at Himself, or Laughing at Us?
July 26, 2001
The Plaid Adder
Dubya provides so much fodder for sarcasm, satire, and black
despairing irony every single day of his existence that it
is just impossible for an amateur satirist to keep up with
him. Simply maintaining a comprehensive and up-to-date record
of the evils, blunders, and embarrassments for which Dubya
is responsible would be a full-time job. But ever since I
read about his commencement speech at Yale in the Yale Alumni
Magazine, I just haven't been able to let it go.
As a dog returneth to its vomit, as a fool returns to his
folly, and as Jenna returns to Sixth Street, so I return once
again to my denunciation of Dubya, and of any educational
institution that can find in its cold corporate heart the
cynicism, hypocrisy and bootlicking lackeyhood that it would
take to invite that man to address a class of graduating seniors.
Yes, even if that educational institution is the one that
gave me my own B.A. way back in 1991, when I had the pleasure
of protesting Dubya's daddy's appearance at my own commencement
The YAM's purpose in life is to keep Yale's alumni well-disposed
enough toward Yale to continue donating money. Thus, as you
might expect, they spin their coverage pretty hard in an effort
to make Yale look good. But even the YAM could not avoid projecting
a certain amount of shame and embarrassment as it described
the events of the most recent memorial day weekend.
For instance, they had to admit that more than 200 faculty
boycotted the ceremony, and that when Dubya was introduced,
the flattering description of his achievements and intellect
provoked a chorus of boos and hisses. The best that they could
say about the occasion, in the end, was that Dubya had been
able to laugh at himself, and won the crowd over that way.
I'm sure you've seen the quotes...the most frequently cited
being, "even a C student can become President." His "ten minute
speech" was a smorgasboard of quips of that sort, all designed
to allow Bush to disarm the audience by acknowledging that
he had never worked as hard or achieved as much during his
time at Yale as most of the students who were listening to
him. This ability to poke fun at himself, says the YAM, was
successful to a point, as by the time he was done the audience
was "at least quiet."
I'd just like to bring one or two things out from between
the lines here: 1) Ten minutes is how long it takes the average
person to read 5 pages of double-spaced text. That's shorter
than the average undergraduate essay. Even when someone else
is actually writing it, Dubya apparently cannot be trusted
with any composition more than 1500 words long. 2) The best
that the YAM was able to say about the audience was that it
did eventually become "quiet." This may perhaps have have
been the silence of respect...or it may have been the silence
of despair and horror. I'll go with what's behind door #2,
I cannot understand why the media keeps talking about Dubya's
"ability to laugh at himself" as if it is some kind of positive
trait. Has no one considered the possibility that Dubya's
amazing ability to laugh at himself may have something to
do with the amount of practice he's had? More to the point,
doesn't anyone realize that when Dubya laughs at himself,
he's not laughing with us, but at us?
After all, the subtext of that "C student" crack is clear
enough: "Any of you who ever did anything better than C work,
you're suckers. I'm real glad I never bothered to put any
effort into any of my classes, cause it would just have been
a waste of time. Cause look at me! I'm lazy, stupid, and ignorant--and
I'm President! What have you got lined up for next year, Mr.
Valedictorian? Some graduate school gig with a $9,000 stipend?
To hell with all of you pencil-necked geeks! I'm king of the
A little while ago a friend of mine forwarded me a document
that purported to be a speech given by Larry Ellison of Oracle
to the Yale graduating class of 2000, in which Ellison was
supposed to have said much the same thing. However, that "speech"
was actually a parody written for an online magazine, and
was intended as a joke. Dubya, as is so often his wont, has
taken something that most people wouldn't buy even as a joke
and turned it into lived reality. Parody will soon be dead
in this country because there will be no way to top the painful
farce that is the Dubya presidency.
After all, could you invent anything more bizarre than the
spectacle of one of America's most prestigious institutions
of higher learning giving an honorary degree to a spoiled,
anti-intellectual slacker who rewards them by publicly gloating
over the fact that he got to be President without ever having
to work or think? Or the fact that this unrepentant slacker
wants to be "the education president"?
Well, I'm glad Dubya can "laugh at himself." I've stopped
laughing. He's not funny any more. He may not take education
seriously, but I do. And I'm sick of seeing the "education
president" get up in public and be, as one senior quoted in
the YAM article put it, "proud of his bad grades." I'm sick
of the fact that our president is the standard-bearer for
ignorant privilege, complacent laziness, and self-satisfied
mediocrity. I'm sick of the fact that through Dubya, the Republican
regime is actively cultivating our national fear and distrust
of anything that resembles intelligence.
I happen to think that morality is linked to the ability
to think critically; that compassion and empathy are dependent
on the cultivation of curiosity; that both individual happiness
and national prosperity are related to our willingness and
ability to learn. I believe - call me crazy - that an education
is more than a series of hoops through which you have to slouch
in order to get the B.A. that will qualify you as a member
of the middle class. I believe that what we try to teach students
makes a difference to them in their future lives. I try -
in the face of all evidence to the contrary - to believe that
my students give a shit. And that is why, when it comes to
Dubya, I am no longer amused.
But worse, much worse than Dubya himself is any college
administration that can bring itself to invite him to campus.
After all, Dubya can't be expected to know better. He's spent
his entire life strenuously avoiding anything that might either
improve his mind or instill in him anything remotely like
a sense of shame. You'd think a college administration might
know better. They must be aware that merely extending Dubya
an invitation is a betrayal and debasement of any university's
supposed mission. And yet, they do it.
Why? God alone knows. Because they're dazzled by the prestige
of the Presidency, despite the ignominy of its current occupant?
Because they think it will impress their alumni? Because they're
competing to see who can truckle the fastest and the most
abjectly to the corporate coalition that props up the empty
shell of this administration? I don't know. All I know is,
anyone involved in bringing that national embarrassment to
any college campus ought to repent afterward in sackcloth
And when Dubya's shining example eventually produces a crop
of college graduates who not only do not know how to think,
write, or speak, but think that makes them really cool, they
better not come crying to us.