Filmmaker Ken Burns Criticizes Bush at Yale as President Arrives for Daughter's Party · 23 May 2004


By Diane Scarponi--Associated Press, 05/23/04

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- With presidential security helicopters circling over the Yale University campus, filmmaker Ken Burns denounced the war in Iraq on Sunday and told graduating seniors to remember history as they work to repair divides in American culture.

President Bush came to the campus for a private reception with his daughter, Barbara, who graduates from Yale on Monday. Bush did not hold any public events, and Barbara skipped Sunday's baccalaureate services and the day-before-graduation senior Class Day festivities where Burns spoke.

While Bush was not in public view, his presidency was a hot topic of rhetoric at Class Day.

Without mentioning Bush by name, Burns drew parallels between today's political leaders and the Iraq war, versus Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, which he chronicled in an award-winning film series.

Both wars threatened to tear the country apart, Burns said.

"Steel yourselves. Your generation must repair this damage, and it will not be easy," Burns told the seniors.

Burns quoted famed jurist Learned Hand as saying, "Liberty is never being too sure you're right."

"Somehow recently, though, we have replaced our usual and healthy doubt with an arrogance and belligerence that resembles more the ancient and now fallen empires of our history books than a modern compassionate democracy," Burns said, to applause from the 1,300 graduates and their families and friends.

He criticized what he called a culture of censorship and intimidation that was intolerant of others, as well as a compliant media and a consumer culture that values the pursuit of money above everything.

"We have begun to reduce the complexities of modern life into the facile judgments of good and evil, and now find ourselves brought up short when we see that we have, too, some times and moments, become what we despise," Burns said.

Burns noted that it is tempting in such times to turn inward and ignore outside troubles, but he urged the seniors to reject that impulse and study history as a way to cope with these troubles and to figure out what to do about them.

"If you don't know where you've been, how can you possibly know who you are and where you're going?" Burns asked.

Students also poked fun at Bush, who spoke at Yale's 300th commencement in 2001.

The president earned a history degree from Yale in 1968, earning what was politely called "gentlemen's C's."

Bush told the class of 2001: "To the C-students, I say, you too can be president of the United States".

In seniors' spoof of the class of 2004's history Sunday, they recalled the quote as: "To all the C-students out there, I'd like to say, you too can be president _ if your dad was president."

Burns' daughter, Sarah, is among the studens graduating Monday.

The class of 2004 chose Burns as its speaker in part because it wanted to avoid the politically divisive reaction of students to recent past speakers, including Bush, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Gov. George Pataki.

Senior Thomas Collier of Louisville, Ky., said it was ironic that Burns' speech ended up being so political.

"I thought his speech might have been a bit more passionate and controversial than others might have been," said Collier, a political science major.

Barbara Bush, who is earning a humanities degree, was not at the event. She traveled with her family aboard Air Force One from Texas, where her twin sister, Jenna, graduated Saturday from the University of Texas.

The president and his family stayed a while at Yale President Richard Levin's house, which is next door to the house where Bush lived as an infant.

Bush was born in New Haven while his father, former President Bush, was a student at Yale.

The president then traveled to the home of Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead for a private dinner.

As he traveled around New Haven, the president appeared to be suffering no ill effects from a fall from a mountain bike Saturday other than visible minor abrasions and scratches on his chin, upper lip, nose and right hand. He also had minor abrasions and scratches to both knees, the White House said.

The president left Tweed-New Haven Airport in New Haven aboard Air Force One shortly before 7 p.m. First lady Laura Bush was expected to stay at Yale through Tuesday.

About 50 protesters gathered at Levin's home Sunday afternoon. They denounced the president and the war in Iraq, while holding signs saying "Uproot Bush" and "Resist This Endless War."

The crowd was a mix of students and older Yale graduates.

Anne Tyler Calabresi, 69, of Woodbridge, said she was protesting on behalf of herself and her husband, 2nd Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi, a Yale graduate and former dean of the Yale School of Law.

"I'm profoundly worried about the way this country is going," she said. "And I'm furious about the lies George Bush has told to us again and again. He has led us into a war that is destroying our reputation around the world and creating implacable enemies around the world that we didn't have one year ago."