Diana West

When (if) future historians look back to early 21st-century America, they should examine two cultural controversies of May 2011 for a quick read on Establishment sensibilities. One involves the bestowal, revocation and re-bestowal of an honorary degree on playwright Tony Kushner by CUNY, and one involves the invitation to Common, a rapper, to perform at a White House poetry reading.

Both controversies set the boundaries of Establishment-acceptable thought -- the span of "settled" debate, and the "correct" set of elite opinions -- and maybe, just maybe reveal one tiny chink.

In the Kushner case, the controversy centered on the objections of CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld to bestowing an honorary degree on Kushner due to the playwright's very public, very vocal opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinian Authority (PA). For about five minutes, Wiesenfeld actually persuaded fellow board members to withdraw the Kushner honor (Kushner's 16th honorary degree). But soon after, Wiesenfeld, a son of Holocaust survivors, found himself pilloried in the media, called on to resign from the CUNY board, all for having argued the Establishment-incorrect case -- a case, remember, that was then put to two board votes (the second to get the "correct" outcome). With everything "set right," why the vengeful rage at Wiesenfeld?

In rejecting Kushner for honors, Wiesenfeld was rejecting the Left's increasingly accepted case for moral equivalence between Israel and the PA for honors as well. Had Wiesenfeld prevailed, CUNY itself would have symbolically rejected this same moral equivalence from mainstream, taxpayer-supported academia. By 2011, future historians will note, the Left had long made way for Palestinian Arabs to suicide-bomb their way into that mainstream, and no blunt-speaking trustee was going to force their cause to the margins again if they could help it. And, future historians will also note, they could help it. Against an initially effective blast from the pro-Israel past, the academic Establishment held. Radical Chic ruled. And not only did it hold and rule, it also committed assault and battery against its lone critic.

That'll show 'em. No armor-chinks here.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).