In case you thought that national political conventions no longer held any import, that they are puffed up, propagandistic, overly scripted acts of meaningless political theater, the events of this past Monday night will restore your faith in government. For one Yale undergraduate sought to stand up to the political establishment and speak truth to power.
Or, at least, that’s what his lawyer would have you believe.
In light of all the trouble I went through just to secure a measly press credential to the Republican National Convention this week in New York, I should have taken a cue from my enterprising Yale classmate Thomas Frampton ’06. Frampton, not one known for his conservative political sympathies, eluded the convention’s organizers by allegedly hatching an elaborate scheme in which he feigned allegiance to President Bush and the Republican Party, attending volunteer training sessions so as to gain access to Madison Square Garden as a uniformed and credentialed usher. It’s hard to imagine the radical Frampton keeping a straight face while discussing President Bush’s plans for a “Safer and Stronger America,” or the RNC’s trumpeting of “Armies of Compassion,” with the uptight college Republicans and elderly women donning cowboy hats who comprise the corps of convention hall volunteers.
Nonetheless, there was Thomas Frampton, live on national television for his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, to make all us Yalies proud. Frampton, known to most of Yale as our most obstreperous and prolific protestor, was arrested Monday evening and charged with “assault of federal officers and impeding the operation of the Secret Service.” The allegations say that Frampton fought with Secret Service agents after attempting to climb into the VIP box in which Cheney, his wife, and their granddaughters were sitting while shouting anti-war slogans. Apparently Frampton was trying to make the Republican Convention of 2004 as similar as possible to the Democratic Convention of 1968, reportedly throwing an elbow at a Secret Service agent. Frampton was slapped with a $50,000 bail rap and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 30.
Frampton is lucky that Cheney’s heart problems didn’t act up. He’s also lucky that Cheney didn’t answer Frampton in the same manner as he did Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate Floor this past June after the Vermont legislator criticized Cheney for his Halliburton ties. Since this is a family newspaper, I’ll reprint the Washington Times’ description of the Vice President’s cutting retort: “Mr. Cheney then responded with a barnyard epithet, urging Mr. Leahy to perform an anatomical sexual impossibility.”
Frampton’s latest charade falls into a pattern of behavior that has cheapened the level of discourse on this campus.
In February, after Yale University President Richard Levin was appointed by President Bush to join an independent commission charged with investigating the administration’s interpretation of intelligence on supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Frampton joined a group of about 20 protestors gathered outside Levin’s Woodbridge Hall office. As Levin left the building for a waiting car, Frampton got right in Levin’s face and shouted, “What experience could you possibly have on weapons of mass destruction or U.S. intelligence?”
Levin, demonstrating the quick-thinking that exemplifies why he was chosen to serve on a commission that his detractors view in Michael Moore-esque conspiracy tones, responded, “I have something you lack — an open mind.”
Then, only 2 months later, Frampton participated (again, with a paltry 20 Yale students and New Haven hangers-on) in a protest against Coca-Cola CEO Douglas Daft, who had been invited to speak at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. Seconds after Daft began his speech, Frampton and several others congregated before the lectern, took off their jackets to display shirts soaked in faux-blood, and lay themselves on the ground. What was the purpose of this demonstration? To raise the allegation, repeatedly discredited, that Coke had hired paramilitaries to assassinate union leaders in Colombia. Following the event, Frampton confronted police officers guarding a reception held in Daft’s honor, and peppered Daft with accusations, forcing the guest of the University to flee the event.
No doubt, some at Yale will welcome Frampton as a hero. It’s no secret that most Yalies loathe President Bush and will be supporting John Kerry come November. But neither hatred of President Bush’s policies nor his personality excuses such childish and dangerous behavior. But for Frampton, and so many others who are involved in the left-wing political movements both on and off the college campus, Frampton’s action was one of a martyr. This quest to lay oneself down for a cause in such meaningless ways — surely Frampton understands that he’s changing no one’s, certainly not Dick Cheney’s mind on Iraq by gate-crashing and yelling at him — is the height of narcissism and speaks to a troubling pathology regarding youth and liberal political assumptions.
Having attended both national political conventions this summer, I can attest to the silliness of these spectacles. From the constantly repeated slogans to the ruthlessly executed mass sign displays to the cynical use of minorities in high profile positions before the cameras, the conventions eerily remind one of a rally in an authoritarian nation, where Dear Leader is praised unceasingly and the party’s agenda is a sacred constitution. These conventions are, for the most part, political theater. Thomas Frampton was just another act.
James Kirchick is a junior in Pierson College.