At Rutgers University, President Obama gave a commencement speech in which he argued against the campus culture of “safe spaces” and suppression of politically incorrect speech.
If participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement. Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say—I believe that’s misguided. I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. I believe that’s misguided.
If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Make them defend their positions. If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words. And by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments. And maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything. And you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way, you win. And more importantly, our democracy wins.
This is all very nice, and it’s a reminder of the fact that Obama became president in part because he had something of the style of an old-fashioned “liberal,” straight out of a time-warp from the early 1960s. The downside (for the country; it was a big selling point for Democrats) is that he acted as if big-government regulations and the welfare state were still fresh, promising, totally untried ideas, which had never produced any big failures or negative consequences. The plus side is that he still seemed to believe in old “liberal” pieties about colorblind politics and running for office “as if race doesn’t matter.” Or, as in this case, the old liberal pieties about being open-minded and tolerant of opposing views.
This was never quite what it seemed. The guy who promised racial reconciliation was the also the guy whose spiritual mentor was Jeremiah Wright. But that is what made him such an irresistibly perfect candidate for today’s Democratic Party: he had one foot in idealistic old-fashioned “liberalism,” and one foot planted very firmly in the illiberal far Left. Just like the party he represents.
We can see that with these…