Delegitimizing bad behavior

It seems that everybody has an opinion on the appropriateness of Dick Cheney’s invitation to speak at BYU’s April commencement. A few prominent professors voiced their concerns in a Daily Herald (Provo’s newspaper) article yesterday (03/27/07), and four others wrote a Viewpoint in today’s (03/28/07) Daily Universe (BYU’s paper) calling on people to flood local and state newspapers with editorials on the issue and "identify additional ways of peacefully protesting Cheney’s visit." Several alumni have sounded off as well (see here and here). On the other side of the issue is this house editorial from The Daily Universe (03/26/07) and this letter from a professor in BYU’s music department, published in the Deseret Morning News (03/28/07).

Contrary to the claims of the naysayers, I do not believe the Cheney invitation violated BYU’s and the Church’s claim of political neutrality. For one, the invitation was extended directly by the First Presidency, who is keenly aware of this issue (as they take care to remind us each election season, and as evidenced by the minor brouhaha that erupted back in October 2006 after two Marriott School deans sent an e-mail to MBA alumni from the school urging them to support Mitt Romney’s candidacy). It’s the office of Vice President the invitation honors, not Mr. Cheney itself. (The chairman of the Utah County Democratic Party agrees.)

Furthermore, the request to speak originated from Cheney’s office, as President Bush (who also requested the opportunity to speak at a BYU commencement) was unable to personally fill the job. Those currently screaming that the invitation was politically motivated should stop and consider the PR fallout that would result if the First Presidency snubbed Cheney’s offer. The Church has always demonstrated that it is willing to play ball with government officials from all over the earth, regardless of political ideology, in the hope that such efforts will generate long-term goodwill. Because the court of history is still out on Cheney and his purported involvement with a wide range of current issues, a disinvitation would undeniably have political motivations. Now, we can speculate until we’re blue in the face whether or not the First Presidency would have extended a speaking invitation to Bill Clinton or Al Gore in the ’90s, but we’ll never really know. On the other hand, an invitation to Romney or McCain or Guiliani, or to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, would definitely be politically motivated. And I’m sure that as much as BYU would love to have a high-profile alum like Governor Romney address the campus community, it’s just not going to happen so long as his presidential candidacy is active.

Let me just state for the record (in case my previous post was in any way unclear) that I don’t mind Cheney’s visiting campus. Would I prefer to hear the counsel of a General Authority at my graduation? Absolutely. I don’t expect Mr. Cheney to tell me anything different than Bill Cosby or Michael Dell or Brett Favre would were any of them to speak: become leaders in your respective spheres of influence, don’t stop learning, make your mark, etc., etc. A General Authority could say those things as well, but coupled with spiritual counsel that I would find much more meaningful and applicable. But Cheney is far from the worst option here. Personally, I’d be interested in listening to whoever came to speak – even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez, if either man were available. So I fully endorse the First Presidency’s decision.

However, I remain concerned about the consequences of such a decision, mostly as it regards the behavior of people. This whole mess is already threatening to overshadow the attention that should be given to the graduates themselves. I just want a nice, peaceful graduation ceremony – an opportunity to reflect and rejoice in my educational accomplishments thus far. No protests. No boos. Just congrats.

To that end, I think that a good way to delegitimize bad behavior in the Marriott Center would be to have a member of the First Presidency personally introduce Mr. Cheney. I think a lot of Church members would seriously re-consider acting the fool in the presence of a much-loved and respected Church leader.

But I think the Church will be heavily criticized no matter what it does. That has been its heritage, I suppose. I just find the current form and nature of that criticism rather sad.

One Response to “Delegitimizing bad behavior”

  1. You go the long way around the barn ( to paraphrase the Duke) to just say those who are clamoring and posturing about the VP can’t see the forest for the trees. This isn’t about politics. That said, let me say that this isn’t about politics. Oh, and may I add that this isn’t about politics. Lots of things in this world are done that aren’t about politics. I can safely say that the Church doesn’t do anything for politics. Good will, taking the high road, doing the right thing……….but not looking for political hay. Despite what the polarizing parties would have us believe, the world is not about politics.

    Oh, and just in case I forget………..congrats for you academic accomplishments. The first of many from me.

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