October 6, 2013
When Mettle Meets the Toads
By Clarice Feldman
Two battles were joined this week, one on Capital Hill and another at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (the symbolic core of which is known as Bascom Hill). In both cases, free men who refused to be cowed struck back at overreaching tyrants.
(a) The Battle of Capitol Hill
As the Republicans and Democrats squared off on spending, World War II and Korean War vets were making their way to Washington, D.C. on Honor Flights, a charitable program to bring these folks to see the memorials to service members who fought in those wars. Many are aged and infirm -- especially those who served in World War II -- and this may be their only chance to see this tardy, independently financed tribute to them and their colleagues. The flights are eagerly anticipated and scheduled a year in advance. These memorials are situated on the National Mall, which spreads out before the Capitol, and while there have been government shutdowns before, never have the open-air, unstaffed memorials on the Mall ever been deemed off-limits to the public.
On hearing that the Obama administration intended to block access to these monuments, efforts were made to get an exception for these veterans making their once-in-a-lifetime visit. Instead, for the first time, the National Park Service, which had been instructed to make the shutdown as painful and visible as possible, barricaded the monument. Ostensibly, this was to save the cost of guarding the monuments, but the shutdown did not affect the guards on the Mall or any of the various police forces in the city. And no barricades or guards were positioned to occlude access to the World War I monument.
This was an act of such spiteful nastiness that it shocks the conscience. (Indeed, the shutdown selections seem to have particularly targeted the military and veterans.) Among the selective closings, Camp David, where the president and his family can relax, and the links at which Obama golfs were kept operating, but NFL coverage to troops was canceled. Initially, the Air Force-Navy and Army-Boston College games were postponed, but they were reinstated when it was made clear that the costs would be incurred even if the games did not take place.
In any event, the veterans in their wheelchairs and their aides -- along with some friendly congressmen who showed up -- moved the barriers and came to see what they had been waiting to see for decades. The Administration took a huge hit. My favorite was a scene of the Omaha Beach landing superimposed on the memorial monument pond.
The optics stank, and the administration backed down, saying they'd allow Honor Flight vets to continue to view the monument. Perhaps to save face, Friday they reinstated the barriers, this time tying them together with wire, presumably to prevent unauthorized viewing in this open-air space. I suppose the next flight of vets to arrive will bring their own wire cutters.
Powerline, a blog written by lawyers who do know what they are talking about, was sharply critical of the administration's conduct:
How do we know this is purely political theater? Because under applicable federal law -- and the interpretation of that law by both the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget -- all "law enforcement" operations of the federal government are exempted from being shut down during any funding lapse. The only possible reason for preventing access to the World War II Memorial would be a concern about security. But because the National Park Police are operating even during the government "slimdown" -- that is why they were at the memorial when the veterans were threatened with arrest -- this is not a valid concern. Under intense pressure, the Obama administration began to relent Wednesday, agreeing to "an accommodation for the Honor Flights." That isn't good enough. The memorials should be fully open for everyone and anyone.
After it was clear that the optics of this juvenile stunt were not working for the administration, when the vets showed up the following day on the next Honor Flight, picketers representing themselves as furloughed federal workers tried to grab press photographers' attention to change what the left is most concerned about always -- "the narrative." Unfortunately, the picketers were as dumb as those who hired them and admitted they were not federal workers -- just some guys the SEIU, union allies of the administration, hired for $15 per hour to carry these signs at the memorial.
For the rest of the week, tales of similar outrages flooded the internet. Here's what one series of headers on Drudge read:
Feds shut down D-Day beaches, cemetery in Normandy...
Barrycades: Try to Close Privately Owned Mount Vernon...
Philly tavern frequented by Founding Fathers shuttered...
Lodge with 12 rooms closes on Cape Cod...
Monuments, memorials stayed open during last shutdown...
Grocery stores on Army bases closed, Obama's golf course open...
Each day brought attention to more absurd actions -- some of which (like the closure of Mount Vernon) didn't even involve federal property or personnel. Silliness prevailed -- the GW Parkway in nearby Virginia was opened, but National Park Service police cars and crime tape barred travelers from pausing at the scenic overlooks on the Potomac River.
The most inexplicable and petty move of all wasn't public until Friday, the day the administration gave $445 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was on that day that we learned that contract Catholic priests were being forbidden from celebrating Mass for the troops.
According the Archdiocese for Military Services, GS and contract priests (who are paid by the federal government as independent contractors in places where there aren't enough active-duty priests to meet the needs of Catholics in military service) are being forbidden from celebrating Mass, even on a volunteer basis.
If they violate this restriction, they face possible arrest. FOR CELEBRATING MASS. (Emphasis in original.)
If you think the optics of the threatened arrest of vets of the battle for Omaha Beach and Okinawa were something, just imagine pictures of the arrests of priests for offering Mass to soldiers.
I don't think that those who warned that this shutdown would hurt the Republicans are right. Aside from the most recent public opinion polls, and the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, I'm led to this by the blunders Obama and Reid are making -- terrible mistakes showing they are under a great deal of pressure to cut a deal.
When reminded by Dana Bash that his refusal to allow a Senate vote on the House bill to keep funds flowing to NIH meant that children in cancer trials would be cut off from these potentially life-saving trials, Reid brushed off the matter rudely. And when speaking to union members, Obama went off teleprompter -- Obama, the pride of Harvard Law School and a lecturer at the University of Chicago, said that people who stopped work at a "plant" should be fired because they're "getting a paycheck." What does he think a strike is, and where does he get his interesting take on labor law? (We had an inkling early on that he knows nothing of law when he made clear that he didn't understand the difference between liability and collision insurance, and nothing he's said or done since persuades us that he has the slightest inkling of what he's talking about respecting the law or the Constitution. But the pressure he's feeling as he's losing more than just public support particularly occasioned this blunder.)
Americans reject by 61 percent the President's demand for a clean debt vote with no restrictions on spending.
As was the case with the sequester, the longer this goes on, the more people realize that the employees and services are actually not essential to them and that we could easily cut back.
At the moment, Obama cannot fully hold his troops together. No longer acting in lockstep with the president, 57 democratic congressmen joined the House GOP to fund key departments, the National Guard and Reserve, veterans' benefits, the NIH, and the D.C. government.
(b) The Battle of Bascom Hill
Less public but only slightly less important is the beginning salvo at the University of Wisconsin to take back the university from those who've made its motto of "sifting and winnowing" to find the truth into a mockery, as the university increasingly caves to tyranny and propagandizing.
The hero here is a student and teaching assistant, Jason Morgan. The College Fix brings to us his refusal to bow to "intellectual tyranny and mandatory radicalism."
In his own words, here is where he made his stand and why:
Dear Graduate Director Prof. Kantrowitz, [snip]
As you are probably aware, all new TAs in the History Department are required to attend one orientation session, two TA training sessions, and two diversity sessions. Yesterday (Friday, September 20th), we new TAs attended the first of the diversity sessions. To be quite blunt, I was appalled. What we were given, under the rubric of "diversity," was an avalanche of insinuations, outright accusations, and suffocating political indoctrination (or, as some of the worksheets revealingly put it, "re-education") entirely unbecoming a university of our stature.
Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and students at probably every other public institution of higher education in this country, have long since grown accustomed to incessant leftism. It is in the very air that we breathe. Bascom Hill, for example, is roped off and the university is shut down so that Barack Obama (D), Mark Pocan (D), and Tammy Baldwin (D) can deliver campaign speeches before election day. (The university kindly helped direct student traffic to these campaign events by sending out a mass e-mail encouraging the student body to go to the Barack Obama for President website and click "I'm In for Barack!" in order to attend.) Marxist diatribes denouncing Christianity, Christians, the United States, and conservatives (I am happy to provide as many examples of this as might be required) are assigned as serious scholarship in seminars. The Teaching Assistants Association (TAA)-which sent out mass e-mails, using History Department list-servs, during the attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker, accusing Gov. Walker of, among other things, being "Nero"-is allowed to address TA and graduate student sessions as a "non-partisan organization". The History Department sponsors a leftist political rally, along with the Socialist Party of Wisconsin, and advertises for the rally via a departmental e-mail (sent, one presumes, using state computers by employees drawing salaries from a state institution). In short, this university finds it convenient to pretend that it is an apolitical entity, but one need not be particularly astute to perceive that the Madison campus is little more than a think tank for the hard left. Even those who wholeheartedly support this political agenda might in all candor admit that the contours of the leftism here are somewhat less than subtle.
At the "diversity" training yesterday, though, even this fig leaf of apoliticism was discarded. In an utterly unprofessional way, the overriding presumption of the session was that the people whom the History Department has chosen to employ as teaching assistants are probably racists. In true "diversity" style, the language in which the presentation was couched was marbled with words like "inclusive", "respect", and "justice". But the tone was unmistakably accusatory and radical. Our facilitator spoke openly of politicizing her classrooms in order to right (take revenge for?) past wrongs. We opened the session with chapter-and-verse quotes from diversity theorists who rehearsed the same tired "power and privilege" cant that so dominates seminar readings and official university hand-wringing over unmet race quotas. Indeed, one mild-mannered Korean woman yesterday felt compelled to insist that she wasn't a racist. I never imagined that she was, but the atmosphere of the meeting had been so poisoned that even we traditional quarries of the diversity Furies were forced to share our collective guilt with those from continents far across the wine-dark sea.
It is hardly surprising that any of us hectorees would feel thusly. For example, in one of the handouts that our facilitator asked us to read ("Detour-Spotting: for white anti-racists," by joan olsson [sic]), we learned things like, "As white infants we were fed a pabulum of racist propaganda," "...there was no escaping the daily racist propaganda," and, perhaps most even-handed of all, "Racism continues in the name of all white people." Perhaps the Korean woman did not read carefully enough to realize that only white people (all of them, in fact) are racist. Nevertheless, in a manner stunningly redolent of "self-criticism" during the Cultural Revolution in communist China, the implication of the entire session was that everyone was suspect, and everyone had some explaining to do.
You have always been very kind to me, Prof. Kantrowitz, so it pains me to ask you this, but is this really what the History Department thinks of me? Is this what you think of me? I am not sure who selected the readings or crafted the itinerary for the diversity session, but, as they must have done so with the full sanction of the History Department, one can only conclude that the Department agrees with such wild accusations, and supports them. Am I to understand that this is how the white people who work in this Department are viewed? If so, I cannot help but wonder why in the world the Department hired any of us in the first place. Would not anyone be better?
There is one further issue. At the end of yesterday's diversity "re-education," we were told that our next session would include a presentation on "Trans Students". At that coming session, according to the handout we were given, we will learn how to let students 'choose their own pronouns', how to correct other students who mistakenly use the wrong pronouns, and how to ask people which pronouns they prefer ("I use the pronouns he/him/his. I want to make sure I address you correctly. What pronouns do you use?"). Also on the agenda for next week are "important trans struggles, as well as those of the intersexed and other gender-variant communities," "stand[ing] up to the rules of gender," and a very helpful glossary of related terms and acronyms, to wit: "Trans": for those who "identify along the gender-variant spectrum," and "Genderqueer": "for those who consider their gender outside the binary gender system". I hasten to reiterate that I am quoting from diversity handouts; I am not making any of this up.
Please allow me to be quite frank. My job, which I love, is to teach students Japanese history. This week, for example, I have been busy explaining the intricacies of the Genpei War (1180-1185), during which time Japan underwent a transition from an earlier, imperial-rule system under regents and cloistered emperors to a medieval, feudal system run by warriors and estate managers. It is an honor and a great joy to teach students the history of Japan. I take my job very seriously, and I look forward to coming to work each day.
It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion. I am not in graduate school to learn how to encourage poor souls in their sexual experimentation, nor am I receiving generous stipends of taxpayer monies from the good people of the Great State of Wisconsin to play along with fantasies or accommodate public cross-dressing. To all and sundry alike I explicate, as best I can, such things as the clash between the Taira and the Minamoto, the rise of the Kamakura shogunate, and the decline of the imperial house in twelfth-century Japan. Everyone is welcome in my classroom, but, whether directly or indirectly, I will not implicate myself in my students' fetishes, whatever those might be. What they do on their own time is their business; I will not be a party to it. I am exercising my right here to say, "Enough is enough." One grows used to being thought a snarling racist-after all, others' opinions are not my affair-but one draws the line at assisting students in their private proclivities. That is a bridge too far, and one that I, at least, will not cross.
I regret that this leaves us in an awkward situation. After having been accused of virulent racism and, now, assured that I will next learn how to parse the taxonomy of "Genderqueers", I am afraid that I will disappoint those who expect me to attend any further diversity sessions. When a Virginia-based research firm came to campus a couple of years ago to present findings from their study of campus diversity, then-Diversity Officer Damon Williams sent a gaggle of shouting, sign-waving undergraduates to the meeting, disrupting the proceedings so badly that the meeting was cancelled. In a final break with such so-called "diversity", I will not be storming your office or shouting into a megaphone outside your window. Instead, I respectfully inform you hereby that I am disinclined to join in any more mandatory radicalism. I have, thank God, many more important things to do. I also request that diversity training be made optional for all TAs, effective immediately. In my humble opinion, neither the Department nor the university has any right to subject anyone to such intellectual tyranny.
Thank you for your patience in reading this long e-mail.
Since reading this, I have received two letters from different parts of the University asking for funds. I responded that in my day, the entire History Department would have walked out in support of Jason, and so would have a great deal of the rest of the school. I accept that there are others fighting the tide there, like political science professor Don Down, but that's a drop in the bucket.
Until the academy has the guts of this T.A. or the old vets in D.C. and stands unified to further the causes of free speech, free inquiry, and fair trials of male students accused of what the Department of Education considers "sexual harassment" -- which is no more than an unwarranted restriction on free speech of male students -- my wallet is closed.
You might want to spend more time looking at what's happened to your university since you graduated. Chances are it's also seriously infected with Gramscian rot. If so, show us your mettle.