Here’s a brain teaser for you, just in case midterm season hasn’t already collapsed your mental faculties and dented your immediate medical school machinations:
What do George Will, Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Robert Zoellic, Ben Carson, Michelle Obama and my busboy application to TGI Friday’s all have in common?
They all have, in the last few months, faced unjustified, ill-advised and intensely troubling rejections.
I have great interpersonal skills. I can look approachable AND canonical in an apron. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the appetizer “three-for-all” business model, and I’m willing to be paid only in Tennessee Whiskey Cake and 12-ounce Sierra Mists. Why I was turned away is a mystery I will let the righteous lens of history unravel. The repudiation of our esteemed friends listed above, however, while slightly easier to decipher, is no less disquieting.
Last spring, Smith College organized a 502-signature petition and so much collective indignation that Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund and one of the most powerful women in the world, withdrew as its 2014 commencement speaker.
A similar series of events befell Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University; Robert Zoellic (former deputy secretary of state) at his alma mater, Swarthmore College; retired neurosurgeon and conservative political figure Ben Carson at Johns Hopkins University and Michelle Obama at a high school commencement in Topeka, Kansas — just to name a few.
Now, Scripps College has reignited the torch. After being invited to speak at the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program — an annual forum that invites prominent conservative speakers — Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist (and apparently unenthusiastic supporter of rape victims) George Will was uninvited after writing a conservative piece about sexual assault in his conservative, nationally syndicated column, which tends to lean on the — you know — conservative side. Go figure.
This, ladies and gentenniels, is getting outrageous.
Any one of these cases on its own would have inspired an eye roll or maybe even some well-placed skepticism. But the fact that this has become not only commonplace but a bonafide national movement is alarming. YOU should be alarmed and mad and stuffing your face with Tennessee Whiskey Cake just to cope. Here’s why.
We trend liberal: not all of us but a lot of us. That’s a statistical — and, if you attend an American university and have most of your audio-visual senses squared away, very obvious — reality. But what exactly does liberalism mean to the millennials who so broadly identify as such?
It can mean a lot of things. But if the 21st century’s young people represent anything, it’s liberalism in the vein of tolerance. We welcome and actively fight for equality, freedom and civil liberties. We’ve got bleeding hearts, and if our universal health care plans cover the stitches, even better.
So why, seemingly in complete contrariety to those principles, has America’s collegiate population developed such hostility and contempt for people with whom we disagree? Why, because we didn’t support the war in Iraq, would we send away Rice, one of the American political system’s most prominent, powerful and eloquent race and gender trailblazers? Why, because we unilaterally decided that the International Money Fund’s political and social goals are at odds with our own, would we rebuke Lagarde, one of the most compelling economic figures on the planet? Why would we jilt medical pioneers and award-winning journalists and decisive first ladies simply because we have incongruous ideological perspectives?
It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s counterproductive to every moment of effort exerted in the name of securing the freedoms that, while belabored to the point of cliche at this point, are no less important given how truly rare they are in most of the world. And I don’t use the word “us” because all of us are participants in this new strain of closed-mindedness; I use the word “us” because we’re in this together, millennials. When other universities send their speakers packing because they live on the other side of the aisle, it reflects poorly on our entire generation.
Those of us here at UC Berkeley should be especially perturbed. So much about our campus identity and our reputation as an academic institution is defined by the struggles of our alumni to secure freedoms of speech and tolerance for ALL voices. When we see those values being subverted elsewhere, even with the best of intentions, we should feel slighted and motivated to react.
Apart from inviting the reanimated corpse of Adolf Hitler to deliver the keynote speech at UC Berkeley’s next convocation ceremony (although he could admittedly have some penetrating insights on the afterlife), there are very few accomplished men and women — whatever their background, whatever their political views and whatever their legacy — who don’t have something to offer: something we can learn from and something we can disagree with but respect and consider as a valuable benefaction to the conversation.
And with that being said, I am pleased to announce that the fall 2014 commencement speaker for UC Berkeley will be none other than best-selling author, syndicated radio personality and conservative pundit Glenn Beck.
Fire away, millennials. But rubber bullets, please.
A previous version of a headline attached to this article misspelled the name of Glenn Beck.