The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

John McCain Can Speak For Himself

My college graduation from Columbia University was quickly approaching. John McCain was the Class Day speaker for the college and there was a storm brewing on campus, in New York City, and in the blogosphere about his commencement address. By virtue of the instant information nature of the internet, John McCain's speech was posted on his website, available for all of us to read.

The speech was nothing new. There were the congratulations, there were the words of advice, there was the central theme of informed discourse, and of being open to change. To my surprise there was also mention of the Iraq War and McCain's support and continued support of the administration's handling and carrying out of the US' involvement in a war torn Iraq. It was immediately obvious from just a casual reading that the speech was out of place, it echoed more of a 2008 Presidential candidate stump speech than it did as a commencement address. After a few anecdotes, personal history, validation of the Iraq War, and another anecdote, one had to wonder when the graduates were going to be given their validation for the hard work of four years immersed in academia. Once or twice I read mention of social responsibility and discussion, but that was the extent of any pertinent message to the graduates.

This is not to say that McCain's speech was not good. In fact I thought it was very pertinent to current affairs and he was absolutely correct in his promotion of discussion (although I would argue, discussion about the Iraq War rings hollow as the very reason we are in Iraq is due to a fundamental lack of dialogue on the part of the Bush administration).

Many commentators have been pressing that those who have criticized McCain are stifling free speech. It could not disagree more. The entire issue of the commencement speeches given at Liberty University, the New School, and Columbia University has nothing to do with free speech. It is a celebration of our work as students; it is not a forum for policy debate and war justification. If our sole goal was to encourage free speech, any number of people could have made a speech; I would imagine that we would not invite the late Milosevic to our graduation, simply because he is a high profile figure that will make us question our outlook on the world.

May sixteenth, I woke up from a late night haze to a rainy early morning. It was an hour before my classmates were to convene and pass through a hurdle towards the next step in their lives. I read the Liberty University speech online; I knew it was going to be given again. The rain poured and I crawled back into bed, I was displeased with my University's choice of speaker and I was displeased at the virulent atmosphere that it had created amongst friends and classmates. Most of all I was displeased with our passivity.

John McCain came and went. Our protest was small and insignificant. Columbians were more interested in walking across the stage and being a step closer to getting our diplomas than preserving any sense of justice that the university had hopefully instilled in us. This is not surprising given that we are living in a society where we tolerate infringement on our rights as American citizens. We are afforded a Constitutional right to privacy from the government (if there is no suspicion of wrong doing); it is and should be troubling to all that government can use terror and security as a free pass in every scenario. If we can justify wire-tapping with possible terror, the same justification can be made to overstep rights to due process, rights to life and liberty. We should be troubled, we should not be passive.

New School mounted a tremendous protest from students and faculty alike. They should be commended in their exercise of constitutional rights. Students like Jean Rohe should neither be attacked nor intimidated by congressional aides like Mark Salter (who should know better). John McCain is no Milosevic, but his character is one that I do not believe should be extended to graduates, to myself. There is no question that McCain served bravely in his time of military service (likewise it is ridiculous that people have been criticizing Kerry and Murtha's military service). What I question is his loyalty to himself and sacrifices he makes of his character for political gain. Perhaps he believes that it is necessary to light the fires of friendship with the members of the Bush administration. Perhaps he forgot the 2000 election where he was slandered to embarrassing levels by Bush's team, allegations of illegitimate children, questioning his becoming a naval aviator by merit, questioning the legitimacy of his being awarded war medals, rumors of mental instability, etc etc. Perhaps it was a courageous display of forgiveness, but McCain has positioned himself to support those who sought to hurt and tear him down the most. He has been a stalwart of the Republican Party even in times of personal hardship and disloyalty.

What is the message towards the graduates of 2006? It is not that we should promote discourse. The reason we went to college in the first place was to participate in intelligent discourse. It is not that the War in Iraq is necessary. The message that we received is that if you want to succeed in the world, you need to bend over backwards and kiss the ass of even those who hate you. That is the message; it is one that I will not embrace on my life's journey.

Oh. I did not crawl back into bed during John McCain’s speech as a form of protest. I chose not go because I felt his speech was irrelevant, it was raining, and I am a proud graduate from the school of engineering whose graduation was at two o’clock that afternoon.


  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger QuestRepublic said…

    Thanks for one of the best statements so far about the McCain commencement addresses. Hopefully more bloggers read your thoughtful summary and are not distracted by mean-spirited people out there who are trying to paint college-students as brats.

    A lot of "Middle American" support Ms. Rohe's actions. In my own case, I met John McCain while I was still at the Naval Academy. I later became a Naval Aviator, was protested against while I was a Navy Recruiter on college campuses. I have read all of John McCain's books and have been a registered Republican all my life.

    John McCain's support of a war that was (like Vietnam), supported for all the wrong reasons, when he of all people should know better, cries out for the kind of effective message that Ms. Rohe gave. Maybe Senator McCain, who I still admire overall, will take something positive away from this protest.



Post a Comment

<< Home