Bush came and went on Saturday and generated a lot of heat, and a bit less light over the past 4 weeks as the college prepared for the visit. Faculty and staff posted a respectful letter of dissent in the local newspaper, a few appeared on some talk shows expressing dissent, but the majority of students and supporters of the college were thrilled.
It was a good exercise for the college to go through overall. I didn't meet him, but one of my students was selected as the Presidential Service Award recipient so she got to meet him out on the tarmac and ride back to commencement in the motorcade with other local dignitaries. His speech was focused on community service, with a few comments about Calvin thrown in - very few politics other than a heavy emphasis on "freedom" and "liberty."
Incidentially, here's a quote from the edictorial advanced by one third of the whole of Calvin's faculty:
"As Christians we are called to be peacemakers, and to initiate war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq." -- An open letter to President George W. Bush from concerned faculty, staff and emeriti of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.Now, I read through W's speech. Given that I was not there to hear the inflections and tone of the talk, it is difficult to fully comprehend some things. But, what I did find was interesting. He spent a good deal of effort exponding on a Frenchman's impressions of early America as an ideal. Yet, for me, some questions remain.
Slice from W's speechifying:
Thanks for having me. I was excited to comeback to Calvin, and I was just telling Laura the other night about what fun it would be to come to Calvin College. I said, you know, Laura, I love being around so many young folks. You know, it gives me a chance to re-live my glory days in academia. (Laughter.) She said, George, that’s not exactly how I would describe your college experience. (Laughter.) She also said one other thing I think the graduates will appreciate hearing, a good piece of advice. She said, the folks here are here to get their diploma, not to hear from an old guy go on too long. (Laughter.) So with that sage advice, here goes....Question 1) if "tyrants maintained their power by "isolating" their citizens," do we feel united or divided by the current administration?
...The book is called "Democracy in America," and in it this young Frenchman said that the secret to America’s success was our talent for bringing people together for the common good. De Tocqueville wrote that tyrants maintained their power by "isolating" their citizens -- and that Americans guaranteed their freedom by their remarkable ability to band together without any direction from government. The America he described offered the world something it had never seen before: a working model of a thriving democracy where opportunity was unbounded, where virtue was strong, and where citizens took responsibility for their neighbors.
Tocqueville’s account is not just the observations of one man -- it is the story of our founding. It is not just a description of America at a point in time -- it is an agenda for our time. Our Founders rejected both a radical individualism that makes no room for others, and the dreary collectivism that crushes the individual. They gave us instead a society where individual freedom is anchored in communities. And in this hopeful new century, we have a great goal: to renew this spirit of community and thereby renew the character and compassion of our nation.
First, we must understand that the character of our citizens is essential to society. In a free and compassionate society, the public good depends on private character. That character is formed and shaped in institutions like family, faith, and the many civil and -- social and civic organizations, from the Boy Scouts to the local Rotary Clubs. The future success of our nation depends on our ability to understand the difference between right and wrong and to have the strength of character to make the right choices. Government cannot create character, but it can and should respect and support the institutions that do.
Second, we must understand the importance of keeping power close to the people. Local people know local problems, they know the names and faces of their neighbors. The heart and soul of America is in our local communities; it is in the citizen school boards that determine how our children are educated; it’s in city councils and state legislators that reflect the unique needs and priorities of the people they serve; it’s in the volunteer groups that transform towns and cities into caring communities and neighborhoods. In the years to come, I hope that you’ll consider joining these associations or serving in government -- because when you come together to serve a cause greater than yourself, you will energize your communities and help build a more just and compassionate America.
Finally, we must understand that it is by becoming active in our communities that we move beyond our narrow interests. In today’s complex world, there are a lot of things that pull us apart. We need to support and encourage the institutions and pursuits that bring us together. And we learn how to come together by participating in our churches and temples and mosques and synagogues; in civil rights associations; in our PTAs and Jaycees; in our gardening and book clubs, interest groups and chambers of commerce; in our service groups -- from soup kitchens to homeless shelters.
Question 2) What do the speech writers mean when they say, " citizens took responsibility for their neighbors?"
Question 3) It seems as though there is a Janusian concept operating within the text. What exactly is the meaning behind the phrase, "individualism that makes no room for others, and the dreary collectivism that crushes the individual?"
Question 4) Do groups like Rotary and Boy scouts promote either one of the above (in question 3) or some happy medium?
Question 5) Given that "the future success of our nation depends on our ability to understand the difference between right and wrong and to have the strength of character to make the right choices." Are definitions of what is right and wrong open to interpretation, or is there only one answer to the question, "what is the right choice?"
Question 6) If the "government cannot create character," does this mean that it is devoid of character, and if so, why does he call us to service in government in the following pragraph?
Question 7) Coming full circle back to Question 1 - If "in today’s complex world, there are a lot of things that pull us apart," do you feel more united or divided by the current administration?