On Tuesday, a headline in the Huffington Post read --
My first reaction upon reading this is that it is indeed actually shocking. Not that George Will lost college speaking gigs over his rape column, but that apparently he's only lost one.
To refresh your memory the column in question, among other things, described survivors of rape on college campuses as "especially privileged young adults" whose "victimhood" on campuses is "a coveted status that confers privileges." The article also put quote marks around his description of "sexual assault," because apparently it wasn't actually quite a real thing. Not like a legitimate sexual assault.
So, to hear that George Will just lost a speaking engagement on a college campus isn't really quite earth-shattering, unless you consider, "What took so long??!", to be a stunner. But even less so most especially when you realize one other teensy factor in the story. It was at Scripps College, in Claremont, California. Okay, I hear some of you say, so what?
Scripps is an all-female institution.
So, yeah, I think at the very least it's not hard to sort of figure out why they might not be anxious to sit through a speech by George Will. (In fairness, even before his "coveted status" for rape column, I could understand why people might not want to sit through a speech about anything by George Will. But when you ratchet the situation up a few notches, it doesn't even take much imagination.)
I'm sure that there will be people crying out about "Freedom of Speech" and the First Amendment!!!!! And about how isn't a college supposed to be a bastion of such things??!
Well...a few things. But for starters, anyone who says this is a "Freedom of Speech" issue has no understanding what the First Amendment is. It's that the government can't make laws restricting speech. Not that private businesses or public organizations can't decide what they want spoken on their behalf, and by who. Second, George Will's freedom to speak has not been taken away, he's quite free to give his speech on pretty much any street corner or gutter he can find. And third -- I'm just going to make a wild stab in the dark here and guess that, in this matter of "free speech," George Will wasn't planning to speak for free. I'm just going to guess that he was not only getting paid, but paid a handsome stipend by the school. So, this isn't a matter of George Will not being allowed to speak -- he is allowed to say whatever he wants, as we've noted -- but rather that an all-female college needn't be required to pay someone for the honor of telling them off, scolding them that their having been raped and being victims of, quote, "sexual assault," endquote, is a coveted status, that brings privileges.
In an interview with the Claremont Independent, Mr. Will described his parting of the ways with Scripps, saying, “It was in the works and then it wasn’t in the works. They didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.”
Now, to be fair to George Will -- a status he doesn't always grant others -- it's not clear whether he was whining or just being matter-of-fact, or omniscient. It appears the former, though, because the paper also references Mr. Will making sure to tell the that "Christopher DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country, resigned from his position on the program’s speaker selection committee over the decision to revoke the invitation." Again, this too could have been matter-of-fact, an off-handed remark, though since he left out any balanced description of support for the school's decision, it does seem a tad more like he's trying to make a point of criticism.
To be honest, there is a degree to which I can understand -- not George Will's response, but -- Mr. DeMuth's reaction. The speech was going to be part of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program, which the college's website describes as having been established by Ms. Malott's heirs to make manifest her belief that “a range of opinions about the world – especially opinions with which we may not agree, or think we do not agree – leads to a better educational experience.”
But I think it's equally fair to wonder how much Christopher DeMuth's resignation was due to his general outrage over all opinions, including those he may not agree with, or how much it was an attempt to show public pique that a conservative icon has been dumped. I don't begin to know the answer to that. But given that the foundation of conservative think tanks through the years has never been based on the "Free to be you and me" concept of life, but more rigid standards grounded in the past, I think it's reasonable to at least be skeptical about his response.
Because while one hopes that any college would be open to a wide range of opinions, even those they might disagree with -- indeed one hopes that all people would live with that openness of spirit -- "a range of opinions" doesn't mean All Opinions That Can Possibly Be Spoken. And having different opinions is not the same as having to pay for the right to hear them and be demeaned.
And further, if Mr. DeMuth was actually, truly outraged that the mandate of "a range of opinions," even those with which "we may not agree," wasn't being followed so nobly on a pinnacle of fluffy snow, the question arises as to where was his outrage that of all the people who the Scripps website lists here as having spoken, ever, under Malott program -- every single one of the them (with just one exception, which we'll get to) was not just conservative, but nearly all a far-right conservative. This is the full list -- Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer, Ben Stein, David Brooks, Newt Gingrich, Liz and Mary Cheney, and Mary Matalin. You'd think that an outraged Charles DeMuth would have protested that there wasn't a fair-handed mix of left-wing radicals in there.
And as for that one exception of a speaker who wasn't a conservative, let alone on the radical far right? It was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is described on the website as "an outspoken defender of women’s rights," known for her "courage and effectiveness in educating the world about women’s oppression and violence against women in conservative Islamic cultures." No, seriously. She's the one speaker the program has had who diverged from All Conservative, All the Time. Somehow, with that being the one non-conservative exception, the irony of Christopher DeMuth resigning over George Will who couldn't even write "sexual assault" without putting quotes around it, and who considered victimhood of rape to be a coveted status, is something Lewis Carroll would likely have found too outlandish even for Wonderland, and too ludicrous to consider with a straight face, or soul.
Yes, it might have been admirable for the all-female Scripps College to have kept George Will as their paid speaker. But let us not also consider that there is an equal nobility in standing up to crudity in the world and saying that we won't accept it. Saying that we expect more.
And in the end, for George Will to be complaining that he was dropped from his paid speaking engagement , there's a good lesson to understand -- if you voice your opinion about how privileged the young women victims of "sexual assault" on college campuses are to earn the privileges of a coveted status as survivors of rape, that is your right -- but if you do voice it, just don't be shocked if an all-female college, or any college campus, decides they'd rather not have you around.
But if George Will isn't willing to accept that lesson, here's the good news. He can consider that his victimhood over losing his gig as a most-highly privileged coveted status.
And the good news is that his probably won't scar and shutter his life. He'll likely be talking about it joyfully this Sunday morning on national TV. And raising his fees.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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