When I was an undergraduate at Yale, more than twenty years ago, my main extracurricular activity was being a reporter for the Yale Daily News. In my second year on the news I got the coveted “Bart Beat” which made me the student responsible for covering Yale's President, A. Bartlett Giamatti, then early in his term at Yale, later Commissioner of Baseball, tragically dead far too young.
President Giamatti was a wonderful, erudite, voluble man, always very quotable. I very much enjoyed talking with him. While he often said things I might not have agreed with, there was only one subject that really seemed to make him irrational, and that was protest movements. In his heart (scarred, I thought, by his experience as a non-protestor at Yale in the late 1960's, when he had been a graduate student and aspirant member of the establishment) I suspect that 'Bart' probably did not really approve of any organized protest against the power structure of which he was pleased to be a part. Intellectually, however, he certainly recognized the legitimacy and importance of both personal and even organized protest. Bart drew the line, however, at breaches of the public norms of civility that he held to be an essential part of the academic community. To hear him tell it, one of the greater crimes in the history of Yale was committed when students gathered during the Vietnam war era and shouted obscenities at Yale and national authorities. To scream, and especially to scream four letter words, was to trash all the ideals of civilized discourse that he held dear.
I felt then, and—perhaps demonstrating that I have learned nothing in twenty years—still feel now, that Bart's rule was too encompassing. It's a good rule most of the time, but there are extraordinary circumstances, like the Vietnam War, like today, when it is proper at times to break the norms of civility because the things against which one protests are themselves so evil or even obscene.
I thought of Bart this evening because Bart's rule would forbid my linking to this painful, ugly, and true remix of a portion of George Bush's recent speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner, for it is not a very decorous form of dissent, and will doubtlessly offend many. But we live in special ugly times, and so I commend to you—with a warning—this quicktime movie.