It was another sign of the underlying sanity of our nation’s college students and their parents when the Bush-bashing novelist/ideologue E.L. Doctorow was nearly booed offstage on Sunday when he turned his commencement speech at Hofstra University on Long Island into a political potshot-fest with the president as his prime target. Even Hofstra’s provost, Dr. Herman Berliner, agreed that the speech violated the unwritten rule that college commencement speeches should be nonpartisan, out of respect for the varying political views of the new graduates. “I cannot remember a commencement speech that was as divisive as this commencement speech was,” Berliner told Newsday.

You’d think that maybe someone in the press might agree with Berliner–and many of the assembled 1,300 Hofstra students and their parents who had to listen to Doctorow’s oral screed–that the 73-year-old writer is entitled to hold whatever views he likes but chose an inappropriate forum in which to express them.

But nooo–Doctorow is a media hero today, the star of a kissy-poo interview story by the Washington Post’s publishing-industry reporter Linton Weeks, who writes in cutesy-pie style that Doctorow “rankled some of the students and parents by speaking out against President Bush, saying that Bush is guilty of telling bad, untrue stories.” Yes, and then those students and their relatives were so mean! They wouldn’t let him speak!

Actually, Doctorow had called Bush a liar–on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for one thing. (Doctorow seemed to stretch the truth a bit himself on that one, for he told his audience that Bush had said that Saddam Hussein “was intending shortly to use [the WMDs] on us”–something I don’t recall Bush ever saying.) He also scolded Bush (Newsday reported) for handing out tax breaks to the rich, doing “a very poor job of combating terrorism” and allowing the government to subpoena libraries “to see what books you’ve been taking out.”

Not surprisingly, the working- and middle-class parents who had shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their children’s education at Hofstra and in some cases had traveled hundreds of miles to attend their graduations weren’t very happy about Doctorow’s insistence on politicizing the event. Newsday reported this comment from Bill Schmidt, 51, a retired New York City Police Department Captain: “To ruin my daughter’s graduation with politics is pathetic….”I think the president is doing the best he can” in the war against terrorism.

As might be expected, the Hofstra faculty just loved Doctorow’s speech and gave him a standing ovation. One professor even opined that the parents were the problem, not Doctorow. Newsday reported:  “‘I thought this was a totally appropriate place to talk about politics because that’s the world our students are entering,’ said sociology professor Cynthia Bogard. ‘I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model.'”

Doctorow, by the way, is the author of The Book of Daniel, a fictionalized version of the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whom Doctorow presents as a nice idealistic couple who were sent to the electric chair because they held left-of-center views and wanted to make the world a better place. Doctorow is apparently the last person on earth (especially now that the Kremlin archives on the pair are in the public domain) to think that the Rosenbergs were innocent of the charges of spying for the Soviet Union on which they were tried and convicted.

His latest collection of fiction, Sweet Land Stories, sounds as grimly ideological (and as heavy-handed) as The Book of Daniel. Weeks writes in the Washington Post:

“One story in the new collection, ‘Child, Dead, in the Rose Garden,’ is about arrogance of power in the White House.

“The daughter of a Texas tycoon who supports the country’s unnamed president tries to bring attention to bad policies by staging a mock crime at the White House. In one eloquent soliloquy, the daughter speaks out against those who run the country. ‘Oh Lord . . . they always win, don’t they. They are very skillful. It didn’t come out quite as we planned — we are such amateurs — but even if it had, I suppose they would have known how to handle it. I just thought maybe this could restore them, put them back among us. It would be a kind of shock treatment if they felt the connection, for even just a moment, that this had something to do with them, the gentlemen who run things.'”

Sounds like the plot is about how wonderful terrorists are. And how about that “unnamed president”? Wonder who that could be!