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A Vacuous Claptrap

I was driving home today, thought of an article idea, my fantasy ultimate GPS app, right? Well I was listening to Fox News (I’m liberal but let’s face it, Fox News is better-produced, prettier women), I got sidetracked with a bit they did on some high school valedictorian who tore up his pre-approved graduation speech and recited the Lord’s Prayer which was met with great applause and an interview on Fox News lauding him as you could imagine. Suddenly, new idea for an article, so I “tore up” my GPS bit, and here you go:

I don’t like what he did. But I don’t like what he did not primarily because of a political position that differs from his, though that’s part of it, rather because this kid had an agreement with his school, that he could get up on a podium and represent his class, his school’s administration and its financial supporters and speak in a manner that would not hurt the school. He had a deal. Just like I have a deal with this site’s owner about not getting into religion and politics, and I intend to seek his approval before hitting the button on this bit. Perhaps he’ll give it to me without a fight if I note that he has nothing to do with this and would probably prefer I hadn’t posted it.

I made such a deal with my own high school, a conservative one in New Hampshire. I was the keynote speaker. There were two students who spoke, the one with the good grades and the one who the school voted to speak because everybody knew he’d be irreverent and entertaining to hedge the boring valedictorian’s speech with something less soporific, the wildcard – I was the one who didn’t get the good grades.

The first speech I wrote and submitted was rejected by the headmaster. I showed it to some other faculty members, asked why they thought it didn’t cut it, and they told me frankly that it was simply not that great a speech, too tangential, no coherent message. So I wrote a better speech, it was funny, irreverent, standing ovation, Grandma was proud of me, parents saved the VHS tape, the next speaker complimented me, I was proud too. I didn’t feel like I was neutered by the administration. I sort of borrowed a line or two from George Carlin, but he’s dead now, so no big deal. I made a deal with my school and it did not include tearing up my speech and complaining about politics, which by the way is the most cliché thing a speaker can do, it’s really nauseating, tearing up your speech. If you’re going to go off-script, just do it, no theatrics please, especially involving one you’ll mindlessly leave for the janitor to clean up.

So I don’t like what this guy did because (to get the religion and politics out of the way) I don’t think white Christians are by any means a traditionally-discriminated-group in the US, also [not] known as a suspect class, in need of a guy like this to champion their cause (well, our cause, I am indeed white and Christian). If you want to make some religious or political point like this, do it on behalf of some minority group at least. I do not approve of the message or its forum. And consider the possibility that while at the age of acne you just might not know enough to fully appreciate whether or not the strict separation of religion and government is indeed a bad thing. And if you have to watch Fox News, you can still see the women’s legs without getting brainwashed if you put it on mute.

Secondly, he had a deal with his school, the school has its reasons for being uptight, they are not that way for the hell of it, rather they put some thought into it for the protection of the school, they trusted him to speak, now it’s hard for them to trust the next kid, now they might get sued, now they’re all over the news, and who knows maybe this will go up to Washington, it’s a circus he did not earn the right to throw on the school’s dime recklessly. You make a deal, you honor that deal; you don’t like the school’s conditions, find another forum. Refuse to speak and instead heckle the substitute speaker, do whatever you have to do, but don’t cheat the school. Going on about God like that – how about including honesty in the delivery of your divine message? Deception of his school (and arguably everyone involved with his school) as a foundation of a religious point?

Thirdly, if you’re going to pull a stunt like this, there are more important Constitutional issues to consider raising. Granted, they won’t get you on Fox News, but, for example, how about a speech blasting the Supreme Court for grossly abusing the Commerce Clause in its judicial activism? States’ rights baby! What, too boring? How about explaining – while appearing not to take a stance on either side of abortion – why Roe v Wade is an unconstitutional advisory opinion (not to mention not a federal matter). That will get you at least some attention and satisfy your right wing urges. And maybe you believe in it too – I do. But yes, it’s a bit academic.

So here’s a great one, timeless, that might even contribute literally incendiary yet less uselessly abstract ideology onto one’s classmates: Do a bit on Clarence Thomas, who is black, being the dissenter in Virginia v Black, in which he went out on a limb to defend the Klan’s right to burn crosses on people’s lawns with intent to intimidate:

In my view, whatever expressive value cross burning has, the legislature simply wrote it out by banning only intimidating conduct undertaken by a particular means. A conclusion that the statute prohibiting cross burning with intent to intimidate sweeps beyond a prohibition on certain conduct into the zone of expression overlooks not only the words of the statute but also reality.

Actually I’m not sure what he meant with that; perhaps technically Thomas was using the First Amendment against the Virginia statute, whatever, you can roll with that anyway and I promise you no one will notice or look it up on Wikipedia, caught up in the irony, and you can enjoy some controversy down the line if someone calls you out on it. For instance, I noted the irony of “Live Free or Die” being on New Hampshire license plates that are all stamped out in prisons. I have no idea where those license plates are stamped out, but who cares, it’s funny and it worked.

Back to the cross burning and Clarence Thomas, be sure to chase it with one of the more progressive justices, a real friend to Constitutional literalists and nonwhites, Justice Hugo Black, whose last name, for even more irony, was Black, being a former Klansman (emphasis on former). Bam, there you go, a great speech, irreverent, controversial, intellectual, not boring, but if you spin a positive rainbow-colored racial message into it you could slip it by a school’s administration rather than some daft recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, bragging to cheap journalists about how you pulled a fast one in the name of God. Please…

Now had he recited it in Latin, then he’d have my respect. That would be impressive.

Doug Simmons