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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Eagle

Uncivil discourse

On the Right

Last Saturday, I had the unique opportunity to attend a mock caucus at American University, as part of the Department of Government's Advanced Studies in Campaign Management. The innocuous attempt at providing an educational experience - by simulating the Iowa Democratic caucuses - quickly turned into a shouting match between Democrats in the class and Republicans who, as a humorous novelty, supported Al Sharpton. "They're making a mockery out of the caucus!" shouted one participant who told me he was a life-long Democrat. He later got into a heated mano-a-mano argument with a classmate over an imaginary caucus. It was a somewhat surreal experience: we weren't in Iowa, and the so-called caucus was for kicks, not keeps. ÿ

This political vitriol is all too commonplace at AU, and recent events lend credence to this belief. A new columnist for the news Web site Benladner.com portrays both current and former members of student government in unflattering terms. His column's title of "Equal Opportunity Offender" suggests its mission is to offend, not inform. Margaret Cho's comedy routine last month in Bender Arena outraged conservatives, Catholics and pro-life students alike. During her skit, she pointed her middle finger to demonstrate how she felt about pro-life advocates. In 2002, the Arab Student Association invited Holocaust denier Israel Shamir to speak on campus. Despite the protest from Jewish student organizations, they did not rescind the invitation nor did they apologize for his incendiary speech. Last semester, a group of livid left-wing protestors stormed a College Republicans meeting to protest a conservative news journal, primarily because of its anti-feminist slant. Instead of engaging in debate, the rowdy group shouted their ideological opponents down and caused a ruckus that required Public Safety's intervention. ÿ

Perhaps students merely mimic the actions of their political role models. Just look at some non-fiction best-sellers over the last few months. Conservative polemicist Ann Coulter penned "Treason," a book that paints all Democrats as traitors to their country. Her liberal counterpart Al Franken responds by labeling prominent conservatives as "lying liars" in his best-selling sensationalistic book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them." (Meanwhile, journalistic bad-boy Bill O'Reilly is just "looking out for you" with his latest tome.) All the shrill rhetoric places screaming and soundbites at a premium while the level of reflection and intellect suffers. ÿ

In all honesty, I enjoy watching the verbal wrestling of the cable shout-fests. It's entertaining stuff. But when such contentiousness presents itself on campus, it's more disheartening. Students put on their political blinders, reciting the same hackneyed political slogans heard from their parents, friends or political talk shows. Many students have strong partisan ties, but when forced to defend or advocate certain positions, they come up empty-handed. Facts often become a nuisance. To be sure, some professors act counterproductively when they lob their own personal political beliefs in class - and it happens far too often. Studying at the university should be the time where students challenge old ideas and objectively pursue new knowledge. Instead, activism thrives on campus with slogans becoming substitutes for actual thought.ÿ

So as a service from your friendly campus columnist, here are three pieces of unsolicited advice - one apiece for students, professors and administrators. First, professors should challenge students to back up their points of view with facts instead of letting any opinion rest as fact. I took a history class last year on the Middle East - a contentious topic indeed - and the professor forced both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students to defend their viewpoints. I felt more comfortable in a class where polemic took a backseat to historical evidence and documented fact. ÿ

Second, the administration should encourage more independent media outlets to blossom by offering grants for students who start newspapers or opinion-journals. For such a political campus, there are too few sources for news and campus opinion. The upstart news website BenLadner.com illustrates how far a campus publication can go with limited funding and resources. The campus would benefit by having more publications with a multiplicity of viewpoints. Finally, students should think outside the box and read information from outside their comfort zone. I encourage liberals to check out the National Review and for conservatives to browse the New Republic - if only to understand the other side's point of view. ÿ

And for those who still are hungry for a partisan battle, the Campaign Management seminar will be back in full force next semester. If tensions flared for the mock primary, who knows what will be in store for the mock general election?


Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 



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