Monday, April 02, 2007

A Great Disconnect

To get going on this edition, I need to make a disclosure or two. My college days (starting almost 40 years back) were spent at Brigham Young University - the one in Utah, the nation's largest private university. And like roughly 95% of BYU grads, I'm a Latter-Day Saint, one of those folks other folks call "Mormons".
The church affiliation sets "The Y", as it's known to locals, a bit apart from the rest of higher education. Not different from the standpoint of course content if you're speaking of engineering, Spanish or nursing, but different in its atmosphere. The place has high (others might use the word "strict") standards of conduct that apply to students on or off campus, or on the moon. This isn't a huge problem to most students, since they are accustomed to these standards and come to the school knowing what campus life is like. In fact, it's mainly a happy place with plenty of things to see and hear, a lively social scene without fraternities or sororities, a full slate of athletics and lots of chances for service. Many a family gets started at BYU, where like minded young people pair up for life in huge numbers. That was our family's story, too, although we only lived in Utah until graduation.
Campus opinion regarding the outside world tends, unlike most colleges, to be quite conservative, though not unanimously so. Even with all that, it came as a bit of a surprise last week when it became official that the 2007 Commencement speaker will be.............Dick Cheney. Here's where the disconnect referred to in this week's title comes about. Even a hard line Bushie would have to agree that Cheney's style is blunt, combative and absolutely partisan, not what we tend to revere when they talk about Jesus, which they do at BYU every single day.
Mr Cheney looks for ways to keep the USA dominant in world affairs. Jesus wasn't much of a nationalist. Cheney is the one, when Jesus' followers turn the other cheek, who could do some real damage. He's been profane in public and vulgar, not above character assassination, a war profiteer and a back room schemer. His fear mongering is without peer, though it failed to carry the day in last November's election. He takes a drink, he's often untruthful in speeches and wrong in predictions. This is a man who publicly STANDS UP for the torture of prisoners, and for the toughest treatment possible of anyone we happen to get our hands on. He may not have personally abused anyone, but he did shoot a guy in the face, then leave his hostess to explain what had happened. Mother Teresa he ain't, and it's hard to see him as any kind of role model for young Mormons, even if their degree is in corporate intrigue.
In fact, let me say that the mismatch of our Veep and the fresh-faced grads of BYU is about as big a contrast as I can imagine. A fair question would be: What dope signed off on this invitation? His approval rating is somewhere in the 20's, his boss' popularity is in the toilet to stay, a new scandal hits the presses every week and this guy should be thanking his stars he hasn't ended up like Spiro Agnew. WHO made the deal for Cheney?
This is where it gets even more unfathomable. Turns out that Cheney didn't get the call from anyone on campus, but from Church Headquarters itself, in the form of Gordon B. Hinckley, the church's 96 year-old president, who says he did it out of respect for Cheney's OFFICE, as if he were just a more menacing-looking version of Dan Quayle. In the Church, we NEVER want to be seen on the other side from President Hinckley (whom we also refer to as "The Prophet"), not because he ever threatens anyone, but because the tradition of the church puts great emphasis on obedience, even for hard-to-boss Americans. There is a little wiggle room when it comes to politics, and so the University agreed to an almost unheard of on-campus protest march opposing the Veep, the War, or anything else they could cram in . You can be sure that this will be very peaceful, or at least that any blood shed will be from a protester, not a security guard or spectator.
I think it was Yogi Berra who said he never made predictions, especially about the future. That's probably smart, but here's a few: Cheney's message won't change, though he might acknowledge the grads, he'll put the muscle of his speech into the usual blah, blah, surging, bombing, threatening, be afraid, this is an important tool in the War on Blah, blah, helping the Enemy, follow our soldiers home, Israel, islamofascists, etc. Also, most of the red state crowd will eat up Cheney's speech like jelly beans and display their brave patriotism about 9000 miles from any hostile action. And when it's over, and money has been spent by the state, the University and the Church to get the penultimate bigshot to see our new library, the hosts will simply feel that they were used, on top of which, they'll be worried that any grad would actually take Cheney as a role model. Now THAT, according to a past proposition in this space, would be an unintended consequence. Finally - and you can put this one in stone - Dick Cheney will be unfazed by any protest, either on-campus or off.


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