I always look forward to seeing the speakers that my alma mater, Earlham College, brings to Richmond, Indiana because they often bring perspective, insight, and experience that you just can't otherwise get living in a small Midwestern town. Tonight's event was no different: William Kristol (neo-conservative pundit, editor of the Weekly Standard, Bush/Quayle advisor, and member of the American Enterprise Institute) would be giving a talk entitled "America's Foreign Policy After 9-11" on campus free to the public. I appreciate that Earlham makes the effort to bring speakers and thinkers like Kristol who are so diametrically opposed (e.g. Ann Coulter) to so many members of the Earlham community on campus to present alternate, challenging and often infuriating points of view. And I usually appreciate that the Earlham community handles these encounters in such a principled and respectful way.
Oh wait, did I just say "principled and respectful"? I must have made a horrible mistake somewhere, because at tonight's talk, about 30 minutes into Kristol's speech, a student-looking person got up on stage and smacked Kristol square in the face with a pie.
After coating the distinguished guest's face, the pie's contents also proceeded past Kristol and onto the face and suit of Earlham president Doug Bennett, and then onto the stage floor and curtains. The aluminum pie tin sat squashed on the floor next to the podium, the audience yelled, the thrower ran out, and the evening deteriorated.
So much for respect.
How embarrassing! How absolutely disgusting. To his great credit, after a brief pause and apology from Bennett, Kristol wiped some of the pie off the key parts of his face, and then essentially continued his talk without missing a beat, as the audience sat stunned.
It would be too easy to claim that the actions of this one person clearly in no way represent the values or perspective of the rest of Earlham or the others in attendance that night, but I guarantee you that this argument will hold no water with those -- locally and nationally -- who already have a low opinion of those "crazy liberals" that inhabit places (both geographical and cultural) like Earlham. This pie-thrower has single-handedly reinforced every stereotype that small liberal arts colleges and liberals in general work to dispell about their approach to political and social debate. He embarrassed and discredited (as the public will see it) an institution that is one of the few places I know of successfully practicing appreciative inquiry and effective dialogue. He has given credence to the notion that liberals are just hate-mongering selfish people who can't stand to hear a viewpoint they don't like.
The politically active among us have probably all run the imagery through our minds, the metaphorical throwing of a pie in the face of the person/place/thing we don't like. But when the metaphor is turned into action, it is exposed for the silly and childish act that it is: hurling food at someone because you can't engage them in a real dialogue. Fortunately, this approach is not at all what Earlham is about, as I'm sure will be said about seventeen million ways via opinion articles and community meetings for the rest of the semester.
But tonight's event will likely only be remembered in the context of the pie incident, and not for any of the potential it might have had for real debate or progress which, in what seems to be the trend with the politically active everywhere, has once again been squandered. In the end, the pie is dripping down the face of everyone except William Kristol.