(New Brunswick, NJ) – Congratulations, Tom Kean! You’re the next contestant on “The Commencement Speech Deliverer is Right!”
After disinviting Condoleezza Rice (R-CA) to be its 2014 commencement speaker, Rutgers University had just weeks to find a suitable replacement. After spending a number of hand-wringing days of looking at the state’s prison system, the committee tasked with the search turned to a lower rung of society: retired elected officials.
Former Governor Kean (R-NJ) will be that retired elected official, earning the $35,000 that would have gone to Rice.
“It looks like we have a winner,” said a Rutgers faculty member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At least he’s not a war criminal.”
Rice’s disinvitation stemmed partly from her being branded as a “war criminal” because of her support of torture. In the name of President George W. Bush’s War on Terror, she supported waterboarding Islamic Fundamentalist detainees. Her involvement in the failed intelligence about Iraq – preceding the March 2003 invasion – sealed her fate.
Rice served as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor from 2001-5, and as Secretary of State from 2005-9.
Kean served as the state’s governor – and a very popular one – from 1982-90. He is perhaps most famous for his “New Jersey and You: Perrrfect Together” tourism ads seen in the 1980s.
He managed to balance the state’s budget each year he was in office. However, one week after he left office, his successor found a $3 billion budget gap facing the state. Jim Florio (D-NJ) raised taxes $2.8 billion, and the voters crucified him four years later. Florio was ousted in the November 1993 election by Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ).
“He cooked the books,” said a Florio supporter, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Many politicians cook the books, but $3 billion was pretty blatant. And he never answered for it. Then again, this is New Jersey politics you’re talking about.”
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Kean served as co-chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission) – the investigative body responsible for investigating the tragedy. Afterwards, he made millions of dollars by using his celebrity to publish a book about his time serving on the Commission.
Predictably, many are not placated by the choice of Kean.
“He’s a criminal in his own right,” said a Kean detractor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But I guess it’s better to be someone who uses their positions of power to replenish their coffers instead of someone who intentionally lies to send a country to war.”
And then there are those who still support Rice. Republican political strategist Karl Rove referred to anti-Rice Rutgers students as “little totalitarians on the left” and said the criticism was unfair.
“Yes, the best way to get your point across is to insult people,” said an anti-Rice Rutgers student, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Since Rove worked for Bush when Condi worked for Bush, he’s guilty of war crimes as well. He’s just too oblivious – and busy with name-calling – to notice the irony.”