On politics, we’re all more than our T-shirts

According to Keith Urbahn (“At Yale, wearing politics on my (right) sleeve,” 10/26), campus liberals are closed-minded, over-privileged Yalies who, given their “unhealthy, elitist arrogance,” could not possibly be expected to engage in a productive dialogue with people whose political views oppose their own.

So Keith, what’s your excuse?

Urbahn’s recounting of his one-day “social experiment” brings into sharp relief the problems that American political discourse currently faces. His column — peppered with such choice descriptions as “intellectual heirs of militant Marxism” and “incorrigible, deluded leftists” — does nothing whatsoever to break down the “warped stereotype of a Republican” to which he takes such offense. Rather than taking the opportunity of his experiment to raise real questions about the type of one-sided conversation he believes pervade this campus, he falls into the same pattern he so vehemently condemns, choosing inflammatory rhetoric over substantive fact and writing off his opponents before he ever talks to them.

Personally, I’m no more interested in discussing my politics with someone who labels me an “incorrigible, deluded leftist” than I imagine Urbahn is with someone who assumes that he is a “gay-bashing, right-wing Christian fundamentalist.” Sadly, however, such is the current state of most political commentary and argument in this country. Writers, bloggers and radio talk-show hosts all take their cues from each other and employ the most totalizing and demeaning language they can muster to discredit the opposition. Facts fall by the wayside in the interest of the rant; conversation is incinerated in favor of a hearty “Shut up!” In this universe, liberals are Saddam-loving commie peaceniks, and conservatives are gun-wielding racist wackos. Each group believes that the other’s grip on reality is tenuous at best, and each complains loudly and frequently about how they are marginalized by the all-powerful other side.

Case in point: Urbahn’s denigration of oblivious “liberals” — a term we can only assume refers to everyone who doesn’t support Bush’s re-election — begs the question of what elite university, exactly, Urbahn himself attends. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, Urbahn, like the liberals, is an insulated Yale student. Urbahn, like the liberals, manages to take time out of his busy, insulated day to pontificate in the pages of the Yale Daily News. And the candidate Urbahn endorses, like the candidate the liberals endorse, graduated from the very same elitist, smoking-jacket wearing, sheltered-from-the-real-world university that, as stated, both he and the liberals attend. I think we can all agree that to criticize one’s ideological opponents for attending the same university as oneself is hardly a valid line of attack, so let’s move on.

But the problem is exactly that: We can’t move on. Somehow, despite the number of intelligent people who hold well-thought-out views on current events, we can’t seem to get beyond stereotypes, slogans and sound bites. Ultimately, the only thing Urbahn’s experiment proves is that he too can wear a T-shirt emblazoned with three words that sum up everything anyone would ever need to know about him.

I wish I could say that I had any idea why Urbahn supports the president. I would love to know. It’s a viewpoint I don’t understand, and one I would very much like to. Unfortunately, his column does not afford me that luxury. I learned nothing from it that I could not have gleaned from the nuanced polemics of Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly. Urbahn’s own ideas are lost among the quippy phrases and sweeping generalizations so favored by high-profile pundits. Only at the very end of his column does Urbahn break ranks and acknowledge the existence of a “passionate, intelligent liberal” who “forces us to think about our convictions and at times, to moderate them.” Sadly, he immediately negates this generous statement by hurrying to add that “most of the time, defending our beliefs only strengthens them and fuels our obstinacy.”

Obstinacy indeed. Urbahn’s closing comment rejects both the prospect of intelligent discourse and any possibility that differing opinions might not be mutually exclusive. Members of both the right and the left are far too quick to fall into this kind of ideological lockstep and as a result quickly become caricatures of themselves. Progressives on this campus write off conservatives without a second thought, while conservatives loudly relish their latest cause cZl?bre: their daily martyrdom in the battle against the liberal establishment. With enough repetition, these perceptions become reality, and our ability to deal with each other as individuals quickly evaporates.

I believe as much in the passionate, intelligent conservative as I do in the passionate, intelligent liberal. But until someone has the courage to speak from his heart instead of from the script, I will never get to meet one.



Casey Miner is a senior in Pierson College.

Comments