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May 22, 2006

Rohe's dissent

Publius argues that Jean Rohe didn't really dissent when she used her New School convocation address to rebuke John McCain:

To be true dissent, it must be more than disagreement. It needs to expose and undermine the very foundations and assumptions of the object of critique. In this sense, the Colbert speech was true “dissent” in that it exposed the ridiculousness of the event (see Billmon’s post for a fuller discussion). [It's also similar to the way that Shakespeare's jesters (including Mercutio) often stood "outside the play" exposing the absurdity "inside."]

Publius thinks that Rohe was actually playing into McCain's hands because McCain wanted to get booed at New York's liberal New School to bolster his cultural cred in the heartland. Possibly, but I doubt it.

McCain is trying to cultivate a moderate image while pandering to the religious right. McCain called Jerry Falwell "agent of intolerance " in 2000, but this year he changed his mind and agreed to give the commencement address at Falwell's bible college, Liberty University.

McCain's handlers sent him to The New School as cover for his visit to Liberty University. Rohe was able to get the jump on McCain because he bragged to the media about giving the same speech at all of his commencement gigs. McCain was acting as if a canned address is a display of integrity, a sign that he's a straight shooter who doesn't change his message to suit his audience. In fact, it proves that he's a phony and user. He doesn't care about these institutions, these students, or these ceremonies. It's all about him.

Imagine you're Jean Rohe. You learn that the University administration has allowed John McCain to hijack your commencement ceremonies. To add insult to injury, he's been bragging to the press about how he's going to give a canned speech. That's not all, it's a canned speech about how today's college graduates are too vain, self-important, and naive to participate in American political discourse. So, your convocation has become a campaign event for a candidate who appears to hold you in contempt.

Should you just play along? I don't think so.

McCain's supporters say that Rohe's remarks were inappropriate. On the contrary, it was McCain who was out of line. Being a U.S. Senator doesn't give you the power to dictate socially acceptable behavior.

Rohe's responsibility as a student leader was to represent her class at the podium. When she realized that McCain gearing up to disrespect the proceedings and the participants, she was honor-bound to rebuke him.

What did Rohe accomplish? First off, she embarrassed John McCain and the New School, not simply by being outrageous, but by pointing out that exactly what was offensive about the decision to invite him in the first place. McCain was counting on the student body to passively accept his grandstanding and by their acquiescence to burnish his reputation as a principled moderate.
Maybe next time, The New School will think twice before lending out its students for campaign events.

Rohe's larger public service was to undermine McCain's fake bipartisanship.

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Comments

As you know, the rise of the Christian right has been one of the most important – and alarming – stories of American politics over the past two decades, and Texas has been a major proving ground for that movement. I thought you might find a new report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund helpful in understanding how religious extremists have come to dominate politics and public policy in Texas. You can find the report at www.tfn.org/RRreport06/. This is the first truly in-depth examination of the history of the movement here and the strategy behind its success. That strategy has been replicated across the country.

The Texas Freedom Network was founded 11 years ago by Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. (Cecile is now president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.)

Best,

William


It is interesting how US politicians first came to believe that they should never be questioned on anything, much less questioned sharply, and now are starting to believe that they don't even have to listen to dissent.

Cranky

I don't know the answer to this. I think the jury's still out. All I know is-as a father myself-it literally brings tears to my eyes to think of how proud Ms. Rohe's parents must be.

I wish more Americans had the courage of Jean Rohe. Fuck John McCain, fuck Bob Kerry (former senator from my old stomping grounds, Nebraska) for inviting him, and fuck Mark Salter for his lame attempt at embarrassing Ms. Rohe. He only embarrassed himself.

Good for Jean Rohe. It's a hard question, but if a candidate or candidate-soon-to-be is using you, then is it bad to say "I don't like it!"? Especially if he's essentially spitting on you as he "honors" your commencement, how is he going to evoke the "solemnity of the occasion"?

She's a damn good little writer. I'm keeping my eye on her.

Amen. I'm sick of politicians who bemoan how apathetic young people are and then slam them as naive/disrespectful when they do speak up. The 'rebuke' by the McCain staffer that's been floating around is sick.

The truth is politicans are happy the young people don't vote; they can keep slamming them on student loans, screw their future on debt and the environment with hardly any resistance.

Hear hear. I for one can get very sick of people assuming Republicans are all-powerful masters of politics, be it Rove or in this case McCain, where anything people do to react to them just plays right into their hands. Call BS loudly and proudly.

When McCain panders to the knuckle-draggers by speaking at Jerry Falwell’s madrassa he no longer deserves any kind of respect, much less courtesy.
Falwell is a KKK goon that crawled out of the hookworm infested latrine that was the Old South, washed his face, and became a TV shill for the American Taliban.
For Jean Rohe to remain silent while McCain abuses his invitation to speak would make her a collaborator.

Moreover, Publius's definition of dissent is rather needlessly restrictive and overly specific.

One can pick their own Falwell moment, but for me the quintessential one was when he stuck up for apartheid South Africa, and denounced the idea of sanctions against it, in the 80s before Nelson Mandela was freed. It would be hard for me to write that off as a "youthful indiscretion," even if he hadn't continued in the same vein ever since then.

McCain, as a politician, has shown himself very ready to shake hands with the devil. It's odd. The Iraq War was a good idea? We're going to win it? Yeah. Rohe starts with R which stands for much-needed Reality Check.

Julian, true. Sez who, Publius?

McCain had nothing to lose. He had more to gain with protest signs and a few boos from the crowd. McCain is already thought of by the Midwest, SW, and mountain Swing States as a Moderate. Most of the independents and swing state voters have either not paid much credence to McCain's speeches at the two universities or they cynically and realistically see it as another political ploy that any politician would do. They will remain undecided or lean to the Democrats due to other more important factors.

What McCain does not have is the full support of the Religious Right (RR) due to Bush bashing from the Primaries. The RR do not fully trust him. So, when McCain speaks at Liberty, you can bet your ass the RR will be made aware (through their church leaders, etc). Unlike the independent voters, they will follow what happened at the New School--and one thing they will come up with is how superior and righteous they think they are compared to what they wrongfully perceive as those dirty, sinful, rude, obnoxious, and hypocritical liberals who do not even defend free speech. McCain and Falwell knew this. And as tensions were building and petitions were signed, Bob Kerrey knew the consequences himself.

The outcome is: 1) the Religious Right feel superior and have moved closer to McCain...how close, to what degree, and how many of them is difficult to gauge. 2) Liberals and progressives will use it as cannon fodder (as if they need anymore in these hardfelt times). And 3) the independents and moderates will not care about the university events, worrying about issues affecting their livelihoods.

I hope it all backfires on McCain and an unprecedented youth movement comes out to vote. The Unions will be out in force. McCain is desperate and should be...he does'nt even have Rupert Murdoch in his corner yet. No wonder he's turning to the crusading mouthpiece of idiocy Falwell.

Dissent and protest directed toards the dirty games of politicking as well as the BS from this specific case should be expected and encouraged from our youth. And when people have the courage to stand up against the daunting power structures aligned against them, it should be commended by the rest of us---regardless of our political affiliation or leanings. Regular working class, blue collar, and low-income people fight it every day. So, bravo to the students and continue the dissenting!

"What McCain does not have is the full support of the Religious Right (RR) due to Bush bashing from the Primaries."

Not so. McCain has trouble with the religious right because of the smear campaign mounted against him by Bush in the primaries, not because of anything he said about Bush. Also, note that he was not smeared as being moderate, but as being mentally unstable.

The big fears conservatives have about McCain can be sorted according to the two big groups of Republicans. Social conservatives fear he will try to unify the country. They have no doubt that he is more conservative than George Bush by a significant degree, they just fear that he might compromise for the good of the country, and they don't want that. "Big-money" Republicans fear that McCain might place importance in clean government. They believe that it is vital that public officials be for sale. These fears are why they torpedoed him in 2000.

McCain has worked diligently and quietly to allay these fears while maintaining his honorable and moderate facade. He has kowtowed and bowed at every opportunity to the party power brokers, but no one seems to notice.. This can't be allowed to stand. He has to be pushed one way or another. Every non-infantile instance of forcing him into a reactive discourse pushes him to make a true stand, or at least the appearance of one. If we can succeed, he will either be devoured by his own party, or he will lose his inaccurate moderate label.

I don't think it will be necessary for us to do it though. Some other Republican will want to be president. If they can demolish him before the party elite annoints him, they will.

McCain's bipartisanship isn't fake. What is demonstrably false is very recent cosmetic fence-mending with the right. I’m surprised that the left has eaten up this not-too subtle rebranding scheme so voraciously. Is McCain conservative? Yes, undeniably. But his short record of fealty belies a very long and consistent record of disloyalty (or bipartisanship). He voted to extend the Bush tax cuts, yes, but he voted against them just a few years ago. Besides his principled though overall futile collaboration with Russ Feingold on campaign finance, he partnered with the likes of Chuck Schumer, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and John Edwards on a Patients Bill of Rights, closing the gun-show loophole, raising fuel efficiency standards, legalizing the importation of cheap drugs from Canada, and federally funding stem cell research. So he’s voted against big insurance, against pharma, against the gun lobby, against big oil, and against the religious right. Let’s not forget the “agent of intolerance” comment, hollow as it rings now. That’s quite a record. He’s not exactly pro-choice, but he has also equivocated on abortion. He has been a bitter enemy of the likes of Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff for years. For someone with presidential ambitions, he would seem to have made every mistake in the book.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that he was ever liberal. Liberals expected so little out of the GOP and got so much in comparison from McCain that it got lost at some point that he really is conservative--but the rare type in Washington that will work with and occasionally partner with the minority. Too many liberals mistook this consensus-mindedness for latent liberalism, which is the source of today’s disillusionment.

Yes, he has been loyal recently. Yes he supported Bush against Kerry in 2000. Yes he voted to authorize the president to use force in Iraq (he’s always favored a strong, well funded military). However, it simply doesn’t make sense that the "real" McCain is a typical hack partisan. If anything, the fact that his aides keep repeating this story, combined with the reality that he needs to appease the right to have any chance at the White House should send up red flags that “no-I’ve-really-been-conservative-all-along-you-just-didn’t-notice-or-forgot-,silly” story is just a campaign-driven necessity.

Not that this is at all admirable. If fact, I think being a fake conservative is worse than being a fake bipartisan. It's far more damaging. That said, it makes one wonder why the left has been so eager to believe this weird revisionism. It’s probably because he’s the presumptive frontrunner and it’s best to start making the easiest or most convenient attacks now. Additionally, I think many got their hopes up with McCain over the past 6 years and expected far too much. There was open talk—wishful thinking it turns out—of switching parties or going independent (especially around the time Jim Jeffords defected). I think there’s a real sense of disillusionment among those who thought, erroneously, that he was either a great hope for liberals (that he just wasn’t converted yet) or, less erroneously, that was is a consensus-minded conservative that Democrats could world with. That in 2004 Kerry and so many other liberals thought offering McCain the VP slot was a good idea illustrates how recently McCain was still, for whatever reason, a friend of Democrats. McCain became so endeared to liberals, in fact, that his recent loyalty seems, well, treasonous.

Considering the above, if you really want to stop McCain’s momentum, make sure that the right remembers his bipartisanship. It will ruin him.

The protest at the new school was neither courageous nor actual dissent. The young commencement speaker could hardly be called courageous, in order for that to be applied one needs to risk something. She hardly was a risk of anything; she will bask in the glory of the left, her peer’s and the faculty. No… risk would entail possibly losing ones life in being shot down and then the probability of being tortured and held prisoner for years in an enemy POW camp. (nothing like this level of risk was forthcoming in response to her address)

As far as graduates are concerned they simply did things like turn there back on the speaker, jeer loudly, and heckle things like “war criminal”. This is not dissent, its just rude, illiberal & anti-intellectual.

The crowd turned their back on McCain because they didn't have a microphone. Rohe's speech was certainly political dissent.

And McCain isn't trying to "cultivate" a moderate image. That IS his image. That's why he lost the GOP nomination in 2000, and that's why he was considered a viable running mate for a Democrat in 2004.

As for Rohe: Heroic? A little. Dissent? Almost entirely in Bob Kerrey's eyes, though I suppose that should be enough for her. She's made his life a lot more difficult going forward, and that's probably a good thing.

Why McCain chose two bastions of inexorable dogma to propagate a moderate image, when he could have done that much more easily at schools that are bigger and more representative of the country, makes little sense. I'll be more interested to see where he speaks next year.

Maybe it was a favor to Bob Kerrey. Who knows?

In any event, I think Publis's theory is more plausible.

bf’s analysis is good and basically correct. - “McCain became so endeared to liberals, in fact, that his recent loyalty seems, well, treasonous.”
I never cottoned to him as he is, and always has been, way too “conservative” for my taste despite his occasional bipartisan forays. He has been right on some things such as campaign finance, but this is 2006 and we are now neck deep and sinking in a slurry of W’s shit and the blood of thousands. Anyone, whatever their history, who is still loyal to the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld/Gonzales/Alito/Frist/etc./etc. cabal is, well, treasonous.

Indeed, though I will say, in the best of bad circumstances, I would feel much better about McCain in the white house than Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld/Gonzales/Alito/Frist/etc./etc. Not to mention Allen, Rice, Guiliani, Huckabee, Pataki, Romney, Hegel, Gingrich, or pretty much any other Republican with White House ambitions. He at least has some track record of cooperating with Democrats. I've become so inured to the GOP in power that I need to entertain these dirty thoughts. Not that I would vote Republican in a presidential election. I'm not that contrarian.

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