The Commencement of Right-Wing Graduation Hypocrisy has Begun
In the face of protests from some students and faculty, former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew as featured commencement speaker at the upcoming graduation ceremonies for the Rutgers University class of 2014. Predictably, conservatives were apoplectic, complaining "College campuses essentially operate on mob rule at this point." Former House Speaker, failed presidential candidate and CNN Crossfire host Newt Gingrich went further, denouncing "growing liberal fascism on campus."
That's a pretty stunning position for frothing at the mouth conservatives in general and Newt Gingrich to take. After all, five years ago they were largely united in calling on the University of Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to its 2009 commencement speaker, President Barack Obama. As it turned out, Obama was only following the footsteps of another pro-choice, African-American graduation speaker, Condoleezza Rice.
Having burned through three wives and three religions, it is understandable that Newt Gingrich might forget what he believed in at any point in the past. And in March 2009, just hours after he formally became a Catholic, Gingrich tweeted:
It is sad to see notre dame invite president Obama to give the commencement address Since his policies are so anti catholic values.
Gingrich, whose own values include the belief that marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession, didn't stop there. As he put it on the eve of President Obama's speech that May:
"To the degree that Notre Dame still thinks of itself as a Catholic institution, it raises real questions," Gingrich told "FOX News Sunday."
"I think the president's position has been the most radical, pro-abortion of any American president, so I think there is a legitimate question there," he said.
Gingrich added: "But look -- I'm a new convert. I'll let the Vatican speak for the church. I'm just speaking for Newt Gingrich."
As it turned out, Notre Dame spoke for itself. After all, it wasn't just that President Obama won the Catholic vote and won the Notre Dame student body and the larger South Bend community as well. Polls showed that American Catholics approved of his stands on most social issues and backed the invitation itself. Oh, and one other thing. Notre Dame has a long history of honoring and featuring pro-choice speakers, including one named Condoleezza Rice. As I noted in 2009:
Lost in the frothing at the mouth by right-wing partisans is Notre Dame's long history of featuring pro-choice figures from both political parties as commencement speakers. These include Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1992 and 1975 South Bend graduate Condoleezza Rice in 1995. (Rice famously told the Washington Times that she was "mildly pro-choice.") Rice's address to the students, by the way, was titled, "The Role of the Educated Person."
(As the 2003 book published by the University of Notre Dame Press, Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses, the school's past graduation speakers include Joseph Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Andrew Young, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan, and Presidents Eisenhower, Carter and Reagan.)
If this all sounds familiar, it should. In 2006, students at Boston College protested that Secretary Rice was selected at their commencement speaker. Despite the outcry over her role in architecting and selling the Iraq war, BC didn't back down. For her part, the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez had no issue with the pro-choice Rice appearing at the Jesuit school:
"I don't think BC is compromising any fundamental values by having her speak."
For his part, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston had no problem, either. He warmly applauded Rice's address. Of course, when Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, then in the process of revising Ireland's draconian abortion laws, was invited in 2013, Cardinal O'Malley refused to attend.
The ironies don't there. Even as they decry the imbroglio at Rutgers, conservative commentators cheered as some families in Topeka pushed back on a commencement speech by First Lady Michelle Obama to mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. While there were no protests when First Lady Laura Bush traveled to tornado-ravaged Enterprise, Alabama to headline the 2008 graduation ceremony there, right-wingers like Andrew Malcolm took great pleasure in the affronts to Mrs. Obama in Kansas and Attorney General Eric Holder in Oklahoma:
Is there an anti-Obama rebellion brewing out there in the Heartland?
Looks like it in the lame duck's absence. This week two prominent administration members -- including First Lady Michelle Obama -- were forced to cancel planned speeches there in the face of protests and even a high school student petition opposing her scheduled graduation speech.
So, make up your minds, conservatives. Either you are comfortable with a diversity of messages and messengers at the commencement podium, or you are not. As for me, a 1985 Rutgers graduate, I can only say that Condoleezza Rice wouldn't have been my choice. Nevertheless, I would have grudgingly listened to her words, albeit with clenched teeth. After all, anyone who previously misled the American people about "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," who compared the occupation of Iraq to freeing the slaves during the U.S. Civil War, who laughably claimed in 2006 "there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime" and emulated Richard Nixon by announcing "by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture," probably shouldn't be dispensing life lessons to anybody.