Streisand Was Light Fare for IOP


Barbra Streisand has proved time and again in her career that she goes where she wants to. She has been virtually unstoppable as an actress singer, producer and political activist. And with last week's performance, Streisand proved that even fair Harvard is not exempt from getting "verklempt" at her presence. The Kennedy School Was star struck--in more than one sense of the word.

The University's attitude towards the event was best summed up by Dean of the Kennedy School and Acting President Albert Carnesale. Introducing the celebrity, he reeled off pages of her accomplishments some in entertainment, but most, playing to the star's "serious" purpose, in the activist arena. "And," the administrator finished with a smile, "I like her music."

Carnesale's taste in show tunes aside, his remark revealed the real purpose of Streisand's invitation by the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. Harvard, for all its cultural elitism, is no less star struck than the fans who swiped her used tea mug after the speech and huddled in the February cold to catch a glimpse of Streisand's car.

Poor Barbra looked awfully silly up at the podium when her prepared speech, which alluded to Palto and quoted John F. Kennedy' 44-'46, among others was finished. When the teleprompter ran out of things for her to say, the celebrity was embarrassingly unable to respond to issues raised by Kennedy School and other students.

Admittedly, the questions were often poorly worded and vague. But they alluded to the most basic current political issues. It is difficult to take seriously someone identifying herself as a "concerned citizen" and Democratic campaign activist who has nothing more substantive to say on the health care problems facing America than that she goes with her "instincts" in recommending a single-payer system.

We are not disputing Streisand's rights as a "citizen artist." She and her Streisand Foundation have given over 300 grants to a variety of causes ranging from pediatric AIDS research and gay civil rights to environmental protection and public school art programs. She has endowed two chairs at California universities and raised untold sums for a Democratic party that could sorely use the cash. And Streisand has, as she said Friday evening, let her artistic productions speak for her beliefs.

But as valid as her social contributions have been, the IOP was no the place for her to extol them. It's no Las Vegas, Where her concert sold out last summer at $350 a head.

Friday's speech was such a performance. Streisand used her celebrity to focus the eyes of the national press on Newt Gingrich's war against Big Bird. Streisand did not say anything that the art community has not been saying about the right wing's threat to federal funding. But she did it with the attention of 650 of America's "cultural elite," 70 journalists and their viewers and readers.

But as valid as Streisand's social contributions have been, the IOP was not the place for her to extol them. It's not Las Vegas, where her concert sold out last summer at $350 a head.

The IOP has a mission, according to its brochures: "To inspire undergraduates to pursue careers in politics and public service Barbra does not fulfill that mission. It has a history of inviting heads of state, high-ranking administration officials and political writers to discussions with students.

The IOP has a new name to add to its honor roll of former guests, which includes Bill Clinton, Jack Kemp, Ann Richards, Nobel Winner Rigoberta Menchu and yes, even Newt Gingrich Now they can pencil in Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, she's rain on the IOP's parade of consistent cutting-edge political relevance.