I had the opportunity — or misfortune, rather — of viewing the beginning of John Kerry’s fantasy ’08 presidential campaign. I say fantasy because, like fantasy football or pro wrestling, the people playing are often out of touch with reality and oblivious to the fact that what they do simply won’t translate to tangible results in the real world.
When the thinner senator from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts was hand picked by the president of my estranged alma mater to be the commencement speaker for my graduating class, I was quite perturbed to say the least. How typical of the liberal bastion I called home to choose a Democrat — and a political loser to boot. Also troubling, the traditional process of the senior class voting on the speaker was pushed aside — quite odd, I mused, given liberals’ alleged aversion to unilateralism. I figured the school’s administration decided Johnny K couldn’t bear to lose another election in Ohio, so they handed it to him like it wasn’t a big deal … like his Purple Hearts.
As graduation grew near, I noticed that throughout the country, angry students were protesting speeches because they didn’t adhere to the same political ideology as their respective commencement speakers. At Boston College, lay and Jesuit professors signed letters proclaiming that Condoleezza Rice was unfit to receive an honorary degree, as she didn’t fully exemplify the Jesuit Catholic values these "activists" held dear. In her usual confident, classy fashion, Rice responded that she respects people’s right to protest, as long is it doesn’t drown out productive discourse, and to keep in mind that the citizens of Iraq are only now enjoying this benefit many of us take for granted. Condi: 1, Massachusetts limousine liberals: 0.
Interestingly enough, as reported by Hub Politics in May, Boston College has a history of honoring speakers who truly do actively and outspokenly oppose the principles of the Catholic Church. Forums and honorary degrees have been given to the likes of former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman, Roe v. Wade defender Walter Derringer, "cut-and-swim" Sen. Teddy Kennedy, and, surprise, surprise, Sen. John Kerry, the proud bearer of a 100% "pro-choice" NARAL rating.
At Kenyon, Mrs. Teresa Heinz-Kerry was given an honorary degree — after all, she has done a great job of overseeing the philanthropic distribution of her ex-husband’s money, and it’s certainly a lot easier to hit someone up for a piece of the pie that you don’t deserve after you’ve given them something they too haven’t earned. Yet at Kenyon, home of a prominent "neo-con" Political Science department, there wasn’t a solitary, Straussian peep. In fact, it was here that I found the strongest justifications for Kerry and like political figures taking the stage at commencement ceremonies across the country.
The first half of Mr. Kerry’s speech had a corny ring to it that lent to the view that an eager intern took a superficial read of the Kenyon College website for the bulk of the material. The incorporation of Kenyon’s spotlighted senior students by name and field of study added to Kerry’s air of faux familiarity with the community. The second half of the address saw the laying of a thinly veiled groundwork for a 2008 presidential run aimed directly at the C-SPAN cameras. Kerry spoke to the graduating class as if it were a young Democrat’s meeting, citing the 2004 election as if it were Kenyon’s Class of 2006’s campaign that lost, citing "the Election Day event that united us was a disappointment." He spoke of the war he needed to end, and how we have a war we need to end as well: "And now, we are engaged in a misguided war. Like the war of my generation, it began with an official deception…Those who worked to end a war long ago, now ask you to help end a war today." He poked fun at White House intelligence briefings, the IQ of Republicans in Washington, and the fact that Republicans on campus were a minority. Mr. Kerry spoke about the power of big ideas championing over small-minded attacks, while his speech was littered with the latter. But for Mr. Kerry contradictions aren’t a new phenomenon — and not just voting for the war before voting against it. As the Smoking Gun reported, Mr. Kerry’s advance team insists that any food offered to the senator should be void of any tomato products. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
The one piece of useful material I gleaned from the address amidst Mr. Kerry’s barrage of cheap political punches was his talk of standing up for what one believes in. At that moment it hit me. I had often thought that activism was somehow antithetical to conservatism, though I decided to take the Senator’s remarks to heart. I had given him a chance to make an inspiring speech about graduation, the future, and about taking on new challenges in life. He used the opportunity for himself — to pander to a predominantly liberal crowd and to lay the groundwork for the next time he wants to try and take Ohio. So, as the majority of my classmates and their families stood and clapped and whistled at the close of the speech, I sat. I sat not to get my face or some crass poster on television. I sat so that as Mr. Kerry scanned the crowd he saw, in the first couple rows, amongst the hundreds of people cheering him on to a finish line he will never cross, that there was at least one dissenting voice taking his words to heart and standing up, by sitting down, for what I believe in.