January 27, 2017

HAGOPIAN | Santorum in Perspective

Print More

If my time as a newspaper columnist has taught me anything, it’s that the written word is far from the best way to reach people. When I was hired by The Sun, my own arrogance allowed me to believe that I could be different from so-called “echo chamber” journalists. I told myself that I would aim my words not at those who already agreed with me, but at those who didn’t. Such a thing is easier said than done, however. Fundamental ideological differences, emotional reactions to the mention of certain issues and the inherent ambiguity of language are tough obstacles to overcome in a medium in which no clarification or follow-ups are possible. Every word becomes an appeal, the writing suffers and the message fails to resonate with people of either side. That’s why I wanted to try something different this week in my discussion of the Rick Santorum controversy. In November of last year, conservative politician and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke in Statler Auditorium. Remarks made by members of the audience, many of whom showed up to the event in protest of Santorum, have been a source of controversy on campus.  I will attempt to address one side of this controversy, then I will attempt to address the other. If you’ll indulge me…

First off, to my fellow progressives: students, professors, members of the Cornell Community. Brothers and sisters. I was with in Statler Auditorium during Mr. Santorum’s speech, and I can’t support what you did. Not because it was disrespectful, but because it was ineffective. Santorum said a number of things Wednesday night that were concerning at best and downright alarming at worst. He said that “the climate is always changing” when asked about global warming. He said that condemning all conversion therapy as fraudulent or abusive would be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” He advised anyone who suffers abuse at the hands of their church’s conversion therapist to “contact the authorities,” contradicting his earlier claims that there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state. He made dubious claims about “sociological data” that prove the importance of the nuclear family. (side note- this was the claim that enraged me the most because even if we assume that it is true, it blames homosexual couples for not overcoming obstacles that he himself wants to keep in their way. It’s hard to bring your kid to soccer practice when you have 5 o’clock conversion therapy.)

The narrative following Mr. Santorum’s appearance should be the centered around his disquieting remarks, not his ability to remain composed in the face of protesters. The fact of the matter is that the laughing, the interruptions and the yelling over each other made us look bad and him look good. Protests work by affecting the body politic. You and I may feel the unfairness of being told to respect a man who doesn’t respect us,but the people that our movements have to reach may not. Think of the famous protests throughout history: sit-ins, salt marches, theses nailed on doors. Not shouting matches. Meeting hatred and bigotry with focused, direct, dignified action may not be easy or fair, but it’s the only thing that works.

Now I wish to address my conservative readers: Cornell University College Republicans, Trump supporters, members of the Cornell Community. Brothers and sisters. I understand why you consider the Santorum protestors, and perhaps liberals in general, to be intolerant. If I were in your shoes, I would probably believe the same thing. Liberals do need to make some progress when it comes to empathizing with blue collar conservatives. If I were jobless, hungry and poor I wouldn’t be in a position to worry about the welfare of others. Now the fact of the matter is that there are groups of people in this country that, on aggregate, face more adversity than working class whites. But as Mr. Santorum rightly pointed out Wednesday night, you don’t compare yourself to faraway people you never see. You compare yourself to your neighbors.

I ask you now for the same empathy that you ask of us. When people feel compelled to shout their views during a speech, the question shouldn’t be “what makes them think they can be so disrespectful?” The question should be “why?” As a man in the Q&A session pointed out, we are afraid. Afraid for our health care, for our safety, for our way of life. And even if you believe our fears are unfounded, a moral person does not dismiss anyone’s fears. Rick Santorum, as a former senator and still-active figure in the United States government, should not write off the concerns of citizens that he himself represents. We are not obligated to respect him, but he is obligated to respect us. That is the double standard that comes with power.

 

3 thoughts on “HAGOPIAN | Santorum in Perspective

  1. you are right on both accounts, but stems from the family life that students come from. The parents tried to raise their family properly and other who do not have that situation are the disrespectful teach the good ones. I am a parent of student in I/C who disrespects my views and has resulted in a separation in our family, and what a such tragic. Education was to be smart and logical not lesser. Very sad in this world.
    Thank you
    Richard Ruckdeschel

  2. “Now the fact of the matter is that there are groups of people in this country that, on aggregate, face more adversity than working class whites.”

    The only people who suffer more than working class whites is working class minorities. I am a gay Jewish man, who comes from a wealthy background. I feel that minorities in wealth benefit the most from many policies aimed at ending racial, LGBT, and gender discrimination benefit those in wealth. In my opinion, the biggest lack of privilege comes from those who have a low income. Just my 2 cents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *