clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, April 24, 2003
Oh, and I had a letter in the Review this week, the Review being the ol' college paper. Here it is, in case it gets archived out:

To the Editors:

A few years back, Lawrence Summers visited Oberlin. His visit had been preceded by a slew of negative publicity about his pro-globalization stance, and as he took the podium in Finney Chapel to speak, a large banner was unfurled from the balcony and he was drowned out by the shouts of many students. When I asked some if they could please be quiet so we could at least hear what he had to say first, the response was, and I quote: “Uh, democracy?!”

Now, I confess I don’t know entirely what this meant, but I suppose it was pointing out our right to free speech. But this is indicative of the problems of the left. While it is true that we enjoy various rights, it might not be in the interests of the responsible citizen to exercise them all simultaneously, as the activists seemed to want to do. After all, the Constitution does not require us to speak, worship or congregate (or bear arms); it simply stipulates that we be allowed to if we so choose. And while I respect my fellow citizen’s choices, I do get the feeling sometimes that they might be more effective if they spoke softly on occasion, or even did not speak at all, since this is how politics sometimes operates, as opposed to talk shows on the Fox News Channel. That is to say: the left needs to choose between being right and being successful, because when you’re successful, you’re just not always going to be right. And that’s okay.

The left’s obsession with speech issues, recently highlighted here in the debate over the anti-Zionist (or, I guess, pro-racist) graffiti, seems strange in light of its interests. I think that at heart most on the left shares the same attitude about Israel — that it deserves to exist, but the policies of the Likud party are fundamentally unjust — and yet all involved scream at such a pitch that this consensus view slips through the cracks, and our Israel policy continues to be driven by the neo-conservative point of view. Take a gander at that movement: you don’t very often see Richard Pearle publicly dressing-down Donald Rumsfeld for using a term anathema to his ideology, yet we on the left seem obsessed with speech issues among ourselves, constantly debating not only who has the right to speak, but who feels comfortable speaking. This seems very, very strange to me when the people actually opposed to our interests think some of us should be taken off planes, kept from positions of authority, deported, jailed, etc., which seems a far more egregious act of silencing. Isn’t what they’re saying a more worthy object of criticism?

Some students will be graduating soon, and at that point they face a choice. They can continue within the activist culture that (regrettably) dominates the Oberlin political discourse, but they must recognize that this is a culture above all else, often more concerned with its own internal workings than with actually affecting the larger world. Or they can begin to fully participate in electoral politics, instead of screaming at people. It would be nice if the left was more interested in creating the good than simply criticizing the bad, and while I recognize that neither the Democrats nor the activists are really there yet, I think that with the help of some of our very smart Oberlin students — even ones who say confusing things to me in Finney Chapel — our nation can get a little closer to where it should be.

—Michael Barthel
OC ’01