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“Don’t Cry For Condi!”: Why Students Were Right To Scuttle Her Commencement Address

As sincerely as I wish everyone involved with the George W. Bush administration would just go away — or at least agree to only appear in the public eye in brief, tweet-size increments — I must admit that I think the recent kerfuffle over former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Rutgers University has been valuable, if only for the way it’s laid bare some of American society’s ugliest hypocrisies and quirks. I’m thinking of two in particular: the contradictory demands we make of our college students, and the intellectual ravages of our toxic cult of American exceptionalism.

For those who don’t know, here’s a quick recap of the incident: After a vocal student outcry at her selection, Rice decided she would not accept the university’s offer to speak at this year’s commencement, walking away from $35,000 and an honorary doctorate. “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice wrote in a Facebook note explaining her decision. Describing her invitation as “a distraction for the university community at this very special time,” Rice took the high road and swiftly put the controversy to rest by bowing out.

Because hers was just one of a recent handful of commencement reversals — the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde withdrew from a Smith College engagement, as did Robert Birgeneau from one at Haverford College — some pundits have since argued that Rice’s concession is proof that “liberal intolerance” is ascendant, threatening academic freedom and free speech all across our nation’s campuses. (To her credit, Rice disagreed, writing in her Facebook note that while she has “defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas” these values are “not what is at issue here.”) Other, smarter pundits have instead claimed that her story is an example of college kids being intellectual hothouse flowers, incapable of gracefully listening to opinions they don’t like without throwing a fit.

Olivia Nuzzi of the Daily Beast, for example, wrote with obvious frustration that the class of 2014 needs to “calm the hell down” and recognize that “oftentimes you find great wisdom in shitty people.” Before declaring that young people “are the worst” (which, considering Nuzzi’s own young age, was almost certainly written with tongue slightly in cheek) Nuzzi writes that the “entire point of college is to be exposed to different things,” a truism that 2014 graduates of Rutgers and Smith shamefully forgot. “[M]aybe some of those people will hail from organizations that negatively impacted poor countries, or maybe they were partly responsible for a war that ate up the country’s resources and resulted in human rights abuses and lots of needless death,” Nuzzi grants. But still.

At the Week, meanwhile, Damon Linker took Nuzzi’s attack one step further, arguing that not only did these students fail to understand the point of college but that they were perpetuating “the tyranny of right-thinking moralism” that is ruining America’s institutions of higher learning. Noting that he, too, opposed the war of choice that will forever be Rice’s chief legacy, Linker writes that “[t]he world is an imperfect and morally complicated place, filled with people who regularly do things I consider wrong, stupid, misguided, foolish, and unethical” but that such people should still not be “excommunicated, ignored, or banished from public life.” Besides, Linker writes, what good does protesting Rice serve “beyond convincing the protesters of their own moral superiority?”

Two thoughts. First (and less important) is that bashing college kids — especially ones who are defined by their idealism and hunger for change — remains one of our most widely accepted and least logically defensible pastimes. Despite telling ourselves that we in America value youth, education and self-expression, there are few cultural archetypes more universally loathed than the campus activist. We say we want our kids to be independent, informed, fearless and disruptive, but then we attack, patronize and demean them as soon as they decide they’d like to be more than seen and not heard. (This dynamic is especially unfortunate when played out among the press. As my friend Ned Resnikoff snarked on Twitter, “What made you guys all want to be journalists? For me it was the thrill and fulfillment that comes with mocking college activists.”)

Moreover, there’s something particularly nonsensical about thwacking a bunch of students for supposedly ignoring the right to free speech when all they’ve done is exercise that right for themselves by peacefully organizing and expressing their disapproval.

The other (and more important) thing that comes to mind when surveying the backlash to the Rice backlash is the corrosive effect American exceptionalism can have on even the smartest and most skeptical among us. In both Nuzzi and Linker’s pieces — as well as a similar one from GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson — opposition to Rice is framed in partisan or ideological terms. Students don’t like Rice, we’re led to assume, because she’s a Republican, full stop. But while I’m sure that’s the case for at least some of the kids at Rutgers — who must be disappointed to hear that Rice’s replacement will be Tom Kean, another GOPer — it’s also a real misrepresentation of the fundamental problem with Rice and other top-tier members of the second Bush presidency. The implication is that the mistakes made by the last GOP president are more or less within the normal bounds of American politics, as if initiating an arguably illegal war and systematically flouting the Geneva Conventions is the same thing as cutting the estate tax or privatizing Social Security.

It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but: They’re not. And it’s only in a political world where the lives of non-Americans are unconsciously considered less valuable that such thinking could survive. To be clear, I’m not accusing Nuzzi or Linker of knowingly devaluing human life — Nuzzi describes the Iraq War in strongly negative terms, and Linker so hated Bush’s decision to invade Iraq that he left the Republican Party. Instead, what I’m arguing is that our mainstream political debate is so saturated with unstated assumptions about our inherent goodness, our natural righteousness, and our basic decency that serious war crimes, when committed by American politicians, are sanitized as matters of differing opinion. (And in Rice’s case, it’s not as if we can pretend that she was somehow only tangentially related to the administration’s worst crimes — here she is, back in 2009, defending torture with the Nixonian logic that nothing a president commands in service of national security can possibly be illegal.)

As if to make my point for me, the New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed from Timothy Egan in which Rice’s failures and mistakes — which, remember, cost perhaps as many as 500,000 human lives while wrecking millions more — are dismissed with a chilling breeziness. “Near as I can tell, the forces of intolerance objected to her role in the Iraq war,” Egan writes (apparently unaware that the magic of Google allows him to find the protesters explaining their objections in their own words). “The foreign policy that Rice guided for George W. Bush,” Egan continues, “was clearly a debacle … But if every speaker has to pass a test for benign mediocrity and politically correct sensitivity, commencement stages will be home to nothing but milquetoasts.” Taking the already grotesque line that non-American life is less important than entertainment to an even more hideous extreme, Egan continues, “You want torture? Try listening to the Stanford speech of 2009, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy gave an interminable address on the intricacies of international law, under a broiling sun, with almost no mention of the graduates.”

So there you have it: Torture, when sanctioned by Americans, is basically a joking matter, an experience that’s comparable to being bored while sitting in the sun. And it’s the students at Rutgers who are the problem?

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 17, 2014

May 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Actually Weak President”: If Held Accountable Then, We Wouldn’t Have To Listen To Dick Cheney Mouthing Off Today

When Dick Cheney appeared at American University on March 28th, students protested outside Bender Arena, including the student government’s comptroller, who stated that he had voted against allowing Cheney to appear and had so far refused to sign a check compensating the former vice-president for his appearance. The protesters brought enough attention to the issue that Cheney felt compelled to defend himself against accusations that he is a war criminal.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney refuted accusations that he is a war criminal during his speech to students and members of the AU community in Bender Arena on March 28. The Kennedy Political Union hosted Cheney as part of a stream of speakers coming to campus.

“The accusations are not true,” Cheney said.

During his vice presidency, three people were waterboarded, Cheney said. Waterboarding refers to either pumping a stomach with water or inducing choking by filling a throat with a stream of water, according to a report by NPR.

“Some people called it torture. It wasn’t torture,” Cheney said in an interview with ATV.

Of course, “some people” includes virtually every disinterested observer, including the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who stated back in July 2012 that “[Cheney] and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.”

Perhaps one could argue that America had some kind of mandate to contain Iraq resulting from the Persian Gulf War and, therefore, our decision to invade that country and remove its leadership cannot be judged by the same type of standard we used to condemn Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait or Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. If you want to try to carve out some of kind of double standard for America arising from our unique capabilities and responsibilities for maintaining the international system, I think we can have that debate. But it’s much harder to even imagine how one might justify our government’s decision to torture people during the Bush-Cheney administration.

This effort to simply call it something other than what it was is never going to fly. And, on that basis, Dick Cheney is unambiguously a criminal violator of human rights. But why do people have such an easy time condemning Cheney, or even Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice, and such a hard time condemning George W. Bush?

It seems one of the lasting features of the Bush administration is that people simply don’t think that Bush was calling the shots and, as a result, they are inclined to give him a pass on the decisions he made.

That’s a mistake.

If he and his subordinates were held responsible for what they did, we wouldn’t have to listen to his subordinates mouthing off about how weak the current president is.

You’ll know that the current president is as weak as Bush when students line up to protest former vice-president Joe Biden and completely ignore Obama.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 29, 2014

 

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

False “Progress” At Augusta National”: Three-Quarters Of The Way Through The 20th Century

The London Olympics, as I wrote two weeks ago, turned out to be a great showcase of female athletic talent and the progress American women — and women in general — have made in sports, particularly in the 40 years since Title IX became law and guaranteed them equal access. Today’s announcement that Augusta National Golf Club — the Georgia country club that plays host to men’s professional golf’s biggest tournament — is admitting its first female memberswould seem, then, another sign of progress for female athletes just a week after the Olympics ended.

Not hardly.

Chairman Billy Payne certainly deserves a little credit for taking a step the men before him would not and admitting the club’s first two female members — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore — both of whom immediately accepted. A little praise, however, is all Augusta deserves for progressing roughly (no pun intended) three quarters of the way through the 20th century.

Augusta, full of green-clad white men who for years denied women and blacks the opportunity to join and play its fabled course, has long epitomized the worst stereotypes of golf, a sport that has made genuine efforts to increase opportunities for women and minorites in recent years, as a game for the white, male one-percent. It didn’t admit its first black member until 1990, 15 years after Lee Elder became the first African-American to play in the Masters. Now, it is admitting its first female members a full 63 years after the foundation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

The club didn’t relent on its membership policy when it faced widespread criticism and a mass protest led by Dr. Martha Burk in 2003; instead, it dug in deeper. And it didn’t relent earlier this year when it didn’t extend membership to Virginia Rometty, the chief executive of IBM, one of the Masters three chief sponsors (the CEOs of the other two sponsors, as well as Rometty’s predecessor at IBM, are members). In 2011, it banned a female journalist from the locker room, drawing protests from news organizations and other reporters.

Augusta, make no mistake, is still the bastion of inequality and elitism it has always been. It’s just a little less so now. As far as credit for the “progress” Augusta National has supposedly made, I’ll reserve that for the day the club hosts a women’s tournament and finally joins the rest of us in the 21st century.

By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, August 20, 2012

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Women | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Shadow Knows: Darth Vader “Cheney” Vents

Why is it not a surprise to learn that Dick Cheney’s ancestor, Samuel Fletcher Cheney, was a Civil War soldier who marched with Sherman to the sea?

Scorched earth runs in the family.

Having lost the power to heedlessly bomb the world, Cheney has turned his attention to heedlessly bombing old colleagues.

Vice’s new memoir, “In My Time,” veers unpleasantly between spin, insisting he was always right, and score-settling, insisting that anyone who opposed him was wrong.

His knife-in-her-teeth daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, helped write the book. The second most famous Liz & Dick combo do such an excellent job of cherry-picking the facts, it makes the cherry-picking on the Iraq war intelligence seem picayune.

Cheney may no longer have a pulse, but his blood quickens at the thought of other countries he could have attacked. He salivates in his book about how Syria and Iran could have been punished.

Cheney says that in 2007, he told President Bush, who had already been pulled into diplomacy by Condi Rice: “I believed that an important first step would be to destroy the reactor in the Syrian desert.”

At a session with most of the National Security Council, he made his case for a strike on the reactor. It would enhance America’s tarnished credibility in the Arab world, he argued, (not bothering to mention who tarnished it), and demonstrate the country’s “seriousness.”

“After I finished,” he writes, “the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

By that time, W. had belatedly realized that Cheney was a crank whose bad advice and disdainful rants against “the diplomatic path” and “multilateral action” had pretty much ruined his presidency.

There were few times before the bitter end that W. was willing to stand up to Vice. But the president did make a bold stand on not letting his little dog be gobbled up by Cheney’s big dog.

When Vice’s hundred-pound yellow Lab, Dave, went after W.’s beloved Scottish terrier, Barney, at Camp David’s Laurel Lodge, that was a bridge too far.

When Cheney and Dave got back to their cabin, there was a knock at the door. “It was the camp commander,” Cheney writes. “ ‘Mr. Vice President,’ he said, ‘your dog has been banned from Laurel.’ ”

But on all the nefarious things that damaged America, Cheney got his way for far too long.

Vice gleefully predicted that his memoir would have “heads exploding all over Washington.” But his book is a bore. He doesn’t even mention how in high school he used to hold the water buckets to douse the fiery batons of his girlfriend Lynne, champion twirler.

At least Rummy’s memoir showed some temperament. And George Tenet’s was the primal scream of a bootlicker caught out.

Cheney takes himself so seriously, flogging his cherished self-image as a rugged outdoorsman from Wyoming (even though he shot his Texas hunting partner in the face) and a vice president who was the only thing standing between America and its enemies.

He acts like he is America. But America didn’t like Dick Cheney.

It’s easier for someone who believes that he is America incarnate to permit himself to do things that hurt America — like torture, domestic spying, pushing America into endless wars, and flouting the Geneva Conventions.

Mostly, Cheney grumbles about having his power checked. It’s bad enough when the president does it, much less Congress and the courts.

A person who is always for the use of military force is as doctrinaire and irrelevant as a person who is always opposed to the use of military force.

Cheney shows contempt for Tenet, Colin Powell and Rice, whom he disparages in a sexist way for crying, and condescension for W. when he won’t be guided to the path of most destruction.

He’s churlish about President Obama, who took the hunt for Osama bin Laden off the back burner and actually did what W. promised to do with his little bullhorn — catch the real villain of 9/11.

“Tracking him down was certainly one of our top priorities,” Cheney writes. “I was gratified that after years of diligent and dedicated work, our nation’s intelligence community and our special operations forces were able on May 1, 2011, to find and kill bin Laden.”

Tacky.

Finishing the book with an account of the 2010 operation to put in a battery-operated pump that helps his heart push blood through his body, he recounts the prolonged, vivid dream about a beautiful place in Italy he had during the weeks he was unconscious.

“It was in the countryside, a little north of Rome, and it really seemed I was there,” he writes. “I can still describe the villa where I passed the time, the little stone paths I walked to get coffee or a batch of newspapers.”

Caesar and his cappuccino.

 

By: Maureen Dowd,  Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 27, 2011

August 28, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Dick Cheney, Dictators, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Iran, Iraq, Liberty, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Terrorism, United Nations | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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