I wanted to write about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Donovan McNabb, and didn’t feel like writing separate posts for each, so they’re both getting tossed in together.
Today Ahmadinejad, in town for a United Nations summit for world leaders, took questions at Columbia University in front of an audience that he had no hand in selecting. I think that plenty of the things he said are outlandish and some are offensive, but I think you have to give him credit for coming here and taking that questioning. It amazes me that there are people who didn’t even want to give him that opportunity. Is there anything more basic to democracy than a leader standing before a free forum and engaging with critics? (One wonders whether Ahmadinejad is willing to grant Iranians the same opportunity.)
What’s truly astounding is that the audience at Columbia today was granted an opportunity by the President of Iran that the President of the United States has refused to give any Americans throughout the course of his Presidency. President Bush takes questions from pre-screened audiences or appears at press conferences, but he never steps up to the podium at an open forum.
I think that it’s worth noting the differences between a press conference before the White House press corps and a meeting like the one at Columbia. There are definitely tough questioners in the press corps, but President Bush knows who they are. He has a working relationship with all of them, and can choose who he wants questions from depending on which issues he wants to deal with, and there are always reporters in the audience who are glad to give him an opportunity to spew talking points. Looking out before a crowd of unknown folks and being ready to answer (or evade) the questions they pose is a different kind of challenge entirely, one President Bush has not accepted. That’s a shame.
As far as Donovan McNabb goes, he’s catching flack for saying the following:
There’s not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra. … Because the percentage of us playing this position, which people didn’t want us to play … is low, so we do a little extra.
Let me start by saying I love those guys [some white quarterbacks]. But they don’t get criticized as much as we [black quarterbacks] do. They don’t.
I don’t exactly agree with him. I think that on the whole, quarterbacks get criticized an awful lot, and a lot of blame or praise for the good or bad fortunes of a team falls upon then, regardless of the degree to which they deserve it.
What I do think is that the criticism applied to specific black quarterbacks is often generalized to apply to all black quarterbacks. It’s not “Vince Young looks to run too much,” it’s “black quarterbacks look to run too much.” And so on. And that’s true whenever minorities begin to gain a toehold in some new endeavor. The other day I was listening to a radio program where several female members of the military were being interviewed, and they expressed McNabb’s sentiment exactly. They work under of the pressure of knowing that any mistake they make will be applied to their gender in addition to being applied to themselves.
I think that it’s foolish to discount that pressure or pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Update: Anne Applebaum reports on Ahmadinejad’s record as Iran’s leader. He can talk about free speech at Columbia University or in an interview with 60 Minutes, but he represents a regime in Iran that imprisons and executes dissenters. It’s still a shame that he’s more willing to engage (albeit dishonestly) than is our own President.