On May 1, the Cornell University College Republicans hosted former Vice President Dick Cheney on campus for a lecture and question-and-answer session that was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative youth organization.
Despite repeated attempts by a group of students and faculty members to prevent the event from occurring as planned, the College Republicans successfully organized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for nearly 550 interested students and community members to hear from one of the most consequential conservative leaders in recent history.
Vice President Cheney delivered wide-ranging remarks, addressing topics such as his justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. enhanced interrogation program and the Iran nuclear deal, among others. These were all topics that were at the top of mind for those attending the event, as the questions were submitted directly by the public and posed to Cheney verbatim.
The majority of audience members were respectful and clearly interested in hearing Cheney’s point of view. They delivered rounds of applause, and in response to one of multiple attempts by disruptors to silence Cheney from speaking, an audience member yelled out to Cheney, “Thank you for your service!”
Yet, the College Republicans achieved this success despite the close-minded opposition they faced from some students and faculty and the apparent disinterest displayed by senior university leadership. The specifics are too numerous to discuss in entirety here, so let us review just a few.
- Marco Antonio Peralta-Ochoa ’21, a member of the Student Assembly, which is purportedly the organization tasked with “making sure that student issues are heard and addressed,” openly admitted to hoarding 88 tickets to the event to limit the number of students who could hear from Cheney.
- Prof. Matthew Evangelista, the President White Professor of History and Political Science, lamented the College Republicans’ selection of Vice President Cheney as their speaker, stating, “The Cornell Republicans could have chosen any number of Republican political figures to honor with an invitation to our campus.” Prof.. Evangelista should note for future reference that it is not the responsibility of the College Republicans to host speakers who satisfy his ideological test. The College Republicans are providing a valuable service by hosting conservative speakers — of their choice — on a campus where over 90 percent of faculty members’ donations to candidates for public office went to Democrats.
- Prof. Russell Rickford, history, led protesters, arguing that by inviting Vice President Cheney to Cornell, the College Republicans demonstrated their “contempt for humanity.” According to a transcript of the speech that he prepared for the protest, Rickford asked the protesters to “confront the petty bureaucrats and the guardians of the status quo.” The status quo at Cornell is liberal orthodoxy, and the College Republicans were, indeed, challenging this exact state of affairs by hosting Cheney on campus.
- Prof. Rachel Weil, history, unfavorably compared Vice President Cheney to a slime mold, stating, “But you don’t invite slime molds or mass killers to speak at your university…because this gives them legitimacy and authority that slime molds don’t have.” Not quite satisfied with her comparison, she commented, “In hindsight what I said was unfair to slime molds. Please give them my apologies.”
- Setting aside this faculty hostility, it is important to note that not a single senior university administrator welcomed Vice President Cheney to Cornell prior to his remarks.
All of this stands in stark contrast to the fawning treatment former Vice President Joe Biden received when he visited Cornell in 2017 to deliver the commencement address. This is the same man who voted for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and who played a key role in America’s drone war during the Obama administration, which included “kill lists” that resulted in the killing of civilians and U.S. citizens.
Despite this, Cornell president Martha Pollack introduced Biden in glowing terms in front of thousands of Cornellians and their families, praising him for his “active role in foreign policy” and his skills that allowed him to “effectively manage the United States’ relations in challenging areas.” She added that it was her “great honor” to welcome Biden.
Senior university leaders sat on stage and in the audience and clapped approvingly.
Mr. Biden was not only welcomed with open arms, but he was also honored by Cornell Dairy with an ice cream flavor named after him — “Red, White, and Biden.” He strutted on stage after his remarks, eating ice cream and enjoying the flattering experience.
The College Republicans should know this: when students and even faculty members — those whose obligation is to educate you and your peers — respond to your efforts with childish and ad hominem attacks, you can be assured that you are doing meaningful work. It irks them that you are reaching hundreds of your peers with ideas wholly different from theirs.
Keep up the fight.
Raj Kannappan ’13 is an alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences, chairman emeritus of the Cornell University College Republicans and a staff member at Young America’s Foundation.Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room runs periodically.
Editor’s Note: Peralta-Ochoa — who, in a Facebook post, claimed to have collected 103 tickets — offered “free tickets” at the door of the event. On them, he had written “500,000 killed” and “1.7 million displaced.” The tickets were accepted for entry.