November 15, 2007
Cheney sisters insult Scripps students
Liz and Mary Cheney gave a joint speech this evening in a "Public Affairs" lecture series funded by a trustee with an interest in bringing to campus "diverse ideas about public policy" or something like that, i.e., the occasional conservative. The address itself was a ridiculous and patronizing string of anecdotes about life on the campaign trail with not a single political idea in sight. (There was a lot of appreciative laughter, though, so maybe students didn't notice the affront.) In Q&A (more below), Mary (the lesbian) handled the predicatable but very real and meaningful question about why she would support a party that doesn't support gay rights: "Oh, I've never heard that one before! How original!" she chuckled. (Her answer: because national security is the most important issue facing our country, and I vote on that basis. Followup that never came because of the format (see below): So when the terrorist threat has subsided you'll vote for Democrats?
Liz, the Middle East specialist and former State Dept. official, handled most of the rest, including questions on a solution to Iraq and waterboarding/torture, with intelligence, giving snippets of the public affairs talk she could have given. And then defended herself, probably quite well, against real questions. She gave pretty much the Party line, not surprising for someone currently advising Fred Thompson's campaign.
There was a lot of concern coming from Pitzer College faculty in the week leading up to the event owing to the impression that only pre-screened questions would be put to the speakers. The Scripps Faculty Executive Committee issued a statement expressing their desire for open questions, but there was never any explanation given to the Scripps community of how questions would be handled and why. Students had submitted questions to a box in the mailroom during the preceding week, and note cards and pencils were handed out by a small army of Scripps students, some of which were seen to arrive in the hand of Prof. Dillon, who read questions from the front row. This in the same auditorium where for other events ushers happily scurry up and down the rows with wireless mikes so people can ask questions.
The main interest from a free speech/academic freedom perspective is that questions be freely put. There are some advantages to having questions collected and read. A conscientious reader can make sure a full or representative range of questions is posed. One can avoid the long-winded questions and monopolistic follow-ups that everyone hates, and questions can be read clearly and perhaps slightly rephrased for clarity. It can thus lead to more questions being asked.
On the other hand, there is something more viscerally democratic about a speaker facing a real person asking a question in their own voice. Sometimes, like with the gay rights question to Mary, a followup is absolutely needed. And, more important, potentially controversial questions can be rephrased in a way that de-fangs them totally, as tonight, when the torture question went something very much like,"With the Mukasey hearings, the issue of torture and waterboarding is on many people's minds, and do have anything to say about all that?"
It is a shame that the talk was so bad, so bland, and that the Scripps administration didn't grab a "teachable moment" and at least clarify and defend their apparent departure from normal protocol for speakers on the campus.
Posted by johnn at November 15, 2007 10:36 PM
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