Staff Columnist

Pro-war huckster welcomed, while Iowa students turned away

Free speech for some at Cornell College

Artists paint a house at 309 5th Avenue SW as part of the Portrayal of Mount Vernon art project in Mount Vernon on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. Twenty artists spread out across Mount Vernon to create works that will be displayed in a group show at Palisades Cafe in December. Cornell College owns the house, which was built in 1861, and is offering it for sale for $1, but the buyer must move the home as Cornell plans a new building on the land. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Artists paint a house at 309 5th Avenue SW as part of the Portrayal of Mount Vernon art project in Mount Vernon on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. Twenty artists spread out across Mount Vernon to create works that will be displayed in a group show at Palisades Cafe in December. Cornell College owns the house, which was built in 1861, and is offering it for sale for $1, but the buyer must move the home as Cornell plans a new building on the land. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Something doesn’t add up here.

A group of Cornell College students said last month they were denied student organization status for a chapter of the young conservative group Turning Point USA. Now the college in Mount Vernon is announcing it will host conservative commentator William Kristol for a school-sponsored lecture later this month.

The student group is known for its edgy protest events and internet jokes. Kristol is known for peddling pro-war propaganda. The jokesters are apparently unwelcome on campus, while the war cheerleader gets an official invitation from the school.

It’s important to note Cornell is a private institution, uninhibited by that pesky Bill of Rights which public schools must abide by. Plus, the decision to withhold Turning Point USA’s student organization status and the decision to host Kristol on campus were not made by the same groups of people.

Turning Point USA is already active on hundreds of public and private campuses, including the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Organizers say college students are eager to get involved.

“Where typically students drop off from politics after election season, we have seen a steady flow of students getting involved from high school students to college students. … It shows students are truly excited about our message,” Turning Point USA field director Alli McGough told me.

Cornell student government leaders voted this year not to recognize the group. Student activists faced a similar rejection at Wartburg College in Waverly, but have continued organizing as an unofficial group.

I am not Turning Point USA’s biggest fan. While I appreciate some of the group’s views and tactics, I find others intentionally and unnecessarily inflammatory.

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Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s will visit Iowa State University later this year for a lecture titled “Hard Truths.” The 24-year-old Kirk went viral on Twitter last year with a post listing some of his political positions: “God is real; Taxation is theft; There are only 2 genders; USA is the best country ever; socialism kills; Hillary should be in prison.”

Even though I agree with most of those statements, I also see how a few serve no purpose other than to “trigger liberals,” as the kids say these days. It is edginess for edginess’ sake, an unintentional parody of bad public discourse.

But while this brand of conservatism may be brash, aggravating and even rude, it is not fascist, as more than a few critics have claimed. Calling them that erodes the meaning of the word, and makes it less likely people will pay attention when actual fascists come around.

Now consider Kristol, the longtime Republican political adviser and commentator, who will visit Cornell as part of the Roe Howard Freedom Lecture series this month.

Kristol has earned some liberals’ appreciation for being an anti-Trump conservative, reminding us how quickly Americans forget about an occasional $2 trillion boondoggle.

Kristol has been a vocal supporter of the United States’ bloody and expensive Middle Eastern military adventures. In the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, Kristol told Americans, “George Bush is not fighting this like Vietnam. … This is going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.”

He turned out to be terribly wrong, yet Kristol has repeatedly defended the decision to invade Iraq. As recently as 2016, he falsely claimed the war “was right and necessary, and we won it.”

Something is not right when politically unpopular students are barred from full participation on their college campus, while an architect of our nation’s worst foreign policy blunder gets a distinguished speaking slot.

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Even though I believe Kristol and his associates inflicted irreparable damage on our country’s moral stature, I fully support his right to speak. His violent ideas are observably wrong, so I have no desire to silence him.

If Cornell College can afford the time and attention for a prominent pro-war activist, surely the campus climate won’t be jeopardized by young political provocateurs, like Turning Point USA.

Related: It’s time to be a college, Cornell

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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