As previously mentioned, I was on the waiting list for tickets to see Vice President Biden's appearance at the University Near Here. To my surprise, this actually worked. Yesterday, I got an e-missive providing me a link to a page whence I could download my PDF ticket (reproduced here for your amusement, click to embiggen).
And so I went. Lots of security, of course: many unfamiliar cop cars and other vehicles, and traffic was forced into unfamiliar patterns. The screening on the way in was slightly less rigorous than that encountered for an airplane journey; nobody offered to touch my junk.
No bags. No backpacks. Signs, banners, liquids, umbrellas, and laptops not permitted. But "personal cameras" are allowed, unfortunate that I don't actually own one. Attendees were urged to show up early, which (as it turned out) gave me a lot of time to look around aimlessly inside the venue (the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building).
Most attendees were, of course, college kids, dressed in the usual casual-to-sloppy attire. A smattering were well-dressed; I speculate these were the wannabe-someday pols. A few rows of seating down front were reserved, and those people seemed to be local bigwigs in the Democratic Party and the University, not that there's no overlap there. About ten video cameras filled the back of the room, and I noticed some on-air personalities from Manchester's TV station, WMUR.
The curtains on the outside windows were drawn, and some were taped shut, I assume a safeguard against snipers. I reflected that if I were to do anything odd, I'd probably find myself surrounded by a bunch of polite well-dressed guys with electronics in their ears. Is there a problem here, sir? So I just sat still.
And of course, things ran signficantly late. But eventually UNH President Mark Huddleston took the stage, introducing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a student speaker whose name I didn't catch, and the Vice President.
The rationale for the visit was to introduce the Obama Administration's new "Title IX" regulations concerning sexual assault on college campuses. (White House press release is here.) Duncan's speech was brief and dry; the student's speech was brief and strident; neither was under any illusion that anyone was there to listen to them.
Violence against women is an issue Biden clearly cares a lot about. (I mean really cares, rather than just paying politician-style lip service.) He gave more of a sermon than a speech. There were no applause lines, no laugh lines, and the audience mostly sat in silence. (The only chuckle came when Biden discussed meeting UNH President Huddleston back in Delaware, decades back.)
You would be excused for thinking that this whole exercise was aimed specifically at actual violence against women, a relatively black and white issue. (And one more suited to straightforward local law enforcement than college bureaucracy.) But if you click some of the links off that White House link above, you'll discover that the new regulations target "sexual harassment" and "discrimination" as well. In short, colleges will have to be even more careful in this area now, and aggrieved parties will have significantly more avenues to pursue their gripes. Given the Administration's general progressive proclivities, this isn't surprising, but it's interesting that they scrupulously avoided talking about anything but violence.
Even given the relatively non-controversial focus, there were a couple of howlers in Biden's presentation. He trotted out the story about the "rule of thumb" phrase: that it originally referred to a legal principle allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick, as long as its diameter didn't exceed the width of his thumb. This has long since been debunked, but the Veep apparently lives in a bubble of epistemic closure.
Biden also (I'm pretty sure, sorry, I didn't record the talk) echoed the claim found on the White House page linked above rationalizing this whole effort: that "1 in 5" young college women "will be a victim of sexual assault during college." This is widely repeated in feminist circles as a fact, but anyone who has a mind to be skeptical should read this City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald. She thinks it's a myth; I'm inclined to agree. Does the Administration really need to justify their regulatory actions via dubious and scarifying propaganda?
Perhaps the most unintentionally incongruous comment came from Biden's informal shout-outs as he started his talk; one went to attendee Timothy Horrigan. This might have struck some as odd, because Timothy gained more than a bit of notoriety last year for fantasizing about the assassination of Sarah Palin. A bit of too-late advice to the Vice President: maybe Tim's not the right guy to rhetorically embrace at a violence-against-women event.