Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Safe Spaces and the Celebration of the Individual

There's been a lot of talk about so-called "safe spaces" on the internet, especially in wake up the uproar at Yale over the Halloween controversy regarding social sensitivity and the football players statement/hunger strike at the University of Missouri. Yesterday Glenn Reynolds, an influential conservative blogger and law professor at the University of Tennessee, published a Jonathan Swift-style op-ed which argued that since folks on these campuses couldn't act like adults we should raise the voting age to 25.

There is perhaps no word that better explains the dominant conservative view of the university as "coddling." There are too many examples to link to: a Washington Post op-ed, an Atlantic cover story last month on "The Coddling of the American Mind,"  the conservative blog Hot Air addressed the issue, and so on. There have been some very able refutations and engagements with these types of views, and I would especially recommend Roxane Gay's effort over at The New Republic. But this post is not a post that tries to wade into this particular dispute. Instead, I want to talk about the number-one coddling menace in America today: the Republican Party.

What's that, you say? Republicans aren't coddlers, they're like a hybrid of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons and Snidely Whiplash, twirling sinister mustaches while throwing money at things to make the already-bad-off even worse. Look, no one is accusing Republican policies of being particularly easy on people (Well, their tax plans do do a bit of coddling of the wealthy. But I digress: the record of cutting the social safety net, refusing to enact policies that empower the government to fight private sector discrimination, and their general committment to letting the market "solve" problems more than makes up for their occasionally coddling policy bona fides).

But if you look at Republican rhetoric, it is a 24/7 coddle-fest. Let's head over to the "issues" page of Marco Rubio's website. Well, this is weird: Marco wants to "promote" strong families (very rude of him to imagine they can't do it on their own): he is focused on "protecting the sacred rights of America's gun owners" which to be fair, they don't have anything with which they can protect themselves; he is also into "protecting America's senior citizens" which alright, the elderly have earned their safe spaces, and of course Marco will "stand up for small business owners" presumably because they've been so coddled by the left that they can no longer advocate for themselves.

Ok, so Marco is a coddler. But what about someone else? Let's head over to Ted Cruz's website. Oh wow: right here on the first page, we see that Cruz will appear at a "Rally for Religious Liberty" at Bob Jones University. Americans are "under fire for their religious convictions" and thus in need of higher support and advocacy. Look at the list of other speakers at this event: among them are Joe Kennedy, a high-school football coach who openly continues to violate the Constitutional separation of church and state, and Angela Hillenbrand who was "threatened with jail" for wanting to invoke God in her high school valedictorian speech although who, in fact, was supported by the legal system in the final ruling on her case. On the one hand, someone who is openly violating the Constitution needs our help. Why not just tell him he's wrong? Or do you need to remind him that America is a "safe space" for his beliefs over and against the Constitution? Why bring on someone who won their legal case and celebrate their merits as a speaker on the basis of this legal threat? You don't think the legal victory was enough for them? Sounds like in addition to legal support we need political and cultural support. You know, coddling.

Apologies (a bit) for the tongue-in-cheek tone but this is rich stuff. These days its tough to figure out what the conservative platform is beyond a routine empty populism that demands "the people" be sovereign and in control, and also that their status as victims--of Obama, the state, radical left-agitators, "race hustlers," whatever--is undeniable. The Republican party is coddling the American people in every debate where it repeats stupid, empty truisms and asserts the taken-for-granted greatness of this country without actually having a damn plan to fix the thing. The Republican party is coddling the American people every time it lies and says that we can bring back manufacturing jobs. The Republican party is coddling the American people with unworkable plans to "repeal and replace" (we know its really just repeal) Obamacare, with its bromides against "job killing," and with its belief that we can somehow make massive spending cuts without also taking a huge chunk out of military spending.

Stop coddling the American people, GOP. Since Ronald Reagan you've done nothing but argue that America needs to be a "safe space" for your constituency. It needs to be safe from Al Sharpton, it needs to be safe from Barack Obama, it needs to be safe from the "homosexuals" or today safe from trans-folks who will rape in bathrooms (as opposed to the reality, that it is they who are likely to be assaulted without gender neutral bathrooms). You want (some) people to be safe from anything but themselves.

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