. An uncontroversial class deserves a tame speaker
Rumor has it that the 1994 Commencement Speaker will be none other than Vice President Al Gore '69. He is just the man for the job. The resolutely uncontroversial Gore is the fitting embodiment of the Class of 1994, the Class that let controversy at Harvard suffer an ignominiously silent death. Certainly, the choice of the milquetoast Vice President promises a commencement free of the rancor that overhung last year's ceremony.
But Colin Powell was the last gasp of the polarized campus, or at least a raucous send-off for the last class that really knew how to stir up controversy, even if they weren't the masters. Al Gore is the dirge for the first class that lacked the rhetorical hare-trigger that made the Harvard campus an interesting, if sometimes tense, place.
The Class of 1994 had the benefit of entering Harvard during a period of hightened mobilization. Yet the class didn't seem to get much out of the Desert Storm debate. With each succesive June, the market in thin-skinned fire-brands gets weaker and weaker.
The Class of 1994 has let the doyenne of controversial publications, the infamous rag, lapse into oblivion. Topping the particularly inflamatory "educated pussy" was a challenge that no present students could meet. The only news Penninsula makes these days concerns how little news it makes. The old guard--Roger Landry, Sumner Anderson, and company--were walking controversies. The spoke and the campus would go into a frenzy or at least plan an eat-in. Brigette/id Kerrigan could stir up acrimonious polemics about how her name should be spelled and provoke a near-insurrection with the well-timed wave of a flag.
Who now would try such a stunt? Better yet, who would respond? The campus Left was almost as controversial; these days, Perspective sounds, well, sensible, frightening as it is to contemplate. The campus press was once split into armed camps, enragedly quoting each other out of context, treasuring each "[sic]" like a captured enemy standard. People weren't a bunch of Voltairetrained parrots, who dutifully preface every rebuttal with a formulaic declaration of how earnestly they support the right of their opponents to speak, regardless of the clap-trap spoken. And today? The name "Al Gore" says it all.
Al Gore--dutiful, competent, the consummate wonk--who better to encapsulate our experience? Here is a man who shares our debased vocabulary of "new paradigms" and "right-sizing."
What controversy could he possibly engender? Marchers chanting, "Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, The Old Paradigm Has Got To Stay," or "Don't Reinvent Our Government, It's Just Fine?" No, Mr. Gore doesn't have that hot button policy which provokes a self-conscious grouping--of course, the real pros in now-departed classes almost certainly could have invented a clever rationale with an alacrity which defied Mr. Gore's apparent inoffensiveness, and brought a slew of letters, banners, and other accoutrements to bear soon after. After all, these were the same stalwarts who found problems with Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Prime Minister of Norway; lesser minds would have passed over that name with a yawn, but the past masters came up with an issue for each ideological wing--the right assailing her support of abortion, the left her country's less-than-Jane-Fonda-like appetite for whale products.
But our estimable Vice President will be spared such scrutiny. No banners, balloons or chants for the Class of 1994. Lucky us.
Benjamin J. Heller's column appears on alternate Saturdays.