Political activism on campus: the Gore-y truth

| Staff Columnist

When I walked into Umrath House last week, the first thing that grabbed my attention was a digitally-demonized image of former Vice President Al Gore in front of a twisted (literally) version of the American flag that had been transformed into a hurricane on a flyer advertising the premiere of the movie “Not Evil, Just Wrong.”

I sincerely enjoy living on a politically diverse campus. At times, however, political debate can become a bit overwhelming, as students of the major political parties seem to forget the common individual in their zeal for their own political views.

The Wash. U. Young Americans for Liberty certainly grabbed my attention with their image of Gore, but I don’t understand why representatives of a party that prides itself on respect for America would contort both the national flag as well as a former vice president. Further, though the independent movie’s title may claim to the contrary, it’s clear from the movie cover’s altered image of former vice president Al Gore that “Not Evil, Just Wrong” does, in fact, portray a national symbol as demonic. Unable to watch the premiere, I found the movie trailer online and was astonished by the claims. A man in the movie said, in complete seriousness, that global warming would not be undesirable because everyone likes warm weather. I am astonished by how cavalierly the party can ignore the dangers of global warming.

It would appear that the Young Americans for Liberty’s extreme posturing is not unique. My inbox is frequented by e-mails from student organizations. One of these groups is the Wash. U. College Democrats, who recently encouraged students to help chalk in order to push the issue of health care reform on campus. As one of the reasons for the necessity of health care reform, the group states that, “Japan has the #1 life expectancy in the world; the U.S. ranks 42nd. They pay $2581 per person per year; we pay $7290.” I understand that the large amounts of money we pay may seem ineffective, but the group is assuming correlation between statistics that are not necessarily related. The results are surely affected by ethnic, dietary, and lifestyle differences between Americans and Japanese, and if we lower health care spending per person in the United States, average life expectancy may drop further. It would appear that, in their excitement about the issues, the College Democrats have allowed their excitement to cloud their pursuit of more analytically sound facts.

The political groups on campus seem to have missed the larger picture due to excess zeal. I have rarely found individuals who completely adhere to a party’s every doctrine, and political candidates themselves, in fact, often do not. At times, it can be entertaining to stand back and watch the mud-slinging between political factions both nationally and on campus. But as a student to whom these events are promoted, I feel compelled to offer my perspective: If political groups on campus hope to secure the allegiance of students who are beginning to test out political ideologies independent of their parents, these groups must show more sophistication.

In a mid-October survey of “registered and likely voters” in the United States, only 22.5 percent affiliated themselves with the Republican Party and 33.7 percent with the Democratic Party. Winning in numbers, 35.0 percent of those polled called themselves independent. Both Democrats and Republicans clearly have the potential to swell their ranks if the majority of the nation’s population is unaffiliated. For this very reason, political parties cannot afford to lose their message by getting caught up in attacking altered versions of national figures and using data that in fact does not corroborate the group’s argument. Rather than being effective, these strategies only undermine the intelligence of the targeted audience.

  • Marion

    Thanks to everyone for conimg out and helping us kick off the new academic year last night! Special thanks also to Whitney Swanson and the rest of the organizing team, as well as our sound crew, Michael S., Michael B., Zach and Heather!

  • Ray C.

    Good point, Sneha. I see little more to this story than the Sarah Palins of the world riling up the anti-“elitism” teabag crowd for political gain, because that fringe now makes up such a large percentage of the conservative constituency. While legitimate debate is always good, it’s disappointing to see this garbage taken seriously on esteemed college campuses.

  • Sneha Thakur

    I agree; stirring controversy often seems to be the most effective way to draw attention, but I believe that it is far from the best way because data frequently has to be skewed.

    Rhetoric is only good if it can persuade its audience. The overwhelming majority of people I talked to, most of whom consider themselves moderates, were far from convinced by the Not Evil Just Wrong flyers. If this was the group the Young Americans for Liberty was targeting, then they incorrectly gauged their audience.

  • http://ihatealgore.com bcronos

    You forgot to mention that only 20% described themselves as liberal while 39% described themselves as conservative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    I did attend the film, and I thought it made some good points, though it spent too much time taking shots at Al Gore, perhaps an easy target. To complement this film, I recommend the PBS Nova episode on global dimming and the cooling effect of air pollutants, and the PBS Bill Moyers’ America episode entitled, “Is God Green?,” about a trend among Evangelicals to focus on stewardship of the earth, rather than dominion over it, and featuring interviews with working people in coal country.

    I also attended another event sponsored by the Conservative Leadership Alliance, a very interesting talk on finding third ways. Apparently the CLA is trying to appeal to a broad center right spectrum, as the now defunct Progressive Action Coalition appealed to a broad center left constituency.

    Why not bring back the Progressive Action Coalition, or something like it? In the meantime, check out Adam Shriver’s St Louis Activist Hub, http://stlactivisthub.blogspot.com/ I hope we can get beyond superficial labels such as “conservative” or “progressive.”

  • Steve Howerton

    1) it’s called rhetoric! would you like these groups to post footnoted academic studies? they’re trying to engage an audience, not win them over with a single flyer.
    2) these national parties, when spewing out too much data/sophisticated arguments, get demonized as “elitist”. you’re placing the blame solely on the party organizations when it should also be shouldered by the sound-byte obsessed media and the lazy electorate who doesn’t want to spend time researching the issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/imosley Ian August Mosley

    I appreciate your attempt to give a balanced critique, but with all due respect evaluating Not Evil, Just Wrong (which I did have the chance to see with my YAL buddies) on the basis of a single quote from the trailer is HIGHLY misleading. The film makes many substantive arguments, and though it focuses a little too much for my tastes on deflating the unrealistically heroic image most people have of Gore, it does not demonize him.

    The unfortunate truth is that provoking controversy is usually not just the best way but the only way to get attention for your events. I wish we had the kind of campus where you could just advertise a discussion about first principles and 100 people would show up, but it doesn’t really work. Students aren’t required to attend extra-curricular events (as they are on some campuses), and in the absence of contrary forces our community tends to have a strong “Bowling Alone” tendency which Ms. Samborn has pointed out.