Jean Rohe Speaks

So who is Jean Rohe? She’s a graduate of the New School who used her graduation speech to launch a preemptive strike against John McCain, who was asked by the administration of the school (not the students, who were Not Happy with the choice) to deliver a commencement address — which just happened to be the very same one he delivered at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Jean’s written a post for the Huffington Post explaining how she came to decide to pitch the speech she had planned on delivering, about how music (her major) could be a force for social change, and write a speech calling McCain out for his hypocrisy. She agonized over the decision, wondering if her instincts were right, but in the end, she realized that she *had* to do it:

When I got home Thursday night after a rehearsal, I decided I needed to at least insert a line in my speech about the armbands. And I would’ve left it there, had the other student speaker, Christina Antonakis-Wallace, not reminded me in a telephone conversation that night that I should read John McCain’s speech from his other two speaking engagements which was conveniently posted on his website. Of course! I had to do my research. I checked the schedule for the ceremony and realized that I would be speaking just before the senator got his award. And that’s when the idea for a preemptive strike began to brew in my little stressed-out brain. What if I tore McCain’s speech apart before he even opened his mouth? After reading his speech a couple of times I picked out a few particularly loathsome sections–and believe it or not, none of these actually came from the extensive section where he defends his position on the war in Iraq–and I began planning an attack against him using his own words.

At two in the morning when my boyfriend came home I hadn’t even started writing yet. I was in a terrible state of anxiety. What if it didn’t work? Didn’t my earlier speech make my position clear enough? I told him my new idea. “Jean, you have to do it. You’ll kick yourself later if you don’t.” “But it’s two in the morning. There’s no way it’s going to be any good.” “Jean, do it. You’ll have nothing to regret.”

So in the wee hours of the morning I set out to revise my speech, re-saving it as “mccain speech subversive.doc”. And at three o’clock in the morning I woke up my other roommate as I practiced reading it in our living room. She wasn’t upset. “Sounds like you’re running for president,” she told me. We all agreed that I had no choice. It was the only thing I could do at the commencement. And so, tingling with nerves, I tried to go to sleep.

Jean realized something important, something that’s valuable to keep in mind when some conservabot tries to shut a liberal up by pulling out the “you’re being intolerant! I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant!” trope:

More importantly, I feel obligated to respond to one thing that McCain told the New York Times. “I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can’t listen to the views of others,” he said. This is just preposterous. Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could’ve all printed out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we don’t fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We’ve gotten very good at listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views heard, even when we don’t have the power of national political office and the media on our side.

“Closed-minded” is what you are when you cut off people’s microphones, when you fill “town hall meetings” only with people loyal to your cause whose questions come pre-screened, when you refuse to even entertain the viewpoints of others. It is not what you are when you’ve listened to the views of others and found them lacking. Disagreement is not censorship. Neither is it oppression or intolerance or prejudice or discrimination or what have you.


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2 comments for “Jean Rohe Speaks

  1. May 21, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Good for her. You can’t kiss ass at Liberty University (and undoubtedly Bob Jones University when the 2008 primary season begins) and pretend to have any legitimate claim on country-wide governance.

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