Political differences do not merit censorship
As an American college student, I am often appalled at the attacks on higher education by our country’s hard-right minority. Arguments that our universities are places of elitist snobbery hit close to home for many of us, and the caricature of top schools as intolerant ivory towers guarded by ideological brownshirts fly in the face of what many of us know universities to be: places of respect for dissent, diverse thought and tolerance of all opinions. In the past several weeks, however, Rutgers has shown American universities’ fiercest critics that we are all too capable of being exactly who they say we are.
The controversy over Condoleezza Rice as this year’s commencement speaker has now reached the national media. Our beloved Old Queens is being forced to recognize that we have become exactly whom we purport to fight when we extol our own virtues as open-minded, fair and representative.
We fail to live up to our reputation as a historic college of ideas and disgrace the status of our University, and all others as places for free speech and open discourse when we openly and proudly assault a commencement speaker largely based on ideology.
Despite what is now broadly viewed as a questionable entry into the Iraq War, we fail to view the decisions of 2002 and 2003 with any sort of historical perspective when we declare that the sins of the past can be tried on the knowledge of the present. Should Iraq War proponents Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden have been invited to speak at Rutgers this spring, I imagine the outrage would be nearly nonexistent.
The fact remains that Rice, for many who know little about her, remains a reminder of an unpopular president. In all the attacks on her character in the past few weeks, little has been brought up about her own views or accomplishments. It would surprise me if many of her detractors knew that she holds relatively liberal positions on issues like abortion, education, affirmative action and immigration, or if they had an understanding of the way in which she steered our foreign policy away from the Cheney-Rumsfeld neoconservative aggression and back towards diplomacy during her tenure at Foggy Bottom.
The problem is that the news doesn’t report on the planes that land safely, but if they did, we would find that she tempered influences that would have sought more military action and less diplomatic goodwill, especially in the case of Iran. For a student body that frequently debates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should be considered an honor to host the Secretary of State who hosted the first peace summit that resulted in joint-agreement on a two-state solution.
Perhaps most heartening in her story is the background that her detractors most frequently overlook. A little black girl from Birmingham, Ala., grew up in the ground zero of the civil rights movement only to reach heights that society told her were impossible to climb to.
That the party of Lincoln produced such a woman should inspire us all. I, however, am registered with another party — that of a president who presided over the coming of age of American society and the pivotal years of the civil rights movement. John F. Kennedy was right to believe that politics could be and should be an honorable profession. As a Democrat and as a student of the political sciences, I find it objectionable that anyone would advocate the censorship of political leaders. The suggestion of some that all politicians be turned away from commencement day is a victory for the forces that have tried to convince us for far too long that politics are broken beyond repair and that our generation, with all its talents and insight, should give up hope.
Politics aside, many of our aspirations for our world stand on the shoulders of people like her. That such lives have been lived are the reason we can be proud of our country’s diversity today. When I met Rice as a college freshman, I knew I wouldn’t agree with her on every policy position, but I was overcome by a sense of history in her presence. Moved by her story, I gained an appreciation for the difficult, nuanced life-and-death decisions that too many of us often take for black and white. If you feel you must be an inquisitor, at least hear her out in person. We owe it not only to her, but also to ourselves.
Fotios Tsarouhis is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and political science with minors in history and economics.