The last laugh

That Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a real cutup. The Iranian president had a hostile crowd at Columbia University laughing and applauding Monday during a controversial appearance that prompted an outcry from thousands of protesters and attracted bipartisan criticism from presidential candidates. Of course, Ahmadinejad’s audience was mostly laughing at him rather than with him.

New York officials were outraged that the university provided a forum for Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who has called for the destruction of Israel and is titular head of a country known to sponsor terrorism and aid insurgents in Iraq. They weren’t alone. Democratic candidate Barack Obama made the rather contradictory statement that he wouldn’t have invited Ahmadinejad to speak if he were president of Columbia, even though he has said he would personally meet with the man if elected president of the United States. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has started airing a campaign commercial decrying Ahmadinejad’s visit. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) attacked Columbia for handing Ahmadinejad a microphone.

These critics not only disrespect such core American principles as academic freedom and freedom of speech, they disrespect the intelligence of Ahmadinejad’s audience. It isn’t likely that many were swayed by his wild-eyed questioning of the facts of the Holocaust or who was really behind the 9/11 attacks. The biggest laugh of the afternoon came when, in response to a question about the Iranian regime’s brutal treatment of homosexuals (a crime punishable by death), Ahmadinejad remarked, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” He also declared that “women in Iran have the highest level of freedom” even though they are forbidden from such basic social activities as attending soccer games, and said “we are friends with the Jewish people” while attributing nearly all the world’s ills to Jews. It’s hard to believe that anyone with a third-grade education would find him convincing.

In 1939, a journalist named Alan Cranston was outraged by a sanitized English-language translation of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” so he edited his own abridged version that bared the German dictator’s sinister soul. Cranston, who later became California’s longest-serving Democratic senator, understood something that Obama, Romney, McConnell et al do not: The best way to discredit a tyrant is to let him do it himself, in his own poisonous words.