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Let Moore Speak

Michael Moore, darling of Hollywood elites and other dispossessed masses, was scheduled to speak later this month at George Mason University. He was to be paid an honorarium of $35,000, funded from the student-activity fee that each student pays as part of his or her tuition.

Yesterday, the University cancelled Moore’s appearance. I believe this cancellation is the result of poor judgment.

I emphatically dislike Michael Moore. I’ve not seen Fahrenheit 9-11 (mostly because I already agree with him that the war in Iraq is a ghastly and immoral enterprise, and I didn’t want to witness a propaganda piece so over the top that I might actually start to sympathize with President Bush on this war). Michael Moore’s economic views are plain uninformed and ignorant.

But I cringed whenever I heard or read the objections to his appearance at GMU. A Republican member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, Rep. Dick Black, wrote to GMU President Alan Merten that “Profligate spending for liberal speakers sets a tone for slipshod financial practices permeating the university system. Tax money is being spent poorly, and for partisan purposes.” See this news story.

What a narrow-minded objection! Is “profligate spending” for conservative or libertarian speakers okay? If GMU agreed to pay, say, Thomas Sowell or Rush Limbaugh $35,000 to speak on campus, would such an agreement set “a tone for slipshod financial practices” at the University?

Part of my reason for feeling distress over this hostile reaction among conservatives to Moore’s scheduled appearance at GMU is prudential: how can those of us from the libertarian or conservative side of the political spectrum legitimately complain if and when the University refuses to invite free-market-oriented thinkers to campus? Also, when conservatives next criticize a state University for caving into “liberal” pressures to keep a conservative from speaking on campus, the hypocrisy will be palpable.

Another reason for my distress is ethical: The people who control GMU’s student-activity budget have a right to hire people with whom I disagree – and, more importantly, who happen to disagree with the policies of the current administration.

A third reason is that I – someone who disagrees with most of Moore’s positions – am not afraid of his ideas. Nor am I afraid of other people, including my students, hearing his ideas. My ideas are better than his and, in the long-run, more powerful.

Of course, the larger problem here is that GMU is a state university – an institution that receives large annual chunks of taxpayer funds. I disapprove of government-run educational institutions; if I were making the rules, I would eliminate them. But as long as the state is in the business of running a university, it must not do so in a partisan or political way. Canceling Michael Moore’s appearance at GMU smacks of political manipulation. It’s regrettable.