Rant of the Week

Right Wing Celebrity Martyrs

Condolezza Rice backs out of commencement address at Rutgers University after students protest.

I am sure Fox News will seize upon this story as another example of the hypocritical left suppressing free speech when it's speech that they don't like.  They eat this stuff up, because it's exactly what they do and they are embarrassed by it and nothing eases embarrassment more than finger-pointing.

And Fox News will, of course, act as if no conservative university or institution ever cancelled or banned a speech by someone they didn't like.  When is Bob Roberts University going to invite Noam Chomsky to give an address?  And they will act as if a majority of reasonable students and faculty at Rutgers wanted to hear Rice and their wishes are being denied by a minority of rabblerousing environmental extremists and peace activists.

If what we had at Rutgers, was a case of a conservative woman invited by a group of students and faculty and offering a speech expressing his or her views and another group  of students who didn't want to allow people to hear that speech, I would agree with them.  And, at some level, that is what is happening, and it is disgraceful.  But that's not the essence of this issue.

I recently discovered that an organization I work for has helped arrange a video-conference in Toronto that will feature, among others, Laura Bush as a guest speaker.  Laura Bush?  That celebrated authority on .... what?  Libraries?

Well, we know what her expertise is: on being married to a mediocre former president who led his nation into two ill-advised wars that still haven't ended and nearly destroyed the world's economy.  When she was chosen, what criteria was applied: people will want to see her, because she is a celebrity.  Someone who is famous for being famous.

So I would be quite happy to organize a rally to protest the selection of Laura Bush as guest speaker at this event-- if I cared enough about it.  But my protest would have nothing to do with her political views and everything to do with the fact that she is ridiculously unqualified to proffer her expertise on anything other than, perhaps, being a librarian (which she was before she married George Bush).  It is an offense anyone's sense of decency and fairness and class to see celebrities proffered as "experts" on anything.

Condoleeza Rice has a few more credentials: she is a mediocre former secretary of state whose performance was also decidedly mediocre.  In particular, she heartily commended the incredibly costly and disastrous invasion of Iraq based on rigged evidence.  She had no major foreign policy achievements, no great influence on anyone except other mediocrities who sided with her conservative ideology.  Her views on the cold war and the Middle East were worst than uninformed: they were ignorant.  But George Bush liked to work out with her and so she acquired significant influence in the White House. 

So, she wouldn't be worthless as a guest speaker, if she were to comment insightfully on the workings of the State Department during the later years of the Bush Administration.  But I very much doubt that someone with her record is going to want to provide the audience with anything but self-serving spin. 

Why was she chosen?  I would guess that there would be several reasons none of which would include the possibility that she was a smart person with a lot of interesting things to say about foreign policy, international relations, or peace in the Middle East.  More likely, the reasons would range from the fact that she is well-known (a celebrity), that she served in high government office (including a stint on the National Security Council for George Bush Sr.), that she wrote books on foreign policy, that she was a black woman serving in an administration dominated by white men, to the fact that Chevron named a 129,000 ton supertanker after her (after she helped them score some oil fields in Kazakhstan).

But part of the selection process relates to the whole culture of elites, of celebrities, of speakers' bureaus, of self-promotion and mutual self-interest.  

Rice was not selected by students and faculty because they were interested in what she might have to say,  but by President Robert Barchi, who then gets to host her for a luncheon and have his picture taken with her and introduce her to his wife, and tell all his friends that, as he was saying to Condi the other day....

So the students are quite right to protest.  Why is Barchi using the University's resources to gratify his own vanity, instead of selecting a speaker who can help further the educational mission of the school?

Rice will agree with a selfie because that is exactly what this is all about and she understands that.  She understands perfectly that she is not going to receive thousands of dollars to provide "intellectual property" that has a value because it is either.

Her selection was an "honor".  The first thing she would have said in her speech was how "honored" she was to be there.  But the honor was not given by the captive audience forced to sit there and become part of the obscene tableau of famous people collaborating in the arrangement of tributes to themselves: many students and faculty rightly found the entire idea distasteful.

The students and faculty should have played a role in selecting the commencement speaker,  and if they had chosen Rice, any protesters would have been their problem.  They are right to stand up and ask, "why are we honoring a woman who is most famous today for endorsing a war that is now widely regarded as a monumental mistake and disaster?" 

Why are we being forced to be part of this shabby little theatrical exercise?

All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk 2014 All Rights Reserved