Category Archives: politics

Why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong, and her supporters are even more wrong 

When I first wrote last week about the controversy involving my alma mater, Brandeis University, awarding and then pulling an honorary degree from the controversial human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, my feelings on the matter were somewhat mixed. But having seen the reaction from Hirsi Ali herself, and from some of her laughably overzealous supporters, they’re not so mixed anymore.

As you know if you’ve been following this, Brandeis announced that it was pulling the degree on April 8, after first announcing it the month before. However, Hirsi Ali had been announced as an honorary degree recipient, and NOT as the commencement speaker. School reform activist and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada was announced as the speaker March 31. This distinction is important, for a couple of reasons.

Hirsi Ali issued a statement April 9 responding to Brandeis pulling the degree. She wrote that Brandeis had withdrawn the honor “having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement.” She went on to state that “The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here,” and that “my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced.”

She went on, a few days later, to publish an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, under the headline “Here’s What I Would Have Said at Brandeis.” The introduction referred to the speech as “an abridged version of the remarks she planned to deliver.”

The problem here, as I don’t believe anyone who has written about this in any major publication has pointed out? Ayaan Hirsi Ali was never scheduled to speak at Brandeis’ commencement. At no point did the university announce that she would address the commencement ceremony- she was to be one of five honorary degree recipients, and Canada was announced as the speaker. And at Brandeis, it is not customary for honorary degree recipients, with the exception of the designated commencement speaker (and a chosen student speaker), to address the graduates.

Therefore, she was not silenced, or censored, or prevented from speaking. The pulling of the degree had nothing to do with preventing her from giving a commencement speech, because she was never scheduled to give such a speech in the first place. But “they silenced me” is a much more sympathetic-sounding lament, I suppose, than “they didn’t give me this meaningless degree.”

In fact, Hirsi Ali’s words and views have reached a substantially larger audience as a result of Brandeis pulling the degree as they would have had they granted it as scheduled. That may very well be the best break she’s ever gotten in her career.

Either she misunderstood the invitation, or perhaps she was scheduled to address a departmental or sub-commencement (as honorary degree recipient Leon Wieseltier did last year.) Or perhaps this was a deliberate attempt by Hirsi Ali and her supporters to imply something that is simply false. Which really goes to her credibility as a whole (and that, for that matter, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page.)

Of course, if Hirsi Ali has been dishonest, her supporters have been downright insane. A staff editorial in the online Jewish magazine Tablet deemed Brandeis’ move a “Soviet-style tactic,” because if nothing else the USSR was notorious for flip-flopping on giving out honorary college degrees. The demented, Muslim-hating blogger Pamela Geller, writing for, likened Brandeis’ move to “slavery.” And most indefensibly of all, Zev Chafets of likened the pulling of the degree to an “honor killing.” An honor killing, in case you’re not aware, is an actual murder. 

Whether or not Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserves an honorary degree is something on which reasonable people can disagree. But comparing it to some of history’s greatest atrocities strikes me as an over-reaction by a factor of about a million.

I reiterate a few things I said the first time I wrote about this: Honorary degrees are a meaningless sham, which don’t matter in the slightest or have any effect on anything. Brandeis screwed up royally in that they didn’t appear to do any level of due diligence on this, nor have any idea that they were walking into a huge controversy. And while I certainly find many aspects of Hirsi Ali’s biography admirable, try taking a few of her statements, changing “Muslim” to “Jew,” and see how they sound. It probably wouldn’t result in many honorary degrees, especially not from Brandeis.

Quote of the Day

Paul Waldman, on the Rolling Stone cover controversy:

On the most basic level, this reminds me a lot of the days after September 11, when discussion of what produces and motivates terrorists would inevitably be met in some quarters with “We don’t need to understand them, we need to kill them!” as though any attempt at understanding was just a cover for siding with the terrorists against America. That’s kind of like saying that a football coach reviewing tapes of his team’s next opponent to prepare for the game is siding with the other team

Thoughts on Dick Morris, Philadelphia Radio Host

In the most inexplicable programming decision by a radio station in Philadelphia since someone at WIP dreamed up “Eskin and Reese,” WPHT announced last Thursday that its new afternoon drive time host is Dick Morris, the Clinton White House advisor-turned-conservative pundit/activist. Morris replaces MIchael Smerconish, who recently said he’s leaving for satellite radio.

The only man in American politics who’s been involved in a toe-sucking hooker scandal and had it only amount to the second-most embarrassing episode of his career, Morris was recently let go from his “Fox News Contributor” gig, after a particularly laughable election season performance in which he predicted a huge Mitt Romney landslide all the way until the end.

Morris has a well-earned reputation as at best an exceptional political hack and at worst, an actual con man. Staking out a role on the right as half-pundit, half-Tea Party activist, Morris has spent the Obama presidency raising money, cranking out books with 40-word titles and sharing egregiously wrong predictions.

It’s hard just to overstate how wrong Morris is, just about all the time, and I’m not only talking about his 2005 book, “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.” His performance in 2012 was so embarrassing to all involved that it was decided this level of shameless, dishonest hackery on behalf of the Republican Party was too much even for Fox News. Whether he will be able to continue his side business, which sounds an awful lot like a scam, remains undetermined.

But even if Morris didn’t have that record, and even if he didn’t have a nails-on-the-blackboard speaking voice, or give off an aesthetic in which sleaze appears to visibly waft off of him as he speaks, there are two very strong reasons why it makes no sense for WPHT to hire him: He’s never hosted a radio show in his life, and he has no ties at all to Philadelphia.

Morris’ Wikipedia entry describes him as “an American political author and commentator who previously worked as a pollster, political campaign consultant, and general political consultant.” That’s a lot of different professions, but none of them are “radio host.” And the history of the radio industry is filled with big names who’d never done radio before, flaming out relatively quickly.

I may not agree often with WPHT’s morning host, my Philly Post colleague Chris Stigall, but “radio host” is his profession, he’s been doing it for years and he knows what he’s doing.

I also can’t figure out what his audience is supposed to be. Liberals aren’t going to listen to him, and whatever credibility he had over conservatives is likely gone after 2012. When he spoke last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the audience looked like the stands at a Miami Marlins game.

Morris has often appeared as a talk show guest, most notably with Sean Hannity, but guess what- Hannity’s own show will air opposite Morris’, on 106.1. I imagine Hannity’s audience will stick with the genuine article.

Morris was most recently seen appearing with Piers Morgan on CNN, as Morgan continued his recent tactic of scanning the very brief list of people in the world more loathsome than Piers Morgan and inviting them as guests on his show; so far only Morris and Alex Jones have made the cut. And after calling for far-right purity since at least the early Bush Administration, Morris has been urging Republicans to moderate ever since, a stance that always goes over great on conservative talk radio.

I just don’t see how this idea can possibly work. If Morris is still employed on WHPT a year from now, I’ll be shocked.

Quote of the Day: Who Hated Hugo Chavez?

No More Mr. Nice Blog, arguing that the only reason the right hated Hugo Chavez was because a few scattered liberals liked him:

Some right-wingers may sincerely have had a well-founded, deep-rooted loathing of Chavez, and may have actually been able to write in detail about his failings and their impact on Venezuelans. I can’t name any right-wingers who fit that description, however….I repeat: No one on the right hated Hugo Chavez. No one on the right gave a crap about him. No one on the right gives a crap about Venezuela. Every word ever uttered or published on the right about Chavez is part of the right’s war against American leftists, liberals, and Democrats — nothing more.

Not that I come to praise Chavez, but… this is true.

Quote of the Day: The Case Against Washington Conspiracies

Ezra Klein on why Washington scheming fails:

That’s the main thing I’ve learned working as a reporter and political observer in Washington: No one can carry out complicated plans. All parties and groups are fractious and bumbling. But everyone always thinks everyone else is efficiently and ruthlessly carrying out complicated plans. Partisans are very good at recognizing disarray and incompetence on their side of the aisle, but they tend to think the other side is intimidatingly capable and unburdened by scruples or normal human vulnerabilities. And there’s so much press interest in Svengali political consultants like Karl Rove or David Plouffe, all of whom get built up in the press as infallible tacticians, that the place just looks a lot more sophisticated than it really is.

In Defense of Michelle Obama at the Oscars

That’s the topic of this week’s Philly Post column.

By the way, I made an error, which I caught right before submission, and fixed. But if I hadn’t fixed it, it might have led to the following correction:

An earlier version of this column stated that radio host Mark Levin, after Michelle Obama’s Oscar appearance Sunday, compared the First Lady to Eva Peron. In fact, Levin’s Michelle-as-Eva quote was from several months before the Oscars, and was in reference to the First Lady’s proposed school lunch standards.

This Week’s New Writings

Three new columns/essays this week:

– At Philly Post, I wrote about the Eagles, their decision to raise ticket prices and why unpopular as it is, people will pay the new prices. Come of the column and stay for the new picture.

– And at EntertainmentTell, I look at the arrival of Dish’s Hopper with Sling, and at a plot line shared by Girls and The Mindy Project.