Wednesday, July 06, 2005

W used Calvin College as a Political Pawn

Some of you may have followed the news surrounding the graduation speech given by W at Calvin College and the flap raised by a large number of faculty, staff and students who didn't agree with the President's policies or agenda.

As it turns out, Calvin was not necessarily going to invite the President to give the talk. They, in fact, had someone else already lined up to give the address. W's "handlers" picked Calvin and only then did Calvin issue and invitation formalizing the deal (at the great expense mandated by the W, Rove and Co. of 50K for upgrades to handle the extra security and press).

If you ask me, every venue that the President uses to promulgate his agenda is suspect - and that is a sad statement. If everything a person does is for political gain, in front of audiences that are supposed to agree with the positions, that tarnishes his actions and discredits his mission.

The Article is longer, but I thought I would give you the the whole segment from the Chronicle of Higher Education, since you need to pay for a subscription to get the full article:
It's not so much that Calvin College chose President Bush to speak at its graduation ceremony this year. It was more that the White House chose Calvin College.

The evangelical, 4,300-student college in Michigan has played host to a few White House officials over the years at its Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics. Through those relationships, Calvin earned a positive reputation among members of the Bush administration, says Phil de Haan, director of media relations at the college.

"Some White House officials thought our campus was the kind of place that would be a good fit for President Bush," he says.

The president traditionally gives two graduation speeches each year, rotating one of the addresses among the military academies, and choosing one other college.

Although colleges extend formal invitations to the president, it is his handlers who choose the politically strategic locations where he will speak -- a process usually amplified during an election year. For example, when Democrats took aim at the Republicans' stronghold in the South during the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Bush gave the address at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.

This year the White House made it known through Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, a Michigan Republican, that the president was interested in giving a commencement address at Calvin.

"After that, we extended an invitation to him," Mr. de Haan says, adding that the college spent an estimated $50,000 to meet White House demands for better lighting, a new backdrop behind the podium, and extra telephone and Internet connections for a temporary media center.

Before the president formally accepted the invitation to speak in late April, the college had already asked Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, a former Calvin professor and alumnus of the institution, to give the address.

Mr. Wolterstorff, who recently retired as a professor of philosophy at Yale University, told The New York Times that he was "a Yale professor being bumped by a Yale graduate with a very average college record," adding that he planned to stay home and garden instead of attending the ceremony. (Calvin officials say that Mr. Wolterstorff has accepted an invitation to speak at next year's ceremony.)

Mr. Wolterstorff wasn't the only one who was annoyed. On graduation day The Grand Rapids Press published a letter signed by 120 Calvin professors criticizing President Bush for, among other things, the war in Iraq, and arguing that some of his policies "favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor."

A speech that would have probably amounted to a brief mention on the nightly news generated national buzz about the tiny college for days. Mr. de Haan, for one, didn't mind.

"The attention of the national media gave people a chance to better understand who we are because I think most people only knew us as a fundamentalist Christian college," he says. "We received a lot of e-mail saying that it was refreshing to see this kind of discussion taking place here. Honestly, this kind of dialogue happens all the time, because we have room for a variety of viewpoints."

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