ZELINSKY: Criticizing real Republicans

Occasionally, a columnist writes in these pages to refresh the campus’s political compass. He attempts to use the News to tack the ship of debate from reasoned discussion to hyperbole. This journalistic broadside goes down with a whimpering bang.

It looks like Yale has a new rhetorical helmsman — I might soon be out of a job. Unlike Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass that never points north, Scott Stern’s ’15 mental arrow sets unwavering new course: Republicans are crazy.

In his column “The Unnoticed Cain” Nov. 3, Stern made the outlandish claim that presidential hopeful Herman Cain “has been a major player for decades.” His proof: Cain ran for president in 2000, ran for Senate in 2004 and advocated against Clinton’s health care bill in the ’90s. QED: the Godfather of Pizza must be a key figure in the Republican Party, which party (he coyly implies) is nothing more than the collection of ill-spoken kooks and deep-dish chefs.

After contemplating this metric for what constitutes a “major player,” I feared for our national discourse. Stephen Colbert and Al Sharpton must dominate the political arena on the left. After all, they both ran for president four years apart, just like GOP standard-bearer Herman Cain.

Should you not get the irony, let me spell it out: Cain has never been nor will be a major player for Republicans. He is a media fad, a slice out of the oven about to cool.

But shoddy logic aside, Stern’s hyperbolic portrayal of the inner Republican Party raises an important question: Why do some at Yale selectively examine the loonies on the right, smearing that entire end of the political spectrum in the process? (And, don’t mistake me, I find Cain unfit for any office.)

One answer may be simple salaciousness. Herman Cain is a character, and characters make entertaining columns. Serious policy from former governors like Mitt Romney does not. Yet that easy explanation leaves some unaddressed issues on the cutting floor. After all, Stern only holds GOP candidates to the entertainment double standard. We would not expect him to make similar comments about the Democratic Party.

Another possible answer, closer to the truth: The perpetrators of “Republicans as dunces” message employ the classic straw man technique. They build up the weakest image of the right in order to knock down a house of cards. And so they focus on the Cains and the Palins to intentionally overshadow their actual opponents with brains — the Paul Ryans, the Eric Cantors, the Chris Christies.

Are there oddballs in the GOP, just as in political parties since time immemorial? Of course, and they should not be ignored. But pretending that Herman Cain represents a longtime force in conservative politics willfully bends reality into the fanciful.

This dishonest dialogue hurts our campus. If we demean Republicans, we make it harder to for a shy student to say, “I am not a registered Democrat,” when aldermanic canvassers sign them up to vote. That same student feels uncomfortable in dining halls or classes, when it appears that his friends refuse to address his ideas seriously. He either becomes apolitical or self-ostracized into the conservative echo chamber of a YPU party.

According to a News straw poll in 2008, as much as one-tenth of this campus chooses to affiliate with the GOP. That often-quiet 10 percent does not deserve belittlement. They merit treatment as political equals, and their opinions — classic federalism, limited government, et cetera — warrant serious debate, not smearing.

And so, a plea: Do not tolerate biased sloppiness in overemphasizing the GOP’s dirty laundry at the expense of actual critiques. Republicans at Yale have earned more respect than that. If you want to engage in useful debate, attack the politicians and students who advocate ideas, not the self-inflated blowfish who preen for attention.

Comments

  • penny_lane

    I agree with you, but I wouldn’t turn your back on Herman Cain. Remember that Barack Obama media-fadded his way into the White House…

  • s_13

    Two months before voting starts, Herman Cain leads most national polls. The claim that he “has never been or will be a major figure for Republicans” seems like a stretch to me, as does the attempt to dismiss his candidacy as “dirty laundry.”

    Cain is the Republican mainstream right now. I would be much more interested in a column discussing why this is so than in a column attempting to deny it.

  • River_Tam

    > Cain has never been nor will be a major player for Republicans. He is a media fad, a slice out of the oven about to cool.

    Nate Zelinsky is as crazy as the rest of them. In what world does Chris Christie have more brains than Herman Cain?

    The only question is why Zelinsky think Cain is “a character” who is “unfit for any office”, a “media fad”, and “a self-inflated blowfish” who “preens for attention”, and what he’s going to do in the fall when Cain is the VP nom on Romney’s ticket. Will he hypocritically vote for the man he thinks is unfit for any office? Or will he stand up and admit that he’s just annoyed that Cain is delaying “real Republicans” (like Romney) from getting the nomination.

    > Stephen Colbert and Al Sharpton must dominate the political arena on the left. After all, they both ran for president four years apart, just like GOP standard-bearer Herman Cain.

    Disingenuous, in that neither of them ever got out of low single digits, won a straw poll, or led the field for a day, let alone a month.

    > If we demean Republicans, we make it harder to for a shy student to say, “I am not a registered Democrat,”

    > That same student feels uncomfortable in dining halls or classes, when it appears that his friends refuse to address his ideas seriously.

    > That often-quiet 10 percent does not deserve belittlement.

    You’re playing the victim in such an unattractive way right now. Let the liberals complain about being “belittled”. Politics is all about belittling. Heck, you spend half this column belittling Cain without any substance behind your arrows. (unsubstantiated claims include: calling him (I repeat) “a character” who is “unfit for any office”, a “media fad”, and “a self-inflated blowfish” who “preens for attention”)

    > He either becomes apolitical or self-ostracized into the conservative echo chamber of a YPU party

    People on *both* sides of the fence join YPU parties because they like to be in echo chambers. End of story.

    > you want to engage in useful debate, attack the politicians and students who advocate ideas.

    This column is just a train-wreck and does not advocate ideas. I should have left it alone, I guess.

  • bcrosby

    Wow, I didn’t know I’d ever agree with River_Tam about a YDN column, but yeah, she’s right.

    Nate, like it or not, Sarah Palin WAS the vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party last election, and Herman Cain is currently leading in the polls. While you might be right that lots of liberals at Yale are perhaps overly dismissive of conservative politics, the current Republican Party gives them lots of reasons to be so. Let’s not kid ourselves: today’s Republican Party isn’t the Party of Lincoln or even the Party of Buckley; it’s a party teetering on the edge of an utterly inchoate, corporate-cash-driven right populism whose ideological energies are directed towards an idolization of a historically-false vision of the Founding Fathers and 1950s middle-class America, a jingoistic nationalism, and unquestioning opposition to government interference in the economic life of citizens.

    Basically, s_13 put it well: Cain is the Republican mainstream right now. I would be much more interested in a column discussing why this is so than in a column attempting to deny it.

    Moreover, if you think the fact that Cain is in the Republican mainstream is a problem (I agree!) but remain committed to the GOP, it seems to me that it would a much more effective use of your time to, rather than complaining about liberal attacks on the Republican Party (which, well, it’s politics – what do you expect?), actually try to change it, in whatever ways are available to you as an undergraduate at Yale.

  • estern123

    I may be the only one, but I find that Republicans at Yale have a tendency to play the victim. Just because you are outnumbered, does not mean you are belittled on every street corner. In my time here, I have yet to see marauding bands of Democrats pillaging the dorm rooms of Buckley Society members.

    We get it — you’re a conservative. Everyone is SOOO impressed.

  • Frashizzle

    I think that a critique that relies on name-calling is a train wreck. (Te he, do you see what I did there?).

  • Tan

    To be fair to Scott Stern, he wrote an appraising piece on John Bolton (Get Bolton in the race) a while ago. While I didn’t agree with it at all because I think Bolton is a fool, a demagogue, and an incredible douche, I’d say this shows that he doesn’t paint all Republicans with the same brush, nor does he commit himself to a blanket condemnation of them.

  • RexMottram08

    Muddled thinking, poor syntax, derivative topic

    C-

  • River_Tam

    > Just because you are outnumbered, does not mean you are belittled on every street corner.

    Well, not *every* street corner. But Republican ideas are dismissed out of hand as foolish, dangerous, and ridiculous and not debated seriously at Yale On that, Zelinsky and I agree.

    Whether or not it’s productive to whine about it in the pages of the YDN is another matter entirely.

  • SY

    Whether Cain is fit for any office, he may not be fit for president. WSJ editors are correct that he should have leaked the prior sexual settlements if they were isolated problems. Another woman made allegations today. What if we found out after he was nominated for VP? Men who make improper sexual advances do not do so to a couple of women over a year. It is a habit. We do not need another Clinton. Clinton worked out because he had eight years of apparent peace and prosperity. A discreet affair, I think, can be accepted, but frivilous sexual behavior disqualifies for a serious office in serious times.

  • silliwin01

    Captain Jack’s compass wasn’t precluded from pointing to the magnetic North; indeed, if the user, his heart’s sought for location, and the North magnetic pole were three points on one line, with the user’s desired destination between the user and the North magnetic pole, the compass would point north.

  • phantomllama

    Why does Zelinsky need to attack the YPU in every single column he writes?

    Zelinsky – there is no Buckley Program without the YPU. You are at best a minor subsidiary.

  • Tan

    silliwin01 is right even though he explains it wrong. There’s no need to complicate things. Basically it would point North if his heart’s desire happened to be to the North.

  • silliwin01

    I don’t believe I explained it wrong. Do enlighten por favor.

  • Tan

    hmm, actually it isn’t wrong, its just complicated, my bad.

  • silliwin01

    Thank you. I will concede it is complicated, though intentionally so.

  • River_Tam

    Great, now I want to watch Pirates of the Caribbean.