Colin Powell, a man who has risen from poverty to become America's most prominent military officer and a major actor in international affairs, might seem an ideal choice for Harvard's Commencement speaker. Yet among the radical fringe which dominates campus discussion at Harvard, the prospect of having to listen to a political moderate at Commencement is apparently too daunting even to contemplate.
The reaction among left-wing campus activists to the administration's choice of Powell illustrates a theme that has become depressingly familiar at Harvard--left-wing intolerance.
For too long, those on the Left have indulged in cynically moralistic rhetoric intended to discourage the expression of dissent and especially to show how much more enlightened and sophisticated they are than the rest of us. Anyone who disagrees with them is branded a bigot, a racist, a homophobe and so on through the catalog of epithets the Left has rendered meaningless through reckless overuse. They explain away people who hold views different from their own by attributing to such backward folk the all-purpose motivation of Hate.
This is about as sophisticated as their reasoning gets. For the Left, ad hominem attacks and intimidation have proven an effective way to avoid rational debate.
On April 16, The Crimson quoted a student from the School of Public Health as saying that "a group centered at the Law School is discussing [actions] for Commencement," including possibly "shouting Powell down." This is no empty threat. As we all know, the "open-minded" Harvard Left has a shameful history of shouting down speakers it doesn't like.
We hear much talk about the supposed evils and "intolerance" of the political Right. But ask yourself: When was the last time a liberal/leftist speaker was shouted down by conservatives here at Harvard? We'd be surprised if anyone could name even one example.
Not that we haven't been tempted, of course. Last year, a number of left-wing student groups invited American Communist Party Central Committee member Angela Davis to speak. This is a woman who, when she was in a position to secure the release of anti-Communist Czechoslovakian prisoners of conscience, made no effort to do so, arguing that they "deserve what they get." Still, during her address at Harvard, we on the Right held to our belief in free speech.
(The case of Angela Davis illustrates the peculiar selectivity of the BGLSA's moralizing. The BGLSA actually co-sponsored Davis' appearance at Harvard despite her history as an outspoken apologist for Castro's Cuba, a regime which has rounded up homosexuals and put them in camps.)
Last year's Commencement speaker, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, was a pro-abortion activist whose extreme views were offensive to many Harvard students, but we on the Right were mature enough not even to consider shouting her down.
Free speech issues aside, the question of homosexuals in the military raised by Powell's invitation is extremely vexing and complicated. It is hardly the open and shut case that the BGLSA would have us believe. Indeed, anyone who argues, as they do, that the issue is merely a recapitulation of the segregation of white and black soldiers is simply not looking at the issue seriously.
Colin Powell is a distinguished and respected general, the youngest chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in history and is, of course, the first Black American to hold that position. We join the majority of our fellow students in being honored and delighted to have him as the principal speaker on Commencement Day. Tom Woods, Vice-President Harvard-Radcliffe Republican Club Daniel E. Zumpano, President Harvard Conservative Club