John Leo
Sen. John McCain had a rough week in New York City, facing protesters who resented his speeches at Columbia University's Class Day and the New School for Social Research commencement ceremony.

The New York Daily News quoted a graduating senior who didn't want him at Columbia. "He encouraged us to speak up, but we still resent that our graduation day was used as a political platform," she said. She has a point, but it is a very small one and not very relevant to McCain's remarks. Yes, he seems to be on track to run for president, but candidates and potential candidates give commencement talks all the time. As long as they seem to be addressing the graduates, rather than their own partisan nostrums and ambitions, that's fine.

The only New York newspaper that gave us any clear idea of what McCain said at Columbia was the conservative New York Sun. A Sun editorial said, "It's hard to remember a more moving moment in college oratory" than the one the senator gave. He talked of his anger, as he sat in a Hanoi prison during the Vietnam War, hearing the piped-in voice of an antiwar American activist. The activist was the late David Ifshin, who had traveled to North Vietnam to denounce the United States. McCain said he and Ifshin later reached out to each other, and by the time Ifshin died of cancer at age 47, they had become friends who worked together toward shared ideals. Tales of political healing and the ability of political adversaries to work together are obviously important these days. McCain also spoke for civility in debate and respect between political adversaries. This is over the line?

At the New School in Greenwich Village, student protesters pressured former Sen. Robert Kerrey, now president of the school, to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak. Kerrey refused to yield. Writing in the New York Observer, Niall Stanage said: "It is blatantly obvious that (the protesting students) do not object at all to their graduation being used as a political platform, so long as the politics in question are liberal -- hence the dreamy reference to the 'values and spirit' of the college. What they object to is the same platform being given to political opinions with which they disagree."


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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