Democratic Underground

Laughing at Himself, or Laughing at Us?
July 26, 2001
by 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 ceremonies.

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, myself.

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 world!!!!"

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 ashes.

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.

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