Not-so-random thought, 10 April 2009

2009/04/10

This recent article at the Huffington Post [1] angers me, but not in the way that it probably does for most.

I have reservations about the entire practice of conferring honorary degrees, but this is not what concerns me in this particular case. Rather, it is the expectation that the President is entitled to this honor, merely for being elected. ASU’s official stance is that the President has not proven himself through a body of work yet, and, as such, his contributions do not yet merit the receipt of the honor. [2] As to the specific achievements indicated in the HP article, a few thoughts occur to me, that the author (and others who hold similar views) may not be considering.

Some of the achievements listed are as follows:

  • Writing two best-selling books
  • Developing a massive grass-roots organization
  • Being elected President (and being African-American, at that)

Writing two best-selling books is an achievement, of sorts, but there are many writers, in this country alone, who have also accomplished this “distinction.” Writing a best-selling book does not necessarily mean that said book is a work of profound literature, or are we to assume that the President’s work ranks on the same level as that of Homer, Milton, Hugo, and the like? I doubt there are many who would argue that very many modern best-selling works possess such quality (Dan Brown, for example [3]) Developing a massive grass-roots organization? All of the successful socialist revolutionaries in history can claim to have accomplished this; I suspect that most of them are not deserving of any academic honorarium for said accomplishment. Granted, the President’s organization is (hopefully) nowhere near as deleterious to our Republic as most of the socialist revolutionaries were to their respective nations (yet), but this, again, does not necessarily warrant academic distinction on the part of the individual in question. Unless, of course, charisma is a quality that should receive academic recognition. [4] Being elected President? This one, more than anything else, really rubs me the wrong way. More than a few of the Founding Fathers saw the institution of the presidency as a duty, not an honor or a privilege. [5] The Constitution itself prohibits the kinds of honoraria that European nobility took great pride in highlighting; [6] should we now accept that our public servants deserve such titles and honors, merely for being elected to their respective offices? Or have we abandoned the notion that our elected officials are supposed serve us, that they are not our elected masters?

More than anything else, though, what makes this distasteful to me is the notion that this President (or any President, for that matter) deserves any honor, merely for being the President. Or should we simply bow down and worship the man because of who he is, and not for what he has done? What if his policies as President eventually bankrupt the country, and make it even more difficult to recover from our current situation? What if his policies leave us more vulnerable to attack by external aggressors? What if his attempts at diplomacy backfire in a similarly spectacular fashion as those that preceeded World War II? Should anyone honor this man before we truly have a strong understanding of his policies, and the potential consequences of said policies? And how foolish would all these sycophants appear, if, God forbid, his presidency does prove to be a disaster? [7]

Parting thought: do we not all have the right to determine for ourselves our own opinions? Do institutions not also have the same privilege? Liberty does not only entitle you to express your own opinions freely; it entitles everyone to the free expression of their respective opinions, even if they contradict our own. A freely-held opinion is not without merit, simply because we disagree with it; thoughtcrime should only exist in fiction.

Notes:

[1]: Post from 10 April 2009; additional outrage available here, from The Washington Independent, 09 April 2009.

[2]: Background information here, from Arizona State University’s online news.

[3]: If you think you can refute my assessment, either WRT the President, Brown, or anyone else, for that matter, please feel free to try. I suspect you will not succeed, but if you’re willing to take that challenge, I’m game.

[4]: I suspect that there are many students who wish that this were the case. Hopefully, though, our educational institutions will not relax their standards to the point where this becomes an accepted practice. We’re doing bad enough, as it is.

[5]: See, for example, Jefferson’s epitaph on his tombstone (which he wrote himself): Author of the Declaration of Independence, Author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (which formed the basis of the Bill of Rights), and Father of the University of Virginia. Note that he does not mention being the fourth President of the United States.

[6]: Article I, Section 9, Clause 7: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” I guess the same rules shouldn’t apply in the case of domestic institutions.

[7]: Despite my frequent criticism of the President and his policies, I do sincerely hope that his efforts do not prove disasterous for the Republic; it will hurt us all if his policies prove to be catastrophic. Mind you, I don’t hold out much hope, but it is there, nevertheless.

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