There are rules for introducers as well, of course, and Bollinger broke several. The first, inviolate rule is: Never upstage the speaker. The introducer's role is that of catalyst, not newsmaker. The second rule, until Monday thought so obvious that it goes without saying, is: Don't insult the speaker. Bollinger's introduction was akin to pulling the welcome mat out from under his invited
guest. While he was standing on it. And the neighbors were watching.
Ahmadinejad was playing to global public opinion, and though he lost some PR points for incoherence and general bizarreness of message ("In Iran, we don't have homosexuals"), he gained some for coming off as a bit more mature than his prissy, infantile host. ("In Iran, when you invite a guest, you respect them," Ahmadinejad observed dryly.)
Or -- stay with me here -- if Bollinger had invited President Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . . Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.
Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you're likely to see in America.
It's odd, because Bush -- like Ahmadinejad -- makes plenty of statements that, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Bollinger, could be characterized as ridiculous, provocative, uneducated and fanatical. (Take Bush's repeated suggestion of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, for instance.) And as in the case of Ahmadinejad, some of Bush's preposterous and belligerent statements contributed to the GOP's defeat in the last elections.