Calling for a Change in Political Discourse

Todd Akin is an idiot.

I just want to be clear about this fact at the outset of my article. Todd Akin is an idiot. It bears repeating, like a little mantra of “what not to say when running for Senate.” His comments about “legitimate rape” were both erroneous and reprehensible. They alienated those women who were victims of rape and feared becoming pregnant with the rapist’s child. I’m glad that he issued a public apology, but it came about two days too late.

Unfortunately, leftists and Democrats have seized the candidate’s comments as election-year political fodder. Rather than merely calling for apology and/or censure, the Democrats have elected to paint a portrait of Republicans as being rape-endorsing misogynists.

Of course, it’s fair to politicize the comments, to an extent. The guy is, after all, running for office. For example, one of the first things I thought after reading about the comments was that he had just single-handedly thrown away a Republican Senate majority. Anything a politician says will have a political effect.

On the other hand, trying to take a single person’s comments — comments that he later admitted were ignorant and incorrect — and apply them to every member of a group in order to demonize a political opposition is irresponsible, not to mention inaccurate. As a Republican (not a good Republican, but one all the same), it infuriates me whenever some Democrat tries to go on some rant about how Republicans all hate women. They try to paint themselves as these protectors of a politically slighted group against the old Republican men, but it’s a lie on its face. A brief examination of some prominent Democratic politicians and their relationships with women would reveal some unsettling truths (Republicans are no saints, either, to be fair).

As much as politicians try, you can’t pick out a single person at your convenience and pretend that everyone in a given group is represented by them. Otherwise, it would do well for Republicans to remind their Democratic opponents that the early figures of the Democratic Party were avid supporters of slavery and were, in fact, willing to go to war to continue to enslave their fellow men. By the logic used against the Republicans singling out Akin as their sole representative, all Democrats would be supporters of slavery. But let’s continue to debunk this logic: Is the Westboro Baptist Church representative of Christians? Or al-Qaeda of Muslims? I think not. Is the steroid use of Alex Rodriguez emblematic of baseball players, or the attitude problems of Terrell Owens of wide receivers? The perpetuation of stereotypes is, at least in theory, something that the Democrats oppose.

At the same time, it does no good to pick out a single phrase of your opponent and apply it to every member of his party unless you’re willing to stand up to the same scrutiny. Not every Democrat is a business-hating socialist like Elizabeth Warren (someone, please, tell her the government didn’t build Harvard). Similarly, the Democrats selected former President Bill Clinton as their convention’s keynote speaker; is it fair for them to assume that he now knows what the definition of “is”, is?

All of this, though, is just a microcosm of the larger issue: most people set up a straw man of their opponent and demonize him instead of dealing with what he actually says or stands for. This refusal to confront the issues pervades nearly all political speech. This isn’t something that either Democrats or Republicans, or any other group, is innocent of.

Amherst students, unfortunately, are no different than the general public, and they often tend to be worse in this area. I wrote an article about abortion last year (which was apparently even spoken of in Shanghai), but rather than engage in a robust discussion of my points and contentions, most of those who responded resorted to spammy name-calling and ad hominem attacks. That’s one of the reasons why I won’t be viewing any online comments this year (if you want to say something, email me or write an article).

It’s bad that politicians and their supporters engage in that kind of political “speech,” but Amherst is supposed to be a better place, a higher place. The whole point of a liberal arts education is to pull your mind through various disciplines, to teach you how to think. As students, we’re supposed to be grappling with a vast collection of new thoughts and ideas — especially those we disagree with. As Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Anything less is an abrogation of our charter as a college; it’s throwing away the potential of a time in such a strange place as Amherst, where we spend four years surrounded by a diverse group of our peers in a small community.

For many of you, my column has been and will be an unwelcome intrusion into the harmonious liberalism of the College, or of some idealized world where serious conservatives don’t exist. To that I say: good. That’s the whole point of this place. So I plead with you, read my stuff. Confront my thoughts. Confront your own preconceived notions. And let’s get on with this whole business of learning, because, last I checked, that’s what we’re all here for (no, first-years, orientation is not college).

Otherwise, one day, you’ll sound as ignorant as Todd Akin, and it’ll be your own fault.