to see a speaker engage with hecklers (nobody will ever beat Schwarzenegger's "That guy owes me bacon!", shouted after someone threw an egg at him)"

No one can rip a heckler a new one like George Carlin. Unfortunately, Carlin's method of dealing with a heckler is unrepeateable on a family blog. ;)

Knemon said...

"Somebody missed the point of the speech!

Exactly -- why go to a graduating ceremony and talk about yourself, and not the students"

No ... t'was the commenter missed the point.

It wasn't out of laziness that he gave the same speech at both places. He's got enough speechwriters, surely, to whip different pieces up for occasions X and Y.

knox said...

Elizabeth, your posts indicate that you not only find this behavior being excusable but desirable! Civility is overrated? Really? You've written plenty of posts at this blog in the past that indicate you don't really believe that.

And Al Sharpton was one of the Seven Dwarfs in 04... Shame, indeed.

Beth said...

knoxgirl, thanks for that question, and for indicating you find me civil. I appreciate that.

I'm speaking about this incident, and about what I think is an overrated concern for civility between us, the electorate, and them, the politicians. They are too insulated. I don't see anything wrong with an audience responding to a speaker, with boos, or with cheers. No pies! McCain wants to be president--why shouldn't that be a hard row to hoe? Why should he, and any politician, not face more than polite, orchestrated interviews on TV? I just think our politics should be more interactive, and we shouldn't be hushing each other up out of wrong-headed respect for political office.

Terry Ott said...


You say "...students have to listen to what he is saying to open their minds at all and the likelihood of that with this group is nil."

I'm not ready to agree with that. He made his "political" speech at Liberty U. No need to do that again. If I were his PR guy, or speechwriter, I'd have tried something altogether different.

(1) Acknowledge that there may be little political common ground between him and the prevailing student opinion at New School.
(2) Celebrate the fact that differences are the mainsteam fuel of effective democracy, when coupled with mature discourse.
(3) Comment about how to be most effective in life in terms of sticking to your principles, whatever they are, without attacking personally those who hold different ones.
(4) Illustrate how that is done with examples from his own life and those of people these students would respect.
(5) Talk about the potential benefits from working toward common ground with your "enemies" and winning their trust/respect that you are authentic in your own positions and have a legit place at the table.
(5) Close with a point that these students would appreciate; namely, that the quality of discourse in Washington has declined in recent years --- and that it's now theatening the future of effective democracy. Then, challenge the students to remain active in political affairs, but with the attitude that the best way to advance your cause is NOT to seal yourself off from those you disagree with, no matter how vehemently.

If they boo, they boo. But they look even smaller and he looks larger (and more flexible) as a result.

MadisonMan said...

He's got enough speechwriters, surely, to whip different pieces up for occasions X and Y.

And you'd think he'd be able to talk about his audience, not himself, on such a day.

I have to agree with Elizabeth -- would there be any comments on this if the audience had been similary rude, but in a positive sense, constantly interrupting McCain with cheers and loud applause? Granted, the politician might enjoy the huzzahs, but if you drown him out so your neighbor can't hear, aren't you being as rude as a boo-er? Why is it that only challenges to politicians are perceived as bad things?

MadisonMan said...

I sent that too soon -- maybe that would be an effective strategy...engage protesters not to boo, but to cheer overenthusiastically and drown out the speech!

That way, everyone is happy!

PatCA said...

"Do you see that happening at political speeches?"

Yes, how about Ray McGovern arguing with Rumsfeld last week, for one?

And to me, it's not the end of the world if the students act up at graduation, but in times like these, before you know it, you're not printing cartoons because you don't want your building burned down, or speakers aren't showing up without bodyguards. I hate to utter the overused "slippery slope" analogy, but it bears watching.

valkyrjan said...

What doesn't come through in the excerpts printed of McCain's speech (that was, evidently, the same one he have at Columbia College Class Day) is that it wasn't a political speech; it was about having the responsibility as an educated American to argue your position, to defend your views and the morality that underpins them. One of McCain's key points was that students must argue passionately, but they must also remember that those they argue with aren't their enemies, they are simply their political/ideological opponents.

I'm not a McCain fan by any means, but his speech was totally appropriate for a college graduation and good advice--for anyone. The students who heckled him and vilified him because of his politics should have listened more closely to what he was actually saying. At Columbia there was much more respect paid; students listened and realized that he was saying something worth thinking about.

Stephen said...

New School, for a college is about as liberal as it’s possible for one to get (which, for a university, is obviously really saying something). I’d surprised if McCain didn’t know what he was getting into.

Given his animosity with evangelicals in the past, I do get a kick out of the fact McCain can go to its rightwing equivalent, Liberty University, get a civil reception, and then get heckled by leftists at New School before he even begins speaking. McCain should have expected this, but only for the same reasons everybody should have expected this out liberal activists at college campuses nowadays. There are too many examples of conservatives (Clarence Thomas, Scalia, Condi Rice-who actually is a liberal on some major issues, etc.) getting this kind of reception at schools that are much less liberal than New School. I would have been surprised, on the other hand, if McCain received this kind of reaction at Liberty. I would have been surprised if Bill Clinton received this reception at Liberty.

Yeah, he should have expected it, but I’ve sat through too many liberal speakers at school events (and given civil receptions) giving politically tinged speeches (to be fair they probably don’t even realize it-listening to the talks, it seems to always be just a question of doing good vs. wanting to destroy the world) during my time at college and getting a J.D.--for commencement, honorary degrees, take your pick--that I have little sympathy for people who can’t stomach one conservative giving a speech. (This goes double for the fact I will continue to hear it implied by other students and profs that liberals have a monopoly on tolerance and open-mindedness.)

David said...

I agree with Elizabeth. If McCain can survive POW status he can handle some heckling from pumped up graduates full of themselves.

Most of these antics, Falwell and Sharpton included, provide comic relief. The funniest part is to imagine what happens one day when they pull these stunts in a boardroom or staff meeting.

The great equalizer is a mortgage, a car payment, and a girlfriend/wife with a credit card. That will keep the smart remarks to a minimum.

McCain can take care of himself! He has shown that.

Stephen said...

"What doesn't come through in the excerpts printed of McCain's speech (that was, evidently, the same one he have at Columbia College Class Day) is that it wasn't a political speech; it was about having the responsibility as an educated American to argue your position, to defend your views and the morality that underpins them. One of McCain's key points was that students must argue passionately, but they must also remember that those they argue with aren't their enemies, they are simply their political/ideological opponents."

Valkyrjan, what also doesn't come through is that his speech was protested weeks before he ever said a word. I'd have more sympathy if he was the first politician ever to be invited the speaker to a college on graduation day, but if he had got up there and read the Democratic Party platform or given the usual "you are the future" spiels he still would have been heckled by leftists.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Some thoughts:

1) McCain should have done a short, student focused speech, with just a few words that argued perhaps one important point (maybe Iraq, or healthcare). But most of the speech should have been about the students, and he should have considered the liberal inclinations of the audience and locale.

2) The students should have shown a bit of maturity by not closing ears to a voice they disagreed with. Nothing in the world gets solved that way.

3) Those who are busting on colleges likes Hillsdale, Liberty and Oral Roberts ... can you offer proof for your assertions? Or is it that you just don't know anyone from those colleges? One ought not to call a place a degree mill, if the school actually has entrance standards and requirements, and especially if one really knows nothing about the schools. Go do your homework, give us some stats, prove to us that graduates are all unemployed hacks, then come back and enlighten us.

Laura Reynolds said...

Simon, I went to a Carlin show the other night and you are correct. His first response was to mention that the stage was designed for sound to go our from it not the other way around. the next things he said were not repeatable but there were no more interuptions.

Steel Monkey said...

McCain says that we should argue passionately. If that's the case, why his sustained attack on the First Amendment?

I have voted for some pretty uninspiring Republican presidential nominees, like Bob Dole and George Herbert Walker Bush. But I don't know why anyone who cares about the right of freedom of speech would support John McCain for President.

Eli Blake said...

And isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges?

It may be a university, but just keep in mind that this is the University ofNebraska.

And this was the student body, not a bunch of Professors.

Keep in mind that Nebraska is not exactly a bastion of liberalism, a state in which every single county has voted Republican in the last several Presidential elections. It would have been tough even a couple of years ago to find any significant group of people in Nebraska willing to be identified as 'liberal.'

And as for university students, if the student body is sliding to the left even in a place as conservative as Nebraska, then it is certainly the case that liberals are the ones getting educated, and they will own the future (yeah, there are private schools, but the number of people they graduate every year isn't even close to the number that graduate from state universities, especially when you subtract out the liberal private schools like the Ivy league and Brandeis).

Beth said...

you're not printing cartoons because you don't want your building burned down

Pat, I should think that example supports my point precisely. Politicians shouldn't not speak out of fear of questions, or boos; rather, they ought to have something to say, and be prepared to defend and explain themselves.

I don't have any fears that Americans are going to start burning houses down over speech.

Ricardo said...

"We love you Bill."

(Shouted by a student, following a joint commencement address by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton at Tulane University, May 13, 2006 and shown on C-Span May 20, 2006.)

Jen Bradford said...

It seems to me he was doing his friend a favor, not "taking advantage" of anything. Bob Kerrey must have felt awful. (I'll bet John Kerry did too, when he read about it.)

I disagree with McCain on several issues, but I also admire him, and feel protective of his dignity. I still like to hope it was distasteful to most Democrats to see McCain treated so shabbily by a bunch of privileged kids. The idea that they probably think they were doing something "brave" just makes me throw up.

Mary E. Glynn said...

" Does anyone here even remember who their graduation speaker was? "

C. Everett Koop, a year retired as Surgeon General.
Good speech, good man. Odd looking hair and beard, which made it easy to pick him out on the platform with the other folks in robes.

(No protests. Less divisive times. Though some of his actions may have been viewed as "controversial", there was more a feeling that we're all in this together, back then. Sigh. 1990. The good old days.)

KCFleming said...

1. Why is the tactic of shouting down an invited speaker predominantly (and frequently) practiced by the left?

2. When did "liberals" move so far afield from the term as to embrace behavior that is its precise opposite, illiberalism?

3. Are college lefties inherently illiberal? Or is it learned slowly over four years, through courses and a general campus ambience that breed intolerance, incivility, and balaknization of victim groups?

PatCA said...

Elizabeth, it only proves your point if you equate shouting someone down, or other abusive behavior, with asking questions. I don't.

So, you say tomato, I say tomahto...

Mark Z said...

I take back what I said, as I finally took the time to actually look over the full text of the speech. D'oh! As others have pointed out, it is certainly not a stump speech; one out of 33 paragraphs is devoted to the war, and even that is in a greater context about the importance of vigorous debate in a democracy.

Scott W. Somerville said...

Ann, you've noted in the past how left-leaning bloggers will link to you to beat you up when they disagree, and right-leaning bloggers will link to praise you when they agree with you.

McCain is experiencing the same thing now with Liberty and New College. He's been the perceived enemy of the religious right for quite a while (unfairly, in my opinion), but his visit to Liberty seems to have been respectfully received. He's been the darling of the left for years, but he gets heckled at New College.

If I were McCain, I'd respond by flinching from left and warming up to the right. People go where they get stroked, not where they get whacked.

Or, to put it another way: courtesy consistently pays and boorishness always costs.

rafinlay said...

Eli Blake

The New College is in New York City. Not a conservative school or milieu, at all.

Don't be confused by Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska senator, being the president.

Craig Ranapia said...

Kudos for being willing to examine the evidence, and not only change your mind but be seen to do so. I should try it more often. :)

You're right. One of my best friends is as far on the left as I am on the right, but he gets a lot of points for being able to make his case passionately but respectfully. He doesn't often change my mind (or vice versa), but he is a pleasure to argue with.