Monday, May 22, 2006

Heads I Win...

So, it is probably impossible to have missed it, but John McCain got, erm, what's a good neutral way to put it...a less than universally approving reception at the New School University Commencement this weekend.

I've already said that I rather liked the McCain speech so far as political speechifying long a rhetoric and short on specifics goes (the New School remarks being pretty much the same as those given at Liberty ten days or so ago.) But I wouldn't want it 'performed' at my graduation either, for several reasons. First, I'm not sure I'd have much desire (or, considering the activities of Senior Week, have much capacity) to be lectured - it's safe to say he went slightly beyond gentle admonitions to Not Forget the Sunscreen - on the rules of substantive discourse. Especially by someone who doesn't always deal well with challenges from the young 'uns. See also this rather bizarre Obama-McCain exchange re: lobbying reform. And let's not forget the erm, less-than-civil response of one of his staffers to Ms. Rohe. Not that any of this makes Sen. McCain more or less faithful to the ideals of open debate than the rest of us, but it is worthwhile to mention that he is providing a salutation rather than precisely leading by example on this front.

But, more importantly, it's my graduation, not your campaign whistle-stop. If, as a group, the student body gets together and decides 'hey let's get Candidate X to come give a stump speech,' that's all well and good. Somehow, I don't think that's what happened here.

More disturbing to me is how yet again, this has turned into an opportunity to hector the 'Angry Left' (with even pretty reasonable types getting in on the act) and lecture about civility, et. seq.

I have several responses - the first is, this is rather how it is supposed to work. McCain says...whatever, at Liberty and plans to say the same at NSU. So a student at NSU who has the floor disagrees. Pointed disagreement, but largely respectful. It's called counterspeech, and is how the vaunted 'Marketplace of Ideas' functions. On the merits, I'm not sure Mr. Rohe is taking McCain's remarks in the spirit intended, but she certainly has a plausible reading, and she at the very least cautions against the more dismissive aspects of McCain's call to temper the passions of youth.

Second, this is pretty clearly exactly what McCain wanted - a gentle scolding to Falwell, which somehow demonstrates his independance (while at the same kissing the ring of the religious right) followed by some controversy at a bastion of liberalism - see, the hippie kids hate me. I must be a true conservative. All the while, the Straight-Talk meme survives and thrives. It's good politics, to be sure. But it's also obvious politics, so spare me the crocodile tears, please.

And my final bone of contention is largely this - the people complaining about this 'lack of civility' the loudest have no real standing to do so. Consider Greenwald, comparing the reaction to McCain at a liberal venue and an anti-war speaker at a conservative venue:
So, to re-cap the rules: (1) When a pro-war politician gives a pro-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle and boo him, that shows how Deranged the Angry Left is -- because they heckled a pro-war speech. (2) When an anti-war politician gives an anti-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle, walk out and even riot, that also shows how Angry the Left is -- because they "provoked a near riot" by pro-war students.
(Per usual with GG, Read The Whole Thing.) A neat trick - heads I win, tails you're angry. And next week, we learn how to become rubber and turn the opposition to glue...

As a final note, a vigorous side-discussion has arisen amongst various lefty heavyweights as to whether or not this form of dissent was particularly 'effective', whatever that means. Personally, I don't think it did much, on its own, to damage the well-burnished Straight-Talkin Maverick Express image. BUT, that doesn't mean Rohe was wrong for doing what she did (and if the STME is to be, sorry, derailed it might take a sustained critique of this nature to wake the more mainstream opinion-makers up to the notion that McCain is as ruthlessly political as they come, and 'Straight-Talk' is more of a schtick than a reality. [Update 5/23: Ezra appears to agree that the image of McCain as "Once and future Mavericking" politician might need to be killed by a thousand small cuts...thousand "Rohe's in bloom." His puns, thankfully, not mine...])

1 comment:

BenC said...

Along those same lines, Condi Rice was recently booed at another commencement speech.
I posted about it