It was announced recently that the University intends to have former Florida Governor Jeb Bush come to campus to deliver the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs. This decision is disappointing, to say the least. The stated goal of the lecture is, according to the lecture’s website, “the advancement of international peace and understanding.” Unfortunately, Bush’s views are not those of peace and understanding. Instead, he represents the exact divides in our world that lead to international conflict.
Jeb Bush has consistently chosen to advocate for policies that do not, and should not, represent the values of Brown students. Bush has vocally opposed allowing non-straight marriage, as well as the adoption of children by non-straight couples. These are morally unjustifiable positions. Furthermore, Bush has consistently advocated that women be denied their right to access reproductive health care, including abortions. These positions dehumanize, shame and disrespect members of the Brown community and the population at large. Individuals of moral character do not hold these indefensible positions.
By inviting Bush to deliver a prestigious lecture, the University implicitly suggests that holding morally unjustifiable and outrageous views about women and members of the LGBTQ+ community is not disqualifying of distinction, when in fact it should be. Providing Bush a platform suggests that his views, including his bigotry, deserve the same attention as rational and tolerant views. This should not be the case. It is downright insulting to the members of the Brown community who Bush has dehumanized that he be given the honor of delivering The Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ‘60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs.
Even if one were to ignore Bush’s outrageous views, there is simply no reason to believe he has credible opinions on policy. Not only does Bush hold abhorrent views on social matters, but he has also refused to accept the facts surrounding climate change. Bush, in a 2011 interview, misleadingly stated: “It is not unanimous among scientists that (climate change) is disproportionately manmade.” (While it is true that not every single climate scientist has thrown their weight behind this fact, the vast majority have.) Climate change is a serious matter, and the livelihoods of future generations depend on our ability to recognize and combat the serious harms being done to our planet. Someone who will mislead the public about the facts surrounding the climate, for example, should not be treated as a credible source of information on other subjects either. Despite these issues with his credibility, the University believes he is fit to deliver a prestigious lecture.
Furthermore, given that the topic of the lecture that Bush has been invited to deliver is international affairs, it might seem reasonable to believe that Bush has at least has some relevant experiences in this field. Unfortunately, Bush fails again. For instance, in 2015, he stated that, if he had been president in 2003, he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq given the information available. In light of the developments of the past decade, this position seems unthinkable. Bush’s policy positions notwithstanding, his qualifications in the field of international affairs are modest at best. Bush has never held a federal diplomatic office, and though he has engaged in some foreign diplomacy as Governor of Florida, it is unclear what warrants awarding him a prestigious lecture in this field.
And, let it be clear that the opposition to Jeb Bush speaking on Brown’s campus does not come from some desire to end freedom of speech. Bush certainly has every right to state his own views, and Brown has every right to invite him to speak. However, freedom of speech does not guarantee any platform from which to speak. Nor does freedom of speech mean that we, as a community, must blindly accept the legitimacy of any views presented to us. Furthermore, the opposition to Bush speaking on Brown’s campus does not come out of fear of ideological diversity. Brown ought to welcome those with dissenting views on policy issues. However, Bush’s views are unjustifiable, dehumanizing and rooted in ignorance, and the Brown community should not lend them legitimacy by inviting him to speak. There is a meaningful difference, for example, between legitimately believing that the free market is the best mechanism to confront climate change and denying the basic facts surrounding climate change. One of these positions is a legitimate, if controversial, policy opinion. One is not.
If Brown wants to encourage debate and discussion on campus, I, by all means, encourage them to find a speaker whose views might challenge those of students. However, when we allow speakers that dehumanize others to find a platform on our campus, we only act to silence those who have been dehumanized. I will gladly listen to any speaker who wants to make a case for a foreign policy doctrine with which I do not agree. What I will not do, however, is listen to someone who fails to recognize the humanity of my family, friends and peers. I strongly encourage the University administration to reconsider their decision to invite Jeb Bush to speak on campus. Furthermore, I strongly encourage them to invite a different speaker, one who has earned the privilege of addressing Brown students, and who represents the values that the University claims to support.
Michael Froid ’21 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.