Rove was Wrong(ed)

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Cade Belisle/Collegian

“The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do,” so said the anti-gay activist Ryan Sorba at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after hecklers interrupted his speech with boos and jeers. After walking up to the podium, Sorba condemned CPAC for bringing the LGBT organization GOProud to the conference. He then presented an argument against LGBT civil rights, identified an audience member as his enemy, uttered the aforementioned words about Smith College queer protesters and finally stepped off the stage. Sorba was referring to his 2008 presentation at Smith College, where he promoted his still unpublished book, “The Born Gay Hoax.” Sorba laid out his anti-gay argument at the college while queer protesters banged on cowbells and called him a “born-this-way bigot” from the open windows.

Three years later, protesters lined up outside of the UMass Student Union. The UMass Republican Club and the Smith College Republicans paid $15,000 to hear Karl Rove speak on April 9. Rove served under the Bush administration as the president’s senior adviser and deputy chief of staff. President George W. Bush referred to him as the “architect” for creating his campaign platform and for strategizing the administration’s fundraising efforts. Rove later co-designed the White House Iraq Group’s strategies for convincing the American public to favor a 2003 invasion of Iraq. After Rove began speaking in the Student Union, two audience members stood up and interrupted, calling Rove a “murderer and terrorist.” They were soon escorted from the room, still yelling and name calling.

I’m not sure that the hecklers from Smith College and UMass changed many people’s minds on those days. I’m not here to present the limitations of free speech and the legality of heckling. I’m not going to get into the painfully long history of our First Amendment freedoms. I’m simply here to recommend the most effective way to change someone’s opinions: civil discourse. Civil discourse takes place when two opposing parties respectfully exchange viewpoints in a dialogue. When a person presents and explains an argument before their opponent chooses a premise to refute, civil discourse is taking place. Point, counter-point. No name calling at Rove or Sorba is necessary, nor is any banging on cowbells required.

Recall a time when your political views were changed. I can recall the moments in which my stances on gun control, the role of government and individual rights altered. I can only recall arguments changing my mind – never shouts or picket signs. Wearing a dollar bill costume outside of the Rove forum certainly raises awareness that something is afoot with the man’s views, and standing up to scream at Sorba for supposedly being a homophobic bigot similarly plants doubts in the minds of audience members, but these tactics fail to present clear arguments against the speaker’s views.

I would have rather seen a person calmly walk up to a microphone during Rove’s Q&A session and deliver a dismissive, reasoned argument against one of Rove’s claims. To point out a logical flaw in an argument and watch the presenter squirm for a few seconds is worth so much more than screaming and interrupting the talk. Shouting at an opponent is as effective as staking a political sign on your front lawn is; neither parties exchange opinions and resentment only grows.

Both parties at the 2008 Smith College presentation, Sorba and his queer protesters, disagreed with each other’s arguments. I, too, disagree with the views of Sorba. I can easily point to reputable evidence to refute his claim that homosexuality is a choice grounded in violence and a history of being molested. The more I investigate his opinions, the more I dislike his poorly grounded beliefs. I detest the way he compares homosexuality to sports and hobbies, rejects the legitimacy of those identifying as gay, and refers to homosexuality as sodomy and a disorder of the soul. But I would rather have refuted his flawed reasoning at a follow-up Q&A session than have obnoxiously banged cowbells outside the windows of the lecture hall. Banging cowbells only drowns out undecided audience members’ opportunity to hear his absurd arguments.

After some amateur research via Google, I already suspect that I wouldn’t invite Rove to my next dinner party (though I’d rather have him over than I would Sorba). I’m not sure that I’d welcome the following statement over Chardonnay and buttered salmon: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans … unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” Cheers? Not over my candle-lit dinner table. I might find myself choking over steamed spinach at Rove’s suggestion of starting a near $1 trillion war that may result in as many as 132,572 civilian deaths. But calling Rove a murderer, terrorist, idiot and opponent of education at this hypothetical dinner party would only incite hatred between the two of us. There’d be no chance of even slightly altering our viewpoints. If Sorba snuck his way onto the guest list, I also wouldn’t accomplish much by screaming at the man after hearing him rant about the sport of being gay. So please, rude interrupters, keep your voices down at these lectures. Allow those unfamiliar with a presenter’s arguments to listen. You may think these arguments are ridiculous – they indeed may be ridiculous – but at least allow the speaker to present and explain his or her argument. You may have thought you were in the right for interrupting, but I think that preventing civil discourse from taking place puts you in the wrong.

Brandon Sides is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].