President of Columbia University Lee Bollinger reminds me of the gentleman from the urban east a century ago who approached the crowded bar of a frontier saloon in an especially roughneck part of the Wild West. When the bartender asked him what he’d like to drink he answered, “Lemonade, please.”
When he heard the hard-whiskey-drinking hombres around him jeering and snickering he turned back to the bartender and, in the toughest tone of voice he could achieve, added, “in a dirty glass!”
To denounce yet again Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian leader Ahmadinejad to allow the students of Columbia to entertain his “ideas” is not my point here. Better vultures than I have left the bones of that error glistening in the moonlight. Interesting, isn’t it, how two of liberalism’s Loch Ness Monsters surfaced in the same week; The New York Times confessing it gave MoveOn.org the brother-in-law rate on that pitiful ad slandering Gen. David Petraeus, which ended the argument over whether there’s really any big-media bias like the two atomic bombs ended World War II, and then Bollinger’s self-outing as a believer in the diseased doctrine that all “ideas” are born equal and are endowed with the unalienable right to enjoy thoughtful consideration by educated people.
Once the invitation to Ahmadinejad was floated into the real world and the acrid fumes of massive repudiation penetrated Bollinger’s nostrils and lodged inside his skull, Bollinger turned to the bartender and loudly demanded that his free-speech cocktail come in a dirty glass. He promised to ask the Iranian leader tough questions and, indeed, his very introduction was beyond tough. He called Ahmadinejad a “petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger was hostile and insulting to the Iranian visitor in an absurd attempt to redeem himself by being overly harsh to this Iranian of repugnant ideas who Bollinger had decided the intellectual community ought nonetheless hear if not heed. “I only invited him here to beat him up,” was the desired subtext.
Bollinger, as stated, was hostile and insulting. He was also quite accurate about Ahmadinejad. So what? You can’t humiliate a hog by throwing mud at him. Ahmadinejad is a Middle East Hitler. But leave Ahmadinejad out of this. This is between me and Bollinger.
There’s still such a thing as honor. When you invite someone to speak, your invitation implies a minimal level of courtesy. You must shake his hand. If you find that act overly repugnant, don’t invite him. Once you invite him, you do not in your introduction denounce him, even if that denunciation calls him exactly what he is. Sorry. You don’t try to cover your exposed rump by saying about him what Bollinger said. It feels a little bit like shooting African animals from a protected vehicle.
Honor gets more interesting as it gets more rare. It was honor that prompted Abraham Lincoln to instruct the Union military band to play “Dixie” at a public meeting very shortly after the surrender of the Confederacy. American reporters in Africa were staggered after the Nigerian federalists successfully repressed the Biafran rebels in the late 1960s when the fed generals saluted and promised and delivered humane treatment to their breakaway opponents. They all behaved like the professional British officers who had trained them both.
Read the Hebrew scriptures regarding the treatment of captured enemy soldiers and enemy women seized in combat. The moderns should shut up and take notes as the ancients speak.
The apologists remind us President Bolliger was in an awkward position. They need to be reminded that he put himself there himself. The remedy for being regurgitatingly nice to a political monster is not to invite him to speak at an American university in the first place. Those who catterwail about “freedom of speech” are educated beyond their intelligence. In poker it takes jacks-or-better to open. In driving it takes a license and sobriety. In political discourse it takes ideas which are not on their surface (excuse this clumsy phrase) uncivilizedly inimical to other people.
Where do we draw the line? Ah, that’s where education kicks in.
“Illegal aliens must be deported,” is an arguable free-speech position. “Kill the Mexicans!” is not. Get it? Try hard, and if you become a university president you won’t find yourself inviting the Ahmadinejads, the Hitlers, the Charles Mansons, the Jeffrey Dahmers and the like under the fraudulent assumption that your students are “entitled to hear all points of view.”
At the end, all Bollinger did was boost Ahmadinejad’s ratings and dishearten his democratic opposition inside Iran. But Columbia students had the chance to “hear his ideas.” Is that a good swap for democracy, humanity, civilization? The first lesson I learned in talk radio was, if I had a debate featuring Winston Churchill on one microphone and Adolf Hitler on the other and if Churchill were rude to Hitler, hordes of listeners, including Jewish listeners, would call the station and ask, “Who’s that nasty Englishman who won’t let that poor German speak?”
Bollinger was rude to Ahmadinejad.
Alan Colmes, star of Fox New’s popular “Hannity and Colmes” TV show and Fox Radio, once wrote a hilarious satirical article for Talkers Magazine about Adolf Hitler getting a fawning welcome on an American talk show. Alan’s article is an eerie prophesy and preview of “Ahmadinejad at Columbia.” “How do you like your coffee, Mr. Hitler?” was a line in that priceless piece which was asked by the smiling young production assistant as she welcomed Hitler to the studio. Colmes’ article should be emblazoned across every political Web site on the civilized side of mankind. And President Bollinger should have to read it and be tested on it.
I carry no water for Mr. Ahmadinejad. I hope he passes his liver in his stool. But What do I wish for President Bollinger? Back to Hebrew scriptures. “God wishes not the death of the sinner; only that he turn from his sinful ways.”
Bollinger should forevermore be allowed to drink all the lemonade he wants, but only out of a clean glass.
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