Those Crazy Kids

So much for youthful idealism:[W]hen told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.(...)

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.(...)

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.

While the current crop of younger votes has a distinct pro-Democratic partisan leaning, this study should be welcome news to conservatives about the next batch of younger voters. After all, Republicans favor censorship in larger numbers than Democrats:Chicago Tribune Poll conducted by Market Shares Corp. June 23-27, 2004. N=1,000 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (total sample).

"As you know, some news media content is editorial or opinion commentary critical of public figures and policies. Most media content is news stories about events happening locally, nationally or worldwide. Thinking first about news stories: During a time of war, should the media be allowed to publish or broadcast news stories which suggest the war is not going well, or should they not be allowed to do so?"

      Should Be Allowed    Should Not	Margin
Reps	   68		   28		  +40
Dems	   82		   15		  +67
Inds	   76		   18		  +58
"How about editorial or opinion commentary? During a time of war, should the media be allowed to publish or broadcast editorials or opinion commentary critical of how the war is being handled, or should they not be allowed to do so?"
      Should Be Allowed    Should Not	Margin
Reps	   68		   30		  +38
Dems	   84		   13		  +71
Inds	   78		   18		  +60
Remember--only 30% of the party of civil rights openly admits to wanting to make dissent illegal in a time of war.

Paradigmatic Conservatism

For conservatives, it is necessary to believe that liberals, lefties and communists dominate academia, since academia is one of the four pillars of the Great Backlash narrative that postulates an undemocratic "liberal elite." According to conservatives, by dominating four institutions, the news media, the entertainment industry, the courts (judges and lawyers) and academia, the "liberal elite" dominates culture and oppresses the American, the common, the humble and the conservative in so doing. This narrative forms the core of both contemporary conservative ideology, and contemporary conservative self-image. Were conservatives to come to a realization that liberals do not dominate academia, they would face a crisis in worldview akin to what they experienced on September 11th, 2001 (and no, I am not exaggerating). Thus, it is necessary for conservatives to believe that liberals dominate academia, whether or not liberals actually do so.

The reality, of course, is quite different. At least among student political groups, conservatives are crushing their liberal counterparts:

The campus Left, which is still organized for the most part by students and community activists, increasingly finds itself facing off against seasoned conservative strategists. And while progressive student groups are mostly self-funded, by the mid-1990s roughly $20 million dollars were being pumped into the campus Right annually, according to People for the American Way.

That money and expertise is directed at four distinct goals: training conservative campus activists; supporting right-wing student publications; indoctrinating the next generation of culture warriors; and demonstrating the liberal academic "bias" that justifies many conservatives' reflexive anti-intellectualism.

Morton Blackwell, the treasurer of Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, understands the value of those efforts. The long-time GOP activist and one-time Reagan advisor has been fighting the campus wars for four decades. Currently, he's president of the Leadership Institute, which trains, supports and does public relations for 213 conservative student groups nationwide. If you want to fight the Left on your campus, the Leadership Institute is one-stop shopping - they'll provide you with conservative guest speakers, help starting a conservative newspaper, and training in how to win campus elections.(...)

These organizations, along with others like the National Association of Scholars and Students for Academic Freedom, serve as ready sources of materials, skills and support for young conservative activists. What it adds up to is that while progressive students organize around a multitude of specific issues like sweatshop labor or affirmative action, conservatives have launched a coordinated, nationwide movement with a single goal: defeating campus liberalism itself.

Reality has little do with the Great Backlash narrative, however. Even though big business in pumping tens of millions of dollars annually into conservative student groups and grooming young conservatives in ways that the campus left cannot even really hope to match anytime soon, conservatives have a now accepted, anti-scientific means of "proving" their Great Backlash claims: the plent-E-plaint. The plent-E-plaint is a series of anecdotes, always told from the conservative perspective that, when compiled into as large a list as possible, purport to demonstrate a Great Backlash proposition. This is a perfect example: When Christian students at Indian River Community College asked to host a screening of "The Passion of the Christ," administrators at first rejected the idea because of the film's R rating.

At the campus theater weeks later, however, another student performed a monologue in which she described performing sexual acts before the image of Jesus.

"That hurt, that shocked and I did take that kinda offensive," said Christina Koshi, a member of Indian River's Christian student fellowship.

Demarr Bell, another member of the group, said he thinks it is a case of discrimination against Christians.

College administrators say there was no discrimination; they simply didn't know about the monologue, which they will now investigate.

Conservatives Suppressed

David French, whose nonpartisan group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, monitors free speech on campuses, says conservatives are systematically suppressed and censored.

"The universities have been so captured by the left point of view, that you're going to get more political and intellectual diversity at your average suburban mega-church than you are at an elite university," said French.

Students are speaking out at institutions ranging from Columbia University -- where Jewish students complain about harassment from pro-Palestinian professors -- to Foothill College in California -- where Ahmad al-Qloushi says he was told by his American government professor to get psychotherapy after refusing to write an essay criticizing the Constitution.

"I was attacked and intimidated because I love America," al-Qloushi said.

Conservatives have responded with Web sites where students can name and shame professors, and they also spearheaded an effort to pass an academic bill of rights, outlawing what they call "in-class indoctrination."

This article, which ran last night on ABC World News, the same network that recently banned a liberal group from running an advertisement critical of Bush's tort reform plan, is remarkable. It is a perfect, paradigmatic example of contemporary conservatism in action. No studies are cited--only a series of anecdotes that supposedly show a pattern. For every anecdote, no liberals are quoted--we only hear the conservative point of view for every incident in the plent-E-plaint. No liberals are given direct quotes in the article--it is entirely dominated by conservatives. For that matter, no college professors are given direct quotes in the article (although one administrator is, and he sides with the thrust of the piece). Conservative claims are backed by a supposedly "non-partisan" organization that mysteriously sounds as though it was simply reading from a conservative press release. No mention of the irony of ABC running a piece about conservatives being "suppressed" when, on the same day they ran the article, they refused to run a television ad by a progressive group. No mention of the millions of dollars that support the conservative groups who are supposedly being suppressed, and how that money is intentionally used as a means of pushing stories such as this one onto outlets such as ABC News.

If you ever needed a perfect example of how contemporary conservatism works, this is it. This is a perfect example of how the Republican Noise Machine, which has a significant campus operation, is able to push the Great Backlash narrative onto the national stage without a shred of scientific evidence, opposing points of view, or acknowledgment of the existence of the Republican Noise Machine appearing anywhere in the article. The only thing that could make this piece even better is if conservatives everywhere began decrying its liberal bias. I bet they have already started doing so.

Cass Sunstein and FDR's Four Freedoms

I don't mean this as an attempt to preempt the book club discussion that will occur on Cass Sunstein's "The Second Bill of Rights" that should be occurring rather shortly - indeed, quite the opposite. I'm posting here to highly encourage you to buy/read/skim/whatever what is clear to me - after 5 pages of reading - a very, very important book. I've been harping on the definition of the word "freedom" and why I think liberal "freedom" is infinetly superior to conservative definitions of "freedom," and whats more, I think is a more saleable, widely popular notion IF IT IS PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD AND CLEARLY EXPRESSED. (which it is, unfortunately, not). Here's why.

To quote Sunstein from page 2 of his book:

Roosevelt's (FDR's) emphasis on freedom should be underlined. He was committed to free markets, free enterprise, and private ownership of property. He was not an egalitarian. While he insisted that the wealthiest members of society should bear a proportionately higher tax burden, and while he sought a decent floor for those at the bottom, he did not seek anything like economic inequality.  He believed in individualism. It was freedom, not eqaulity, that motivated the second bill of rights. Roosevelt contended that people who live in want are not really free. And he believed want is not inevitable. He saw it as a product of conscious social choices that could be counteracted by well-functioning institutions directed by a new conception of rights. In World War II, Roosevelt internationalized that belief, arguing that "security" required freedom everywhere in the world.

I'll pause to make two points here:

  1. economic freedom IS NOT coterminous with freedom more generalized. If one is in want, one is not really free - this point should be central to every political campaign a Democrat runs.
  2. I left the World War II line in for a reason. A major reason why I could not endorse the invasion of Iraq is that Bush's presidency shows he does not understand point 1, and whats more his approach (or at least his most important advisors) approach to foreign policy is fundamentally Hobbesian and driven by naked self-interest. (indeed, I would argue that almost everything the Bush administration - with strangely, the exception of Iraq, which I think has evolved in Bush's mind away from the original neocon vision - does is transparently so - more on this at a later date).

There's more...

Regulating Academia

Larry Mumper, a state Senator from Ohio, is afraid of college professors: Mumper, a Republican, said many professors undermine the values of their students because "80 percent or so of them (professors) are Democrats, liberals or socialists or card-carrying Communists" who attempt to indoctrinate students. So his solution, in typical conservative fashion, is to control them via legislative syllabus: Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose." Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time. I also wonder who gets to determine what a "legitimate pedagogical purpose is," and what "controversial subject matter is." Controversial subject matter is particularly dangerous to a college campus, because the last thing we need at institutions of higher learning is that no one is challenged by anything "controversial." After all, throughout history, new ideas have been welcomed with open arms.

(F) Faculty and instructors shall be free to pursue and discuss their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, but they shall make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written materials, Once again, I wonder who determines what "serious scholarly viewpoints" are. I mean, there is no mechanism for peer review in academic institutions now. I guess the state needs to step in to make sure that Mumper's views are deemed "serious" and "scholarly," because those evil liberals, in cahoots with the Communists, control academia entirely.

This bill has nothing to do with "academic freedom." This is, instead, an attempt by the government of Ohio to control the ideological content of what is being taught at its universities. Among other things, it also appears to be an attempt to destroy affirmative action and allow bogus Heritage foundation type scholarship to sit beside work that has been thoroughly peer reviewed.

It is amazing how often conservatives decry "relativists" until it is time for their views to undergo peer review. Then, all views must be presented side by side because, after all, everything is just opinion, and as valid as everything else, right?

Electoral College Reform

The 1994 Republican "Contract with America," was, actually, a fairly non-ideological document that contained mostly "reformer" proposals than conservative ones. Here it is what they promised to do on the first day of Congress:
  • FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
  • SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
  • THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
  • FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
  • FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
  • SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
  • SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
  • EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.
Most of this was Go-go stuff, with occasional smaller government proposals (very big in the 1990's, not so much now) tossed in for good measure. In other words, it was straight Perot. The various acts they proposed to vote on later were much more of an ideological nature, but they were all called "reform act,""restoration act,""take back act,""citizen act," etc. Everything they proposed was placed in a reformer frame.

The main lesson I think we need to learn from this is the power of a reform-looking platform to a large section of the electorate. I have argued in the past that reinstating the Fairness Doctrine should actually be a national issue for Democrats to campaign on in 2006. Representative Slaughter introduced legislation on this issue yesterday, and if it does not pass, this is a big reform issue we can really stick to Republicans.

Here is another reformer idea that might be popular: abolishing the Electoral College.

There's more...


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