God Bless Alan Kennedy-Shaffer.
If he did not exist, someone would have to invent him.
Earlier this week on this page, my friend and colleague Dan Koffler called for the impeachment of the President of the United States (“Surveillance should carry dire consequences for Pres. Bush,” 1/18). I doubt Dan would have expected to be joined in this civic spirit by Alan Kennedy-Shaffer, but AKS — as he is commonly known to all (literally all) of Yale — issued his own “J’accuse” on Tuesday that actually went beyond Dan’s relatively tepid call for change at the top. Kennedy-Shaffer, who hails from Mechanicsburg, Pa. and proudly reminds anyone and everyone that he is the longest continuously-serving representative on the Yale College Council, attempted this week to impeach not only YCC President Steven Syverud, but also the student government’s vice president and treasurer.
Syverud had no patience for this grave procedure, stating, “We have such a long list of things we want to accomplish this semester. … We just can’t humor Alan every time he wants to go tilting at windmills.” Indeed, the YCC is quite busy working on such important projects as bringing Cookie Crunch to the dining halls, booking Air Supply for Spring Fling and squandering the money they’ve raised via the Student Activities Fee on the traveling club power yoga team. But give Steve props, at least the literary reference was apt.
For those students who wisely pay more attention to the national political scene and enjoy its various and sundry oddities, Kennedy-Shaffer is the closest thing Yale has to former Congressman Jim Traficant, who represented Ohio’s Mahoning County for more than 15 years until he was convicted of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion in 2002. I do not for a minute suggest that AKS is corrupt; he just shares Traficant’s flair for the dramatic. The former Congressman was best known for his leisure suits and one-minute rants from the well of the House that always ended with him shouting — to whom, no one knows — “Beam me up!”
The consummate political dramatist, AKS is the college reporter’s best friend, as he never fails to give an excellent quote. And seeing that this week would likely be his last in the campus spotlight, the Don Quixote of Davenport did not disappoint. “The president, vice president and treasurer have placed themselves above the law, and that is immoral, unconstitutional and undemocratic,” he thundered on Tuesday. In his final speech, he said, “I announced that I would sacrifice my political future for the good of my fellow students, knowing that the good shepherd must sometimes give his life for the sheep.” Obtuse Biblical analogy aside, a herd of sheep might just be the best description of the YCC that I have heard.
I admire Alan, foremost, for his moxie. Last spring, several weeks before the YCC election, I received a message from him in my facebook.com mailbox. What could he possibly want from me? After all, I was a member in good standing of the “Alan Kennedy-Shaffer is Obsequious Network,” now defunct. Turns out Yale’s own Tracy Flick was asking me out to lunch. As I was openly contemplating a dark horse candidacy for the position of YCC president at the time, I assumed AKS was attempting to talk me out of running, and short of success on that front, offer me some sort of bribe to stay out of the race. Our message conversation followed (liberties have been taken):
AKS: I apologize for taking so long to contact you. Do you want to have lunch or coffee together sometime soon? I know there’s a lot to discuss. Feel free to call me anytime!
Me: Uh, I’d rather not. Besides, I’m not running in the YCC race anyway, so you don’t need to worry.
AKS: Running? Who said anything about running? I wanted to invite you to serve as my Press Secretary. 🙂 Let’s still do lunch. Yours, Alan
Me: Press Secretary? Being your Press Secretary would be like trying to dam a flood with a toothpick.
In addition to its sheer entertainment value, the most beneficial outcome of this mini-scandal is that it has torn down the facade surrounding student government. All his attempts to remain on the Council stymied by his peers, Kennedy-Shaffer sent a memo to the Dean’s Office “requesting an injunction to prevent the Council from excluding members of the senior class from the January elections.” Angry at his playmates for stealing his toys, the hurt child went crying to Mommy.
Again, do not take my criticism as a personal slight against AKS, for his behavior is merely a symptom of the whole nasty enterprise that is student government. The University, after all, is not a democracy, nor should it be. The prestigious status of Yale does not render the student government, which the administration wisely uses to deflect the cries of even more annoying liberal activists, any more significant in the lives of its constituents, the students. The YCC still attracts, for the most part, the same kids who did student government in high school. You don’t need me to spell it out.
So mourn the temporary political passing of Alan Kennedy-Shaffer. No longer will we be entertained by the force of nature who made the YCC actually worth reading about. No longer will do-nothing YCC representatives have Alan to scapegoat while deflecting attention from the lame events they plan and the money they mishandle. But don’t worry, Alan, we haven’t heard the last of you. There is a Cumberland County, Pa. Board of Commissioners seat with your name on it, ripe for the taking.
James Kirchick is a senior in Pierson College. He is an occasional columnist.