Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pies Against Ideas

Susan Estrich, in a rare rational moment between advocating extremism and hurling personal insults at Michael Kinsley, wrote a column recently that's worth reading. Her subject is the current spate of pie-throwing and and spitting at speakers one disagrees with, mostly by students on campuses, and campaigns to prevent certain kinds of speakers from appearing in the first place. She wrote,

My conservative friends have been targets of the pies, presumably from liberal students, while Jane Fonda got her face-full of a Vietnam veteran's spit. Best-selling author and flamethrower Ann Coulter and former radical turned arch-conservative David Horowitz delight in provoking people, which is certainly no excuse for pies -- but Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, is widely respected in Washington as the "friendly conservative," viewed as both brilliant and agreeable, and hardly a candidate on anybody's list for a pie. Meanwhile, the Cardinal Newman Society, a group that exists to protest speakers and performances at Catholic colleges, has announced that it is protesting the decision by Marymount Manhattan College to invite Sen. Hillary Clinton to be its commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree.

It should go without saying, of course, that college students should not behave like preschoolers. Generally, colleges bring speakers like Ann to campus to expose students to different points of view, and it is extremely rare that a professor would ever require his or her students to attend such a lecture, and only then for a specific purpose. If you don't like Ann, don't go. You can vote with your feet.

Freedom of speech means nothing if it doesn't protect expression of even the most repugnant ideas. And the academy is meaningless if it doesn't embrace thinking about and debating all ideas. Those who are so threatened or sickened by an idea that they simply cannot bear to be in its presence can, as the lady says, vote with their feet.

Personally, I think extremists like Ward Churchill and Ann Coulter and self-loathing Americans like Jane Fonda aren't worth listening to. And I don't think taxpayers should be required to pay Churchill's salary at the University of Colorado. But I wouldn't for a moment say they don't have the right to speak, and I even support universities paying them a reasonable amount of wampum to appear.

I'll just stay home, most likely watching re-runs of The West Wing.


Blogger mike said...

No matter how much you pump her up, you won't get me to like Susan Estrich.

2:14 AM, May 06, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Mike, read the first sentence of the post again. I don't normally like what she writes or says, either. But as they say, a stopped clock is right twice a day.

5:40 AM, May 07, 2005  

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