Thought Repressive, Narrow Minded Liberals

Newt Gingrich, the Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives (1995-98) visited Burlington on October 6th, and spoke at Ira Allen Chapel. As many students know, a chance to hear such a distinguished politician and former Time magazine Person of the Year doesn’t occur very often at UVM. Heading into the event, I was well aware there would be controversy-I had seen the numerous signs on campus labeling him a racist, sexist and homophobe though it’s curious that none of the quotes on the posters had context or dates ascribed to them. To have someone like Mr. Gingrich on our campus is, among other things, a great opportunity to learn something about our political system. His stated topic was “Patriotic Stewardship” and I figured that with his 25+ years of public service, Mr. Gingrich’s comments would be relevant and interesting. Not everyone felt this way. When I arrived I saw a congregation of approximately 20 people standing outside with placards, while a few others bellowed unintelligible rants. I took some time to read the signs; many of them were crude epithets attacking President Bush. I thought to myself “why would they assume that just because he is conservative that he unquestioningly supports the President”, and “how are a statements like ‘F**k Bush’ and ‘Bush: Motherf**ker’ at all relevant in this context?” How do supposed liberals who so often advocate open-mindedness and rights of the minority justify this knee-jerk reaction to anything remotely constituting the other side of a two-way spectrum? Everywhere you look around UVM you are surrounded by liberals pressing their ideals: outside the Bailey/Howe library, on bulletin boards or even in the classroom. It seems congruent that diversity (one of the main tenants that they preach) would be adhered to sternly in the face of a different viewpoint such as this. Unfortunately the reception given to this speaker is not an isolated incident. Each one of the nationally prominent writers and thinkers who represent the right that have come to Burlington has been greeted in similar fashion. These include Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, best-selling author and speaker Dinesh D’Souza, and Middle East expert Daniel Pipes. The talk itself was on a topic far from Mr. Gingrich’s idea of “Patriotic Stewardship.” Instead, he outlined the problems which he sees in the current healthcare system. His concern for the rising cost of healthcare has led him to establish The Center for Health Transformation, pushing his ideas for reform into action. He has collaborated prominently with Senator Hillary Clinton, who is every bit as much an icon of the political left as he is on the right, in order to seek a bi-partisan solution. The question section at the conclusion of the lecture was refreshingly civil. A few students tried to pigeon-hole him into stating controversial views on abortion and global warming. Their efforts were thwarted when his answers pleased most of the crowd and evaded the anticipated hard-line retorts. Perhaps some of those who boycotted the lecture itself, fearing nothing more than right wing-rants from Mr. Gingrich, would have been surprised to hear what he had to say. Unsurprisingly the media coverage was not favorable: the Champlain Channel reported 100 people in attendance while ticket sale reports place the number around 700. Most of the coverage went to the protesters and mentioned nothing of the contents of the speech or how the supporters felt. My concern here is the outright rejection of his, and all conservative views. This is not healthy for an open-minded college campus, and portrays us unfavorably in the national spotlight. When I and the rest of the nation read “Come tell Newt he is not wanted on our campus” on a poster, what’s heard is “we know we are right-end of discussion.”Is this the nature of a truly liberal campus? Is this what tolerance is all about?