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I like Condoleezza Rice. I met her at the Glamour Awards dinner last fall where she was honored for her work in Africa. It was the Tuesday after the presidential election and she spoke honestly, before a distinctly liberal audience, about what it meant for her, as a child of segregation, to see a black man in the Oval Office. She was graceful, eloquent and yes, even beautiful.
But here’s what she had to say last week, back at her old stomping ground — and mine — Stanford University: “Anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer the President wanted to do. Nothing that was illegal, and nothing that was going to make this country less safe. And I’ll tell you something – unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you can not possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans.”
With all do respect to the former Secretary of State, she is just wrong on this. No one, not even the President, in a time of war, is above the law. But, while I disagree with Secretary Rice, there is something I find even more troubling in this latest dust up over her remarks: The fact that we were privy to them at all.
The video of her comments hit YouTube, after an informal meeting with students at Roble Hall, a dormitory on campus. When a young man engaged Professor Rice on the issues of torture and presidential powers, she listened respectfully and took up the debate. This is, after all, what teachers and students have done going all the way back to Plato and Socrates.
But now, every conversation a scholar has with students can show up on the internet. What would Socrates have to say about that? I think he’d say that this kind of ambush-video blogging can only hinder the healthy exchange of ideas on campus. And he’d be right.
What will happen to open and honest debate? How will students, like the confident young man who challenged a former Secretary of State, hone their arguments, or perhaps even rethink them?
Simply put, they won’t. The debate won’t happen. The dialogue will stop.
The chilling effect has begun. And we are all the worse for it.
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