The Charlotte Observer reports that “a handful” of people walked out of a politically charged commencement address delivered by Phil Donahue at North Carolina State. The remarks were summarized as follows:

Donahue said constitutional rights and privileges have been eroded and he made a backhanded reference to the war in Iraq.

“Only Congress can declare war,” he said to some cheers and boos, “and not just one man, the president.”

The basic liberties of citizens are being undermined by the war on drugs, Donahue said, and by a “trend toward the sword rather than a trend toward civility.”

What liberals believe, he said, “is that no one in authority should tell you to `shush,’ that executing retarded teenagers is wrong, and that unions give workers a deserved place at the bargaining table.”

A couple of things strike me here. First, what did people expect from a speech by Phil Donahue? The man’s a passionate liberal, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and makes no bones about any of that. So why would it be surprising that he says some liberal things? Second, even if one concedes that it is inappropriate to inject partisanship into a commencement address, most of what is quoted there seems perfectly reasonable. No attack on President Bush or John Ashcroft, no trolling for any Democrat candidates–just a statement about political tolerance and civil liberties. I disagree with him on unions and am not sure exactly where to draw the line on IQ and execution, but nothing to walk out on in any event.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy K says:

    Ummm…. Congress did declare war. Just because they didn’t phrase it “we declare war” doesn’t mean it wasn’t done.

    However: “The basic liberties of citizens are being undermined by the war on drugs” is a true statement and I’d like to see more people make it!

  2. joy says:

    Well, NC State is a state school in a state where people are (with the exception of Chapel Hill and a few other metro places) at least socially conservative. Plus, there are more than a few military bases around.

    Donahue talking about liberals at a commencement speech is like someone speaking at a school in the NY/NJ metro area about the “root causes of 9/11”. Sure, this incident reflects less on Donahue than on the moron who invited him to NC State in the first place.

  3. Hmmm…Donahue’s presentation could also be paraphrased along the lines of, “Graduates, you may think today is about you, but really, it’s all about me.”