Following the grand tradition of only inviting left-leaning speakers, the GIC welcomed Tim Wise to speak on the evils of racism last week. Pegged as an “anti-racism” speaker, Wise ranted for an hour on why it is important to recognize racism for what it is and take the responsibility to stop it when it presents itself. In the words of Wise’s ideological companion, President Obama, “let me be clear,” I do not condone racism in any way and I support SLU’s efforts to solve such problems when they arise, but inviting Tim Wise to speak as an “anti-racism” speaker is not the solution. For an hour, Wise spun a narrative painting small government loving conservatives as racists and lovers of the 4th of July as ignorant. At a school that prides itself on promoting “inclusion,” I felt, as a conservative, nothing but excluded. Using Wise’s comments as a standard of reality, I am an ignorant, racist, white person who knows nothing about the country I love.
Throughout his speech, Tim Wise’s favorite target was the Tea Party. Actually, his real target was all conservatives, but he just grouped all right-thinking people together and slapped on the label “tea partier.” Wise insinuated that all people who believe it’s time to “take our country back” are 70 years old and believe that the President was born in Kenya. Unfortunately for Mr. Wise, the “birther” rumor was started by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the demographics of the Tea Party run parallel to the demographics of the entire country. During the 2008 campaign, Phil J. Berg, a lawyer acting on behalf of Clinton, filed Berg v. Obama, in which he claimed that the current president was not eligible to take office because he is not a “natural born citizen” (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2668306447838171173&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr). Although there are birthers in the Tea Party, the movement was started by a liberal politician as a campaign strategy and has since spread to influence minute portions of many diverse groups. Also, according to a recent Gallup poll, the Tea Party is fairly representative of America as a whole. Only 21% of the Tea Party is over 65, as compared to 20% of all U.S. adults. Twenty-nine percent of Tea Partiers and 27% of U.S. adults are between 50 and 64. The rest of the demographical comparisons between the Tea Party and America as a whole are just as similar and can be viewed at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/127181/tea-partiers-fairly-mainstream-demographics.aspx. Tim Wise’s claim that the average Tea Partier is a 70-year-old white man is a stereotype, and one from which he based many of his arguments. If nothing else, Wise was certainly not the most logical speaker I have heard. In addition to stereotyping a large group of people (which, by the way, is not a good example to set from an “anti-racism” speaker), Wise also used extreme quotes from two conservative commentators, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and applied those ideas to the entire conservative movement. For Mr. Wise’s information, the comments of two men cannot be taken as representative of an entire movement.
In another illogical move, Tim Wise attacked the conservative catch phrase “we want our country back.” Any rational thinker would know that this phrase is in reference to a desire to return to small-government principles. Apparently, Wise believes that conservatives want to take our country back to a specific time. This is perhaps one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. Even if conservatives wanted to “take the country back” to 1957, 1789, or any other year, it is again, in reference to the principles of the time, not the literal conditions. I got the impression that Wise assumes people who want to “take the country back” seek a complete restoration of society from a specific year in the past. Depending on the “year,” Wise assumes that conservatives want to see the return of slavery, racial segregation, or legal inequality. Again, this is absurd. I have heard many people who share my views speak of a desire to “return” to principles of small government, but never have I heard of a yen for the return of slavery. Although, returning to principles of small government seems like a pure pursuit, according to Tim Wise, it is really a desire to oppress minorities. According to Wise, it is impossible to detach small government rhetoric from racism because “people did not have a problem with big government until minorities were given benefits.” Excuse me? If I heard Wise correctly, because I claim to be a small-government conservative, I am a racist and seek to strip minorities of any sort of legal benefit. I am not sure I see the correlation between a political view on the size of government and racism. Statements like these did a great job at making me feel excluded at Tim Wise’s speech. It was not easy to agree with someone who calls your political ideology “racist,” especially when the same person is touted as being “anti-racist.”
Perhaps the greatest complaint I had against Tim Wise was his views on patriotism and the 4th of July. According to Wise, “we love to live in the past as long as the past feels good,” and this includes celebrating Independence Day. Yes, although, there is a grain of truth in his statement, the love Americans have for our country goes much deeper, especially on the 4th of July. Patriotic Americans love the country for her triumphs and for her faults. We love the principles of limited government, freedom, and hard work that constitute the American Dream, but we also remember the scars. In this country, nothing causes an American’s heart to swell more than overcoming adversity. Think the American Revolution or 1980 Miracle on Ice. We even look to our own failures as examples of overcoming the adversity of our own faults. Although slavery was a horrific time in our nation, we feel pride in the successes of the Abolitionist and, later, Civil Rights movements, and seek to overcome any inequality that still remains. This same principle is evident literally in our Constitution. It is generally agreed that Prohibition was not the greatest idea, and; therefore, it was eventually repealed. Although the 18th Amendment is not longer in use, it is still present in the Constitution. The 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, but it did not erase it from our memory. According to Tim Wise, patriotic Americans only respect our history because it “feels good,” but I disagree. Real patriotic Americans love our country, flaws and all. Unfortunately, Wise does not seem to agree with this position. Honestly, I sometimes got the impression that he was disgusted with the nation in which we live. Wise could not resist making a comment on one of the darkest times in our nation, 9/11 when he said that “banks have done more harm than the 9/11 attacks.” Although Wise was using this example to attack the banks in this country, it still came across as insensitive to an event which resulted in the deaths of 3000 people.
Personally, I have no preference if far-left speakers are invited to present on campus; I have the choice whether I want to attend or not. What I do have a problem with is while liberal speakers such as Tim Wise are allowed to speak; right leaning activists such as David Horowitz are specifically banned. A year ago, the administration barred conservative speaker David Horowitz from giving a speech entitled "An Evening with David Horowitz: Islamo-Fascism Awareness and Civil Rights" because they “expressed concern that the program in its current form could be viewed as attacking another faith and seeking to cause derision on campus” and requested a counter-speaker. The assertion that Horowitz would have “attacked another faith” and “caused derision” is absurd. His speech was not to be one of over-generalization like Tim Wise’s speech. Horowitz’s critiques are more focused on Islamic extremism as opposed to Muslims in general. Tim Wise, on the other hand, directed broad attacks at conservatives and tea partiers by citing very specific, extreme examples. Also, where was the Wise’s counter-speaker? Although his views are practically opposite those of Horowitz, Wise cannot certainly be described as less controversial, and thus, according to the restrictions set on his conservative counterpart, should have been given an opposing opinion to counter his statements. Not surprisingly, a conservative opinion was nowhere to be found. I am not asking for a ban on speaker with any opinions that differ from mine, nor am I asking SLU to fill a “quota” of conservative speakers. All I ask if for equal treatment for speakers of all political ideologies, and at a school that prides itself on a tough stance against prejudice and inequality, that should not be too much to ask.