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Clapping for Bush?

May 16th, 2010 · 7 Comments

I know some of my friends are upset about Dave Weigel’s account of last weeks’ Milton Friedman dinner, which focused on the audience reaction to Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji’s Friedman Award acceptance speech. Now, I was seated a table or two down from Dave, and his description matches my recollection, as far as it goes. Ganji got a thundering standing ovation as he took the stage, but the reaction was more muted as (through a translator) he delivered a strong indictment of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and in particular its support for both Israel and despotic secular Arab regimes. The only notable applause line (before the end) was a quotation from George Bush.

But I think the inference Dave tacitly draws—that the crowd was out of sympathy with Ganji’s critique and supportive of George Bush—is quite wrong. Indeed, I suspect the majority view in the room was just the reverse. At any rate, I know I was substantially in agreement, and I think I clapped at the same points.

Why? Well, first, even if you’re not especially jingoistic, and even when the speaker is a hero like Ganji, and even when you agree with the basic substance of what he’s saying, I think most people feel a little awkward listening to a lecture from a foreigner about their country’s misdeeds. I don’t remember exactly what the Bush line was, but it was a natural applause line in an otherwise fairly wonkish disquisition, and as Ganji deployed it (not entirely consistently with Bush’s original intent, I suspect) the quotation was in line with the general tenor of his remarks. Also, I think people may have finally felt they had “permission” to applaud the critique when it was filtered through a domestic source.

In short, I think Dave’s account was descriptively correct but misleading in what it implies about the crowd’s attitude to what they were hearing.

Tags: Journalism & the Media


       

 

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ashish George // May 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    “Well, first, even if you’re not especially jingoistic, and even when the speaker is a hero like Ganji, and even when you agree with the basic substance of what he’s saying, I think most people feel a little awkward listening to a lecture from a foreigner about their country’s misdeeds.”

    I think “people who disagree with our policies in the Middle East” is a more worthwhile set here than “people in general” because you wouldn’t expect the latter group to be particularly upset by Uncle Sam’s misdeeds abroad no matter who was leading the prosecution. (Tellingly, our political discourse’s invocation of casualties as a grounds for rejecting military action is limited to those with American passports.) I wouldn’t expect the audience to be so awkwardly silent if this talk had taken place at a conference hosted by The Nation or even a meet-and-greet sponsored by The American Conservative.

    So what’s a better explanation of the cool reception Ganji got? I wasn’t there, but judging by Crane’s lazy joke and Will’s featured appearance, it seems that the evening was meant to be a celebration of libertarian-conservative bonhomie as much as anything else. Ganji disrupted the mood by bringing up a subject that cuts against that affinity. The conservatives in the audience were insulted. The libertarians, many of whom probably place a much greater emphasis on their economic agreements with conservatives than their social and foreign policy agreements with liberals, probably wished Ganji had stuck to more anodyne territory, their sympathy to his point notwithstanding.

  • 2 doesn't matter // May 18, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Is it not a little odd that, after giving the guy $500,000 and a big party, there has been no mention of him on Cato’s main page or blog, other than in article TG Carpenter wrote for The National Interest? Shouldn’t Ganji’s speech be available somewhere on the site in non-pdf form? If the guy had not criticized Israel and US imperialism, would he be getting the same treatment from Cato?

    Really, it’s OK to admit that, as an institution, Cato likes to play it safe with its right-wing backers.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // May 18, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Did you check whether the “treatment” was any different from that of the previous winners, whose acceptance speeches aren’t up there either? As far as I can tell, there’s comparable material up there on all of them: http://www.cato.org/special/friedman/ganji/index.html

  • 4 doesn't matter // May 18, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Well, for one thing, I notice that the last winner, Goicoechea, has his acceptance speech video up: http://www.cato.org/special/friedman/goicoechea/media.html

    There are several Ganji videos linked at the page you sent, but I don’t see his acceptance speech anywhere. At any rate, it’s not as if some Cato-hater gave the account of Cato’s response to Ganji that you’re addressing in this post. It was your homie Dave Weigel.

  • 5 doesn't matter // May 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

    What’s most amazing to me is that Cato has so much green that they can afford to give this dude 500 large, then act as if nothing happened. If this is not because of any disagreement with what Ganji said, if this is just standard practice at Cato, then you guys obviously have more money than you know what to do with.

  • 6 doesn't matter // May 18, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Also, you say some of your friends are upset with Weigel’s report. Am I wrong to assume that some of these friends are Cato colleagues? I’m most interested to hear what they have to say. Have they blogged their disagreements anywhere?

  • 7 stras // May 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    “I think most people feel a little awkward listening to a lecture from a foreigner about their country’s misdeeds”

    Really? Because from what I can tell, foreigners are the people who suffer the most because of my country’s misdeeds, and generally have a much clearer perspective on them than my fellow Americans do. Where else should I go to listen to such a lecture – the Washington Post?

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