On Wednesday, April 1, faculty and students protested the Mike Huckabee visit outside the BLC, in the rain. It was a protest against Huckabee’s beliefs. He opposes a woman’s right to choose, opposes gay rights and is anti-science. He supports torture, the death penalty, amending the Constitution and a flat tax. It was also a protest against the financial, ethical and pedagogical costs of bringing him to campus, which we believe outweigh the benefits. We were heartened by the support we received and not surprised by the verbal abuse at the rally and subsequent hate mail and crazed phone calls. What was unexpected was resistance to our protest by people who have been involved in protests in the past and who purport to disagree with Huckabee’s views. If I may, I’d like to take a moment to describe our stand and evaluate these reactions.
The benefits of having someone like Huckabee on campus appear to be as follows: by hearing other points of view, even or especially hateful ones, a person can learn more about positions different from one’s own, define one’s own beliefs more clearly and learn to articulate one’s ideas more clearly. Also, the Rebovich Institute, which invited him, noted that he is renowned and experienced in national politics, and proposed that his talk would be informative and thought-provoking.
Unfortunately, his talk was disingenuous at best, largely contradictory and wasteful at worst. Tailoring his talk for what he perceived to be a liberal college audience (even though the auditorium was filled with the Republican guests who paid $200), Huckabee was, as The Rider News’s editorial pointed out, vague on specifics. His contradictions included an argument for reducing the role of government; yet, he wants to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage and restrict what women can do with their own bodies. He purports to respect human life; yet he is for the death penalty and pro-torture. He is for what he calls “vertical” economic movement, giving people the chance to move up the economic ladder; yet, he is for a flat tax, which would raise taxes on the lowest income earners below $35,000 and significantly lower them on those earning above $350,000. Huckabee used to have renown, but he lost the nomination and the Republicans lost the election because the American people saw through these kinds of inconsistencies.
What about the value of hearing opposing views that can foster discussion on campus? No one is denying the value of hearing different ideas. However, we think here also the costs far outweigh the benefits, not just because his beliefs go against the diversity and tolerance that Rider University often publicly says it supports nor because we think Huckabee probably goes against what our teacher and colleague Dr. David Rebovich stood for. The simple truth is that not every idea is worthy of classroom time. For example, science teachers are resistant to discussing so-called “intelligent design” because it is a waste of time and resources, and it is condescending to the intelligence of our students. Should they seriously teach by painting a picture of dinosaurs menacing Adam and Eve figures? Also, as your editorial pointed out, because the $200 guests were ushered into the auditorium first, no one was able to ask a challenging question about his views. Instead, the largest number of students and protesters were relegated to overflow rooms with one-way communication — TV screens — and no way to ask anything. Discussion was effectively silenced.
However, the costs were great. Our intelligence was patronized, and our time wasted when it could have been challenged by new, complex, coherent and interesting ideas. We could have been provoked not by bigotry but by a speaker (left or right) who truly thought in ways we hadn’t already heard. Meanwhile, Huckabee gained repute, publicity, credibility, a presumably large fee and money for his book. The university appeared to the public to welcome someone associated with intolerance. Gays and lesbians, women who want to choose what to do with their bodies and others on our campus were intimidated and insulted.
Most surprising was the opposition to us protesting at all. People objected to a demonstration on the grounds that he had a right to speak and that protesting would draw more attention to someone best ignored. No one is questioning that he had a right to speak just as we had a right to protest. That is a law we all know. But the fact that we all are fortunate enough to have this right does not mean, as we’ve pointed out, that every idea is equally worthy of validation and a hearing. Would it be worth spending resources and time on the notorious David Duke of the KKK or someone who wants to deny women an education? Nor is free speech a reason to oppose a protest. What an insipidly chilling idea: because everyone has the right to speak, no one should object to anyone’s ideas? The history of protests in the U.S. and around the world is a history of objecting to politicians’ threatening, morally or politically objectionable, or simply idiotic ideas.
In terms of the second argument that we would draw more attention to Huckabee, according to that reasoning, no one should protest injustices and outrages for fear of drawing attention to the object of the protest. Also, Huckabee is already a publicity machine. And what would be the impression of Rider University if all the press coverage only described the audience’s standing ovations, adulation and sycophantic questions (all of which happened)?
We are appalled at the costs to our institution, we are disappointed by the opposition to our protest, but we are proud of standing up to another far right demagogue. We are even happy to note that public figures with Huckabee’s beliefs are becoming rarer and rarer until, like the real dinosaurs, they sink into the thick ooze they have produced around themselves.
Dr. Matthew Boyd Goldie
Professor of English
for The Committee Against April Fools