by Ken Gorrell,
Two very different quotes from two very different Republicans came to mind last week as the increasingly ludicrous student demonstrators continued their foul-mouthed shrieking and university administrators continued their shameful acquiescence. It has not been a good semester for American higher education, but it has been entertaining.
Accepting the Republican presidential nomination in July, 1964, Barry Goldwater said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Those were heady times: a president had been assassinated, the civil rights movement was gaining momentum, and President Johnson was already under fire for his Viet Nam strategy. Goldwater identified communism as the “principal disturber of the peace in the world today.”
The infamous student protests at UC Berkeley were just gaining momentum back in 1964. Targets of students’ ire included the same issues facing the nation at large: racial discrimination (the Civil Rights Act had just been signed), the growing war in Viet Nam, the exercise of basic rights like free speech and assembly, how to deal with our Cold War adversary. Though Goldwater was an arch conservative, his belief in the importance of defending liberty and justice were shared by the campus radicals of the day. Ideologies were certainly different, but the issues they addressed were broadly the same and the passions similarly grounded.
Fast forwarding 25 years, to 1989, brings us the other quote that came to my mind. Vice President Dan Quayle addressed the United Negro College Fund with this word contortion: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” Not quite as stirring as Goldwater’s full-throated defense of liberty, but more on-target for today’s campus protesters. Quayle was trying to repeat the UNCF’s tag line, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” which could be the perfect counter-slogan for today’s out-of-step kids. From Yale, to the University of Missouri, to Claremont McKenna, today’s outraged students seem intent on wasting their minds’ potential, along with the taxpayer subsidies most of them receive.
It took less than a year for these students (adults by some measures, but too child-like in their actions to be taken seriously as grown-ups) to go from protesting the “epidemic” of sexual assaults on campus to the purported use of feces as instruments of oppression. At least the feces were real. The sexual assault “epidemic” turned out to be less real, more scripted reality show. In the most notorious case, the script-writer was outed eventually, but not before officials at the University of Virginia were made to look like fools and the men of a fraternity maligned. Despite its culpability, Rolling Stone rolls on, though without a certain managing editor.
In my lifetime we’ve gone from students protesting about the same existential and foundational issues the nation’s political and social leaders were grappling with, to matters either proven mostly false, misinterpreted, or simply silly. How did the ideological descendants of 1960s radicals become today’s tantrum-throwing, ignorant, intolerant brats?
YouTube is filled with videos of students’ profanity-laced rants directed toward professors and university leaders over such weighty matters as Halloween costumes and so-called micro-aggressions. Twitter provides wonderful views into the dark minds of these self-absorbed youth, wailing about the spotlight moving on from the racially-motivated “terrorism” suffered by a group of mostly-black scholarship athletes to the religiously-motivated death and dismemberment suffered by Parisians at the bloody hands of real Islamic terrorists. It would be funny if it weren’t so sickening.
Are there any adults left on university campuses able to articulate the value of free speech to kids screaming for campus speech codes, mandatory sensitivity training, and a right not to be offended? If there were, perhaps they could have nipped in the bud the feces incident at Vanderbilt. Someone found bag of dog feces on the steps of the Black Cultural Center. The racial grievance-mongers spun up in high dudgeon. Everyone from the University Police Department to the Dean of Students to the Director of the Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence were called to the scene. A hate crime? No. The bag had been left there by a blind Vanderbilt student who was cleaning up after her guide dog.
Today’s rude and unruly campus protesters are proving Dan Quayle right: It is a waste to lose one’s mind, or not to have one at all.
Ken can be reached at email@example.com.