Boy that makes me shudder- but alas I do share something in common with Paul and Ann. We all studied high above Cayuga’s waters- we all did our undergraduate work at Cornell.
Yup Ann Coulter ’84 and Paul Wolfowitz ’65 received their A.B.’s at that egalitarian university where “Any person can find instruction in any study”.
I was aware that Wolfowitz was a Cornellian. But I wasn’t aware that Coulter was an alumna until I read recent letters responding to a cover article about Keith Olbermann ’79 (the same class as me) in the Cornell Alumni Magazine. There were more than a few letters outraged that Cornell Alumni Magazine had profiled Olbermann when it had ignored more illustrious alumni like Coulter. YIKES!
Not surprisingly my politics falls more into line with Olbermann and fellow Cornellian Bill Maher ’78 but I was disheartened to see Coulter touted as some paragon of Cornell virtue. Sharing my alma mater with Wolfowitz was bad enough sharing it with Coulter is almost intolerable. But even worse are my fellow alumni who hold her up as some sort of icon. An icon of hate and intolerance: yes. I guess I can have some solace in the fact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 is also an alumna which may balance out the Wolfowitz connection but maybe not. Ginsburg does her best to hold her own in the conservative Roberts court but Wolfowitz is responsible for thousands of deaths and a world that has become a disaster and a less safe place for the United States by being the architect of the War in Iraq. He did his fair share of damage during his tenure as President of the World Bank too. With the likes of him as an alumnus- I am almost tempted to follow the lead of a WW II vet who returned a medal to the French. Do I return my A.B. to Cornell in shame? No- I have to believe that in the many thousands of alumni good has outweighed evil.
But I was very disturbed about the waxing poetics about Ann Coulter among my fellow alumni. What’s with that?
Coulter wrote in her 2006 book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism,” that a group of New Jersey widows whose husbands perished in the World Trade Center act “as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.” She also wrote, “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.” On a “Today” show appearance in June 2006 Coulter reiterated her stance, saying the women used their grief “to make a political point.” Her criticism was aimed at four New Jersey women whom she dubbed “The Witches of East Brunswick,” after the town where two of them live. These women spent the years since the 2001 terror attacks supporting an independent commission to examine government failures before the attack, and in the 2004 presidential campaign they endorsed Democrat John Kerry. The women are Kristen Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Patty Casazza of New Jersey. The women, are still pushing for changes in how the government guards against future attacks. What has Ms. Coulter done other than make slanderous and vicious remarks.
A number of Cornell alumni died in the 9/11 attacks. Ms. Coulter is an affront to their memory just as Mr. Wolfowitz is an affront to those who have died in Iraq. Of course- most of those young men and women who can afford to go to Cornell are not the same kids who are dying in Iraq.
Thinking of Coulter and Wolfowitz as illustrious Cornell alumni reminds me of a scene from the 1953 film “Titanic” with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb. Just before the ship hits the iceberg a group of college students are having a gay old time singing some college songs. But when the Cornell alma mater is sung- it sounds like a dirge- far away and sad. That’s the Cornell of Coulter and Wolfowitz.
The Cornell I remember was one of progressive values, a school that took pride in its land grant status, its egalitarian ethic between those that were in the private and state schools and the first college to officially recognize a gay student group. In the late 1970’s I was attending university sanctioned gay dances at Willard Straight Hall. Yes- there were the jokes of gay dances at the Straight, but nevertheless they occurred without negative incident. This is the Cornell I like to remember- the one where we truly “hail to thee our alma mater, hail all hail Cornell”.