Rebecca Walsh: Politeness prevails on the big day
PROVO - Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Utah was cushioned, disinfected and hermetically sealed.
Nice was everywhere Thursday:
Brigham Young University's College Democrats "protested" silently and then dispersed before the vice president could see them. The Alumni Association put goodie bags with pretzels and the university's famous mint brownies under each of the 20,000 seats in the Marriott Center. A wholesome "road show" of football highlights, a cappella singers and modestly-dressed dancers entertained the restless crowd.
And when Cheney finally arrived, the 6,300 graduates and their families gave the veep a louder whoop than LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Even Cheney was on his best behavior - cracking inside jokes about the "Wilk" and BYU's ranking as the "stone-cold soberest" campus in the country, noting his wife Lynne's Mormon ancestry and delivering a commencement speech full of mildly inspiring little nothings. Iraq never came up and Rumsfeld and Bush were simply two bosses who turned his life in a different direction.
"America is still the country of a second chance," Cheney said. "Most of us end up needing one."
It would have been bad form to snarl about politics after receiving an honorary doctorate for public service in a hail of flashbulbs.
BYU's culture of courtesy permeated the day - from streetside protests to the pomp in the basketball arena. At a place where YouTube is blocked on campus computers and student dancers put full-body unitards under skimpy tropical dancing costumes, you wouldn't expect anything less.
"I know what a protest is supposed to look like," said Diane Bailey, president of BYU's College Democrats. "I know that won't work here."
Instead of allowing the raucous ranting and raving that accompanies most anti-war rallies, Bailey organized a quiet protest with blue-and-white dove cutouts and signs that said, "Congrats, grads" and "Go forth and establish peace."
A petite blue-eyed blonde who has trouble getting to a second date because of her politics, Bailey turned down a request from "The Daily Show" for a field report, worried the show's producers would make fun of her school or her faith. She leaves today for an internship in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. But Thursday, she led 100 protesters in a rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" before sending them off to listen to the vice president and Ralph Nader.
A few hecklers yelling, "I like Dick," or "I hate Dick," was as bad as it got.
Still, graduate Ashley Moon was irritated. "It kind of puts a damper on things," she said. "They just need to be happy for those of us who are graduating and show some respect for the leaders of our country."
But her dad, Jim, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, shrugged. "For this university to have these protests is a little unusual," he said. "It's America."
Or something like it.
In the end, polite prevailed, just as you'd expect at BYU.