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John Colson: Hit and Run

I see in the news that Arizona State University has snubbed President Barack Obama by refusing to give him an honorary degree because he’s not experienced enough, his “body of work is yet to come,” in words attributed to one of the school’s public relations hacks.

Conferring these honorifics is typically the way that colleges and universities pay homage to their commencement speakers, a service Obama rendered to ASU this year. According to a Huffington Post report, the school has given such degrees to various Republicans with Arizona connections over the years, even though some of them had accomplished far less than Obama has.

For example, the late Barry Goldwater, the erstwhile presidential candidate and Republican senator, got one in 1961, after only two terms in the Senate and well before he ran for, and failed to obtain, the nation’s highest elective office.



Sandra Day O’Connor got one, too, after she’d been on the U.S. Supreme Court for a mere three years.

But apparently writing two national bestsellers and becoming the first man to break the color barrier at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. doesn’t quite make the grade with ASU.




Could it be simply that Obama humiliated one of the state’s favorite sons at the polls when he beat Arizona Senator John McCain last November? Not the kind of slight that this state, and this party, take lightly, eh?

You have to remember that Arizona, which shares the Four Corners monument with Colorado and where my late father lived for 13 years, has long been a Republican stronghold.

My dad and my stepmom were staunch Democrats fighting in the lonely wilderness during their time in Arizona, organizing for local candidates, writing scathing letters to the editor and thumbing their noses at the reigning political powers in every way they could.

And while my dad was able to get work for a while teaching at a state university outpost in Prescott, he regarded that as a lapse in their background-checking abilities. Similar puzzling but fundamental confusion in the state’s political superstructure probably explains why current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a Democrat originally from New York City, of all places, was twice elected governor of Arizona.

All of this brings to mind the burning question: Why would ASU invite Obama to be a commencement speaker, at ceremonies in mid-May, in the first place? No answers to that on any of the websites I checked, including a newspaper, the East Valley Tribune, that publishes in a Phoenix suburb. That paper editorialized that the rejection of Obama as a degree recipient is “an odd gap that besmirches the image of an excellent institution.”

It stands to reason that the ASU leadership, tenured and secure from liberal intrusions, is firmly in lockstep with the conservative view of the world.

Maybe someone at ASU slipped up, and the goof wasn’t caught until it was too late to take back the invitation to speak, yet another example of how whacked out the GOP is these days.

I can only conclude that ASU takes its marching orders from the John Birch Society, a rabid pack of ultra-right apologists that undoubtedly is avidly seeking ways to smack Obama upside the head, and either doesn’t mind or can’t imagine being made to look silly in the process.

This kind of backhanded slight is, of course, entirely in keeping with the small-minded status of the Republican hierarchy right now. Even when it makes them look venal and cheap, the GOP takes every chance it can to show its hate for the president and everything he stands for, or anyone he stands with.

But, given all the nasty problems Obama has to deal with these days, he probably isn’t too worried about not getting an honorary ASU degree.

Hell, he may even consider it a compliment.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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