“This is New York City!” Joe Scarborough exclaimed in fake shock this morning when opening up the topic of Hamilton‘s cast lecture at Mike Pence on today’s Morning Joe. “I thought people in the flyover space were supposed to be really closed-minded.” Everyone on the panel agreed that the scene was at the very least unfortunate, but former DNC chair and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell went a step further. He called it “just awful,” and said, “There have to be limits”:
“It was not a good night,” Brzezinski said after describing the events, adding it was “the wrong thing to do.”
Former Democratic National Committee chairman and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell agreed.
“Absolutely,” Rendell said. “There have to be limits. Public officials have to have some space that’s off-limits.”
Scarborough noted that he attends Bruce Springsteen concerts, and “The Boss” often talks politics on the stage but doesn’t single out people in the crowd.
“There are so many ways they could have done it—especially when you’re bringing your kids,” Scarborough said.
“Just awful,” Rendell muttered. “If they want to hold a press conference and deliver a message to the president or vice-president, or hand him a letter, but that …. awful.”
No one on the panel seems particularly inclined to defend the Hamilton cast regardless of political orientation. Mika Brzezinski called the stage lecture “the wrong thing,” while Mark Halperin and Robert Costa refrain from comment. Rendell has personal experience with this kind of public shaming, offering an anecdote from his own career when he thought attending a sporting event gave him an opportunity to take a break from politics. The scoreboard operator thought differently, which is why Rendell tells the audience that there should be “limits,” to which Scarborough agrees.
Far be it from me to break up the consensus, but I’d disagree in part from Rendell’s observation here. The issue at hand isn’t whether anyone had the right to do this — they obviously do — or even whether public political protest is appropriate in the theater. That has a long tradition going all the way back to the origins of the theater. Joe gets closer to the real point when he argues that singling someone out in the crowd is the problem, but even that still partially misses the mark.
The issue at hand is that, like the scoreboard operator in Rendell’s experience, the cast of Hamilton scored cheap shots at someone who didn’t get an opportunity to respond. Had they invited Pence up to the stage to offer a response, that might have made the difference. But the cast didn’t want to give up their privileged perch; they wanted to lecture Pence but didn’t have the guts to actually engage in a debate. They knew that their audience would cheer them on as long as they didn’t have to offer an intellectual defense of their statement under fire.
That said, I don’t think that politicians of either party need any more safe spaces, especially in public. Part of the public trust in self-governance is knowing you have to go out amongst the people, and that the people have the right to tell you how they feel about your actions. As Pence himself told his daughter about the scattered boos, “That’s what freedom sounds like.” But they should at least have an opportunity to respond on an equal footing, and perhaps expect to wait until they actually take office to experience such pontificating about their work. That’s what makes this protest by the cast such a jerk move, and why most Americans — whose basic sense of fairness runs independently of partisan leanings — see it as such.