Disagree, Don't Be Disagreeable · 30 May 2006

Filed under: Press Coverage

Westport News--05/31/06

Do you remember your college graduation ceremony? A more difficult question: Do you recall who spoke at your commencement and what his or her message was?

Members of the Class of 2006 at the New School University in lower Manhattan will have little difficulty recounting their special day. A U.S. senator and decorated war hero, John McCain, spoke at their commencement.

Alas, their memories won't be of McCain's speech but rather of the rude and raucous reception the (mostly) conservative senator from Arizona received May 19.

Dozens of New School faculty and graduates, many holding "McCain Doesn't Speak for Me" signs, turned their backs in silent protest during his 28-minute address. There were boos and catcalls from the audience.

But the topper came from one of two student speakers, Jean Rohe, who proceeded to toss aside her prepared talk and dissect McCain's speech before he even gave it.

The New School is well known as a citadel of liberalism and progressiveness. There is nothing wrong with that. But when did it become acceptable to insult an invited guest? A guest of the university who happens to be a distinguished U.S. senator and a former U.S. Navy pilot who endured 5-1/2 years as a prisoner-of-war -- and months of torture -- at the hands of the North Vietnamese?

Most of us are taught at a young age to be respectful. We are told to be courteous to guests and our elders. The 69-year-old McCain qualified on both counts, but by their unseemly behavior, many of the 21- and 22-year-old graduates at the New School said, decorum and etiquette be damned. We'll be as rude and obnoxious as we want to be.

What message are these young people sending to the world? We refuse to listen to anyone who doesn't share our liberal views?

The nation's business newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, which is known for its conservative leanings, voiced its disapproval of the New School students' rudeness. "& The ugliness of the New School crowd toward Mr. McCain reveals the peculiar rage that now animates so many of the political left," said the newspaper. "Dozens of faculty and students turned their backs on the senator, others booed and heckled, and a senior invited to speak threw out her prepared remarks and mocked their invited guest as he sat nearby."

It is unfortunate that the McCain incident was representative of similar happenings on college campuses this spring.

A pie was thrown at William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, when he was speaking at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Pat Buchanan received a shower of salad dressing during his speaking appearance at Western Michigan University. Another conservative figure, writer David Horowitz, was also the target of a pie at Butler University. It should be noted that these incidents occurred over a nine-day span.

More recently and closer to home, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, endured a tirade from a woman during his town meeting in Fairfield.

On the commencement circuit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the target of a small group of protesters at Boston College, where she delivered the commencement address and received an honorary doctor of laws degree May 22. About 50 students and a few dozen faculty turned their collective backs when she was introduced to speak. But Rice also received several standing ovations during her address.

"There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it passionately," the secretary of state said later in an interview. "But at those times you're absolutely sure that you are right, go find somebody who disagrees. Don't allow yourself the easy course of the constant 'amen' to everything you say."

In other words, listen to what others have to say, even if you are strongly opposed to what he or she stands for. We can disagree without being disagreeable.