Saturday, February 05, 2005

The question of conservative guest speakers on campus.
"In defense of Lee Harvey Oswald" A thoughtful book defending private gun ownership

This issue has been floating around the Berkeley blogsphere for quite some time and I want to take a whack at putting this old dog out of it's misery. The questions: What type of guests should conservative groups bring on campus. How should liberals react. What should be done about people who wish to protest such speakers.

Let me tackle these in reverse order.

How should protesters act?
Protesters who simply want to voice their decent outside the venue should of course be allowed to do so. As long as they don't intimidate or physically prevent people from attending, or become a safety hazard, or hinder the speaker in any way, they should be provided all the liberty of women's health clinic protesters. Rabble-rousers who try to disrupt the event should be picked up by the police and escorted out of the building.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of my liberals (and conservative) readers are all with me at this point. There remains however, a tiny faction of backwards hunter-gathers on campus. They might argue they want some kind of “equal time” during the event and that they are justified in taking it by force if necessary. I almost don't want to bother refuting this since this minority in a minority in a minority constitutes a kind of living breathing straw-man of “the left”. It should be clear to anyone on campus that these people are a minority even in the Berkeley political scene and have less impact on Democratic politics than equally wacky white separatists do on Republican politics.

Let's run through this for mano's sake: Sure, fine. I'm not going to argue with you about what you're justified in doing. However, as a general rule, I'm going to support the state's power to maintain the (more or less) democratically defined order so long as that's in my interests.

We can run through all the other arguments that boil down to the perceived illegitimacy of the current state but they don't really even hint at a meta-argument that the state should not do all it is legally entitled to do to maintain order. If you think the state is wrong in preventing the ne'er-do-wells from voicing their views in that forum, and that they are justified in taking it by force then I can't see why you should expect someone who believes that the state is right to not also make the leap that it is justified in enforcing it's belief by force.

The second question: What type of guests should conservatives invite?
These answers should be clear: Conservatives should invite speakers that are interesting. If they only care to have speakers interesting to themselves then they are more than capable of deciding that without the help of a liberal like me. If they want to have a speaker who appeals to more than just the hard-core young Republican sect, they are going to have to understand the difference between controversial and interesting.

College Republicans seem to have great difficulty understanding this difference. Michelle Malkin is controversial. Michelle Malkin argues a topic from a fresh angle. Michelle Malkin is not an interesting speaker.

Let me apologize in advance for using former Young Republican ASUC senator Paul Lafata in this next example.

Let's say the Cal Democrats were to invite to speak on campus, a woman who had recently written a book explaining that we should kill and eat Paul Lafata and members of his immediate family. She is certainly controversial. Many people disagree with her. She is arguing a topic from a fresh and untried angle. I would not expect many people to go to this talk.

Arguments would break out over this controversial speaker. Republicans would shake their heads and argue that the Cal Dems should not have asked this woman to speak. Cal Dems shoot back that this is typical Republican close mindedness and anyways, how can you possibly judge her ideas when you haven't even read her 2000 page work: “How to serve Paul Lafata (and members of his immediate family)”.

The point is that if you want to attract liberals and moderate to a talk in Berkeley, you don't do so by inviting people who want to have a deep philosophical discussion about whether the government was justified in forcing my roommate's mom and grandparents to sell their possessions and relocate to an internment camp without trial. You can't expect liberals and moderate to take you seriously if you invite a speaker who wants to talk about whether blacks should receive reparations. (short answer: of course not) You have to pick subject which are not immediately clear to the other side.

If you want something interesting, steer clear of the Fox news set. Why not Milton Friedman? I'd go to see that. How about someone who wants to explain why the universal health care systems of other western countries seems to work so much better than ours? Why not someone who wants to discuss why abstinence only sex ed should be supported despite lack of effectiveness?

Yes, now I'm just being a jerk. But the point is that if you want to engage anyone other than the inner cadre of young Republicans you are going to have to do so in the fruitful areas of political unclaimed ground. If you want to discuss why the president should be allowed to strip US citizens of their citizenship and rights, torture them, and imprison them for life without trial you are welcome to do so. Just don't expect regular people to go. And don't expect me to be sympathetic when you complain about Americans' close mindedness.

The last question is how should liberals react?
Answer: go to the interesting talks and ignore the Fox news set, starving them of the publicity they need to sell their books. If the Young Republicans invite someone really over the top (like Michelle Malkin, or the reanimated brain of Hitler) perhaps a counter speaker could be arranged at a different location. Anything should be done except for loud protests at the site of the talk. Those accomplish nothing but making everyone feel better about themselves (protesters and Republicans included).

If I were in charge of the counter Malkin thing, I would have had activists fan out in front of the venue and politely offer flyers to people attending which explained the poor scholarship in Malkins book perhaps with attached stories about Americans' experiences at the camps.

UPDATE: Added funnier alternate title.


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