Thursday, June 2, 2011

Silly Dartmouth faculty letter

A number of Dartmouth faculty members have signed a letter criticizing the College for awarding an honorary degree to former president George H.W. Bush. Now... if they'd just limited themselves to the paragraph where they say that it's a good idea to limit conferrals of honorary degrees to academics and people working in pursuits closely related to academia, this wouldn't bother me. I'm not sure I share their view -- an individual university probably disadvantages itself by opting out of the rat race by not giving honorary degrees to celebrities, and in the end, that may actually hurt serious faculty endeavors. But it's still a respectable argument.

But they don't. They try to justify the claim by pointing to specifics about 41's record. A few of the claims are non-ridiculous, although they may well represent distortions or exaggerations of the truth. But the sentence about his "Goldwater Republicanism" is a bit odd, since he was better known later in his career as VP and President for being a centrist and pragmatic Republican. Thus all the to-do about his famous comment about lacking the "vision thing." Despite the comment about Medicare being socialistic, it is not as though 41 ever actually tried to do much to scrap it or even scale it back while in office. But leaving aside the truth of the matter asserted, why exactly is it so bad for an honorary degree recipient to hold such views? Why are these views so far beyond the pale?

Ditto the comment about "criminalization of policy differences." Does it not worry these people that, in a highly partisan political environment like Washington, such abuses are possible or even likely? Do they not agree that criminalization of policy differences could be a real problem for an elected official, even if it wasn't on the facts of this case?

(I actually know very little about Iran Contra, since I was more interested in crayons at the time that it was happening. Still, I am not the only person in the world who knows very little about the specifics of the scandal, and the letter writers ought to be doing more to explain to the uninitiated why precisely this comment is so horrible.)

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