So, in the end, on Monday the Iranian wild man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a dressing down from the man who had invited him — in the name of free speech, you understand — to speak at Columbia University.
Likely, by time for the speech, Columbia President Lee Bollinger had no choice other than to perfume himself against the stench from a statesman who proposes to exterminate Israel, presides over one of the world’s least free regimes and may, to boot, have a secret nuclear weapons program going. Mr. Bollinger had been getting unshirted hell from reasonable people displeased — why wouldn’t they be — that Columbia would extend hospitality to such as Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose achievements, intelligence says, includes providing Iraqi terrorists with some of the most formidable explosives used against U.S. military vehicles.
Columbia’s president protested that, in presenting Mr. Ahmadinejad, he was acting within a “longstanding [Columbia] tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate.” The kind of debate that would land the ordinary Iranian in the clink.
By the time all was said and done, Mr. Bollinger had clawed his way back to semi-respectability in polite society by insulting his guest — not the usual practice in polite society, but consider the depth of the hole Mr. Bollinger had dug for himself by insisting on being a good academic liberal. It’s the kind of thing academics do all the time — dig moral and intellectual holes.
Something else they do is pretend the Reserve Officers Training Corps is an instrument of fascism, the Confederate Underground, or whatever. That perception excuses them from allowing ROTC to recruit on campus. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, appraising the day’s events, noted that Columbia has declared itself off limits to ROTC and its vital role in providing for the national defense.
The liberal academic establishment is something, all right. And has been, mostly, since the ‘60s, when Young America, or a significant portion of its alleged intellectual elite, decided the way to deal with “Fascist-Pig Amerika” was to burn draft cards and take over deans’ offices. With the demonstrators now running the campuses they demonstrated against, one isn’t completely surprised to find Columbia hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — and a portion of the Stanford community campaigning not to host Donald Rumsfeld. Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a prestigious and exemplary center “for the study of War, Revolution and Peace,” has engaged the former defense secretary as a distinguished visiting fellow, in which capacity he is to advise a task force on ideology and terrorism.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? The New York Times records that 2,100 professors, students, staffers and alumni have signed an online petition of protest, asserting the Rumsfeld appointment’s incompatibility “with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested inquiry, respect for national and international laws, and care for the opinions, property, and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed.” Boo. Hiss. Throw da bum out.
It all seems to depend, in liberal academia, on whose free speech rights we’re talking about — those of a morally deranged foreign despot or of a retired American Cabinet officer whose policies you don’t like. The jailer-in-chief of a once-sophisticated nation — let’s hear him out. Yea, free speech. And wouldn’t Mr. Madison be proud of our attachment to his First Amendment. As for a warmongering ex-flunky from the Bush administration — no, no, no. Why, his very words would corrupt our delicate ears.
The apparent moral asymmetry here — pay no attention to that. In the academy, we’re all good “progressives.” That’s the central point. Listening to foreign creeps who hate the United States is a moral obligation (and sometimes an unadulterated joy). Lending an ear to patriots who have sought to serve the United States out of love for its life and institutions — that’s another matter entirely, as the Stanford progressives trust Mr. Rumsfeld will understand while pondering the call to withdraw.
Is it too much to hope that just this once, maybe, a patriot can enjoy in academia the same moral footing as a national jailer and Jew-baiter? We’ll see soon enough.
William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.