Friday, April 10, 2009

No Award, Not Yet

One of the characteristics of liberals, a trait that seems to separate us from conservatives, is that we at least sometimes go where the facts lead us. Listening to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, it is clear that conservatives feel a special obligation to avoid facts and details at practically all costs. They are convinced that analysis is a luxury only the pansies on the left have time for.

So it is a little disconcerting to see hand-wringing of some progressives toward the apparent decision by Arizona State University to withhold from President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he gives its commencement address on May 13. Andy Barr at Politico writes that university spokesman Sharon Keeler explained

that while one committee invites speakers, a separate committee votes on who will receive an honorary degree. Typically, the committee that awards honorary degrees acts first, followed by the committee that invites the recipient. But in Obama’s case, he was invited without the honorary degree committee selecting him.
Keeler explained that the award is given for "lifetime achievement" and is "normally awarded to someone who has been in their field for some time. Considering that the president is at the beginning of his presidency, his body of work is just beginning.”

Arizona State University has conferred 171 honorary degrees, from that upon Frederick M. Irish on May 28, 1940 to that on James J. Duderstadt on May 14, 2008. But notably absent are these fellows: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhous Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, James Earl Carter, Ronald Wilson Reagan (6-6-6), George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, George Walker Bush. No President has been given the award.

The committee has not actually addressed the issue of whether to award Obama the honorary degree and still may choose to do so before his arrival. Nevertheless, concern that Barack Obama has not been approved for this honor, inasmuch that there is no reason to suppose that policy disagreement is a motivating factor, smacks a little of hero worship. And considering this recipient of the award on May 13, 2004, we can nearly eliminate the most nefarious possibility as a factor.

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