The Pieing of William Kristol

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out
This post is more than 3 years old.

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.

22 thoughts on “The Pieing of William Kristol

  1. I certainly wouldn't see any purpose to this kind of pie-throwing -- it's just too easy, and serves no point. Infiltrating their scripted events or internal discussions (e.g., G8, various charity dinners, etc) is both more interesting and serves some purpose, because it isn't a message to the wider world, it's just a message directly to the opposition. There's value in that. People can over-focus on the public sphere sometimes, forgetting that it often doesn't *matter* what the wider public thinks when compared to the opinions of the elite. OTOH, you may simply alienate the elite. Trying to drive a wedge between the unforgiveably evil elite and the possibly reformable elite is subtle, and total condemnation probably won't serve much purpose.

    Still, I don't think people like Kristol provide a useful or interesting perspective. They are liars and thieves. You can't have constructive debates with liars. If you let them phrase the terms of the debate you've already lost. When someone does not provide an honest or genuine perspective, you do a diservice to give them any time or attention at all (except perhaps the cynical attention when determining counter-strategies).

    The idea that all opinions are valid or true, or that some golden mean exists, is false. It lets the extremists shift the center too easily, it lets the liars redirect the discussion too often.

  2. I was just talking to my sister, who's at Earlham and knows the people involved, and is now finding herself under attack because of this, because to everyone who is embarrassed by this pie-throwing incident she's a symbol of the event... as though this embarrassing bit of activism is worse than the usually political apathy that exemplifies the on-campus student experience. And it's damn hard to be an activist -- I can't say I'm an activist, but at least I have respect for those people who actually are. Because you're trying to help each other out, it's so easy to become disillusioned, and there's all these people on the sidelines who are so ready to criticize you collectively for every mistep.

    And really the only bad part about this incident is that it's embarrassing for the school. Kristol's feelings don't matter -- he doesn't deserve that kind of respect -- and no one is suddenly turned to the Right Wing because they were in the audience. If it's only embarrassing, it shouldn't be that big a deal. If you're humble embarrassment doesn't sting that much.

    And personally, I'm a little disturbed that Earlham would invite these people. I mean, Ann Coulter? They pay these people to come, it isn't like they are doing this out of the goodness of their heart either. And I agree, there's a reason to think about right Right and the Neocons, and what they want to achieve. It's not useful to dehumanize them. But you don't watch the puppet to decypher the beliefs of the puppeteer.

    I don't know... I don't feel a desire to make a big deal of this, it's not an event worthy of wide dissemination... and I guess that's why I'm posting all this here. It frustrates me... all the more so when my sister -- who is just trying to do the right thing, and isn't willing to settle for the weak liberal compromise -- is feeling attacked and isolated from a school which I thought, at least, would be nuturing. There's too many people who are more troubled by an awkward moment than they are by the gravest injustices.

  3. I guess my frustration with this incident is that Earlham is always always the pretty good little school that no one has ever heard of, but when it does get national media attention, it's over something negative: National figures treated sophomorically, students raped on foreign study, or muscling control of a historical museum.

  4. I think it's about time that liberals get upset about this pathetic administration and the neo-conservative climate that we live. This is even more exemplified in the Midwest with the exception of college towns like Bloomington, Yellow Springs, and, at one time, Richmond (Earlham College). What bothers me more than your oppinion is why Earlham would support a conservative speaker as William Kristol in the first place.

  5. I have some sources at Earlham who are close to the situation, and as it turns out, there was some confusion by the group responsible for hitting Mr. Kristol with the pie. It seems that so much time was put into preparing for the event that they didn't bother to do the necessary research.

    It all stems from a decades old (not so) secret society at the college called the Earlham Friends Anti-Gay Society. This group originally gained notoriety at the college in the late 70's for their Quaker values and their outspoken attitudes against homosexual behavior. They attempted to organize a national boycott of the popular 70's television program, SOAP, which featured a character playing a blatantly homosexual man. Nothing much came of the boycott, though the show was quickly canceled after only 4 seasons. The group eventually faded into obscurity.

    In recent years, though, like-minded Earlham students tired of the onslaught of current television programming featuring blatant homosexuals (e.g. Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The O'Reilly Factor, etc...) reformed the society and began meeting regularly. When they heard that William Kristol was to speak at the college, the students, apparently unaware of the less famous editor of The Weekly Standard and chairman of the PNAC, began to plan their public humiliation of the man they deemed responsible for giving birth to the gay TV genre over 25 years ago in SOAP - the actor / comedian William (Billy) Crystal.
    Once consensus was reached, the group set the plan into motion and William Kristol ended up taking the pie meant for the homophonous William (Billy) Crystal. The group didn't realize the mistaken identity until it was too late. They are planning a rally this Wednesday at 2pm in the heart of campus at Earlham College to publicly apologize. They also plan on using the opportunity to praise Mr. Kristol for his contributions to America, something their society and, no doubt, Quakers, in general, are willing and gracious to acknowledge.

    Let freedom ring!

  6. I'm an Earlham Alumnist, and this incident made me very angry. It's absolutely wrong to compare Bill Kristol to Ann Coulter. I agree that Coulter does not deserve my time or attention. Bill Kristol is a serious person with earnest intellectual and moral arguments. Earlham is an academic institution, and this guy represents a certain intellectual position (i.e., that a forceful foreign policy is more moral than a weak one). This is a legitimate moral and intellectual position to hold, and, I may add, is shared by HALF the people in this country. Earlham was not only right in its decision to invite Kristol, it was lucky to get him! He deserved to be heard and debated, or at worst ignored. The pie was an affront, not just to Kristol, but to conservatism generally. Keep it up, left-leaners! Maybe we can even further alienate the American electorate and stay out of power for another four years!

  7. It's amazing to me what a bunch of cry babies these conservative students can be; William Kristol is complicit in the illegal and immoral Iraq war. Civilians in Iraq are dying, and young Americans are being maimed because of a series of big lies told by the likes of Kristol and his pals in the Bush administration. He's lucky it was just a pie flying at him...

  8. Pingback: kemplog
  9. Pingback: Masson's Blog
  10. Pingback: In the Agora
  11. Pingback: robwestcott
  12. Thanks for your comments.

    You may not be able to have constructive debates with liars, but you can have constructive debates about them, or because of them. I suspect that Earlham might find an address by someone like Kristol useful in this regard: it allows students to see up close what the right wing intelligentsia look like and how they do frame the debate. So I guess it's one thing to read the works of Lakoff and others about re-framing the way these exchanges go, but it's another to have an opportunity to practice it with someone like Kristol. Ian, I suppose this is what you meant by determining counter-strategies. Given how things actually turned out, I can't help but agree that in this case, at least some at Earlham were apparently not ready, and thus the College as a whole was not well-served by inviting Kristol in the first place.

  13. I share your frustration, Thomas. I'm starting to think I should have avoided blogging about it at all; my site apparently comes up #3 after Earlham's own pages about it when you search google for "kristol earlham". It's sad to watch the national press take hold of the story and contrast the action against the backdrop of a "peace studies college" as some are calling Earlham. I can almost hear some NPR in-between-news-readings quip about it now. There are so many more good things that Earlham should be known for and, as Ian noted, there are so many other injustices happening in the world that deserve "attention," to put it mildly.

  14. kristol is a lying piece of crap like cheney and this monkey pres bush. i liked that students pied his stupid ass. its time for bush, cheney et al to be impeached over leaking valerie plames name and bullshitting the country about averyting leading up to the war in iraq.
    what happened to the people who were left at the superdome after katrina was a disgrace. it shows how this war is not only bankrupting this country but how racism ends up costing many innocent people their lives.

    keep throwing those pies people. maybe it wont change the a-holes minds being hit with pies but it make them think alot more how people are fed up with their crap. they will also have to start ducking more too

  15. Kristol has the blood of innocents on his hands. He deserves more than just a pie to the face. More like a noose around his neck.

  16. So it's Jan, 2009 now, your money and jobs are gone and the country is in ruins -- still think a pie in the face was too much for this guy?

  17. Pingback: Rudeness - Page 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *