Diversity in the marketplace of ideas

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 8, 2009, 5:50 PM | comments: 1

I was out riding the bicycle today, thinking about random stuff, including my last post about the bizarre protest of Obama's speech to kids. All of a sudden, I thought back to college, in my newspaper column writing days. It's funny how having a week to think about stuff made writing better before the Intertubes. Anyway, I realized, I've seen this all before.

In fact, I've seen it twice. The first was in 1993, after Clinton had taken office. At that time, I was only just starting to take an interest in politics, and I thought Bush One was an average president who handled the Gulf War really well though his economic policy was suboptimal. Regardless, I was also surprised at the relative dismay and anger over everything the new president did (pole smoking interns not withstanding). While it was a change from 12 years of Republican presidency, the newness didn't seem destined to end the world.

We saw it again in 2001 (before 9/11), when Dubya took office. In some ways it was even worse that time, not because of any specific policy, but because of the harsh divide and vocal noise by proponents of Bush and Gore, reflected by the split election. In retrospect, that's surprising, because the close election also demonstrated a great deal of indifference toward both candidates.

In both cases, there seemed to be a great deal of fear of change. The result wasn't debate, the result was an effort to simply squish any discussion at all. Some may blame the two-party system (and rightfully so), but I think more to the point it's just fear of change. Change makes people uncomfortable because disrupting the status quo could conceivably change the comfort you enjoy.

In the first example, what made the strange fear so apparent to me was going to a school that was relatively steep in Republican politics, particularly as they related to the various speakers that the school's poly-sci "center" or foundation or whatever invited. They had small, approval-only guest lists, so I didn't get to see Quayle, Thatcher or Powell, and it pissed me off to not get to see recent and relative historic figures. Naturally I channeled my annoyance into print.

My case was simply that as an institution of higher learning, learning only takes place when you can be exposed to a diverse set of ideas, data, theories, (beer) and such. Not only was Ashland's poly-sci effort a closed affair, but it was also completely lopsided. It's like the joke made with regards to liberal or conservative "think tanks." If you're really thinking, you can't start with a self-serving bias that leads you to the result you want to arrive at!

So back to the Obama school kid speech, last night's network news (ABC or CBS, I forget, maybe both) asked the protesting parents what it was they didn't want their kids to see or hear. Most had no answer, but one went off the deep end about socialist agendas and recruiting a new generation of Democrats. The guy's kid couldn't have been older than grade three, and I suspect the kid's only agenda was to pull hair at recess and maybe eat a little paste.

The reality is that, in the event Obama did have some agenda, and I find it completely asinine to suggest that he did beyond sending a "stay in school, do something for your country" message, what difference would it make? Exposing kids to as much information as possible, including elected officials of all political orientations, is a moral imperative. It's essential that they be engaged in a process that affects them and their future. That will only happen if they get to see it and talk about it. Let them see as many speeches and elected folks as possible. Let them talk about it. Kids are only stupid and uneducated if we try to filter and control everything they see. It's scary enough to see some 20-somethings incapable of leading a post-school life, and I just assume we give them as many chances as possible to think on their feet and make decisions on their own, even if it means making mistakes.

This is a real eye opener for me as a future parent. We've already talked about how we want our kid to be exposed to various religions and cultures. I also want the kid to understand as much about the world he or she lives in, whether it be the reason behind war in Israel or how to make a bird house or what a city manager government is or how to make a wicked risotto. The last thing on my agenda would ever be is trying to have the kid avoid hearing a speech by any president, even one with a funny name.


PKIDelirium, September 8, 2009, 7:03 PM #

"Most had no answer, but one went off the deep end about socialist agendas and recruiting a new generation of Democrats."

That's what pisses me off the most, the people that thing he's Hitler recruiting for the Hitler Youth or something like that.

And this quote from a news article:

"Upon arrival at the school, Obama's motorcade was greeted by a small band of protesters. One carried a sign exclaiming: "Mr. President, stay away from our kids.""

Seriously, WTF?

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