October 7, 2010
Protests and dialogue
Today at St. Thomas, we are having a great forum on presidential powers featuring a number of great speakers which include not only St. Thomas's Michael Paulsen and Robert Delahunty, but Akhil Amar from Yale Law and John Yoo from Berkeley.
Because Profs. Yoo and Delahunty worked in the Bush administration and wrote some of the controversial memos on presidential power, there are protesters doing their thing outside my window. Their point, as far as I can gather, is that the two professors were wrong and even criminal in their actions within the Bush administration, and should not be allowed to speak.
I agree with their right to protest. I do not agree with their point, though.
One of the reasons we have an academy is to allow divergent views to be heard. If people disagree about important issues, we debate them in classrooms and stages, rather than in the streets. It's an amazing and wonderful process, a way of getting to truth. Within this process, it is most important that we hear from those we disagree with the most, and that the most sensitive issues be raised.
There is something just sad about such protesters who clearly want to silence someone. I went out to talk to some of the protesters last month, actually. One of their frustrations is that they are not allowed on the stage with people like Yoo and Delahunty.
Of course they aren't allowed on that stage! I'm not on that stage, either, because I am not an expert on presidential powers. In fact, for those who oppose Yoo and Delahunty, there WILL be someone on that stage who is a wonderful expert and ideological opposite to Profs. Yoo and Delahunty-- Akhil Amar.
I'm kind of an iconoclast, and I understand the urge to shout. However, the love of ideas leads me favor my urge to listen and discern. Shouting at an exchange like this one comes off not as a protest at one side's ideas, but at the process itself (which, in fact is what will literally be protested and yelled at). I love this process, and I hate to see it debased by those who prefer to hear neither Yoo nor Amar, nor, in time, me and those with whom I disagree.
There are things to rage at. Civil discussion is not one of them.
-- Mark Osler