In today’s politically charged climate, a pundit doesn’t have to have the polarizing personality of Ann Coulter or Keith Olberman to spark a contentious debate.
Commentators whose views do fall very far to one side of the political spectrum or the other still have the enviable position of sparking an open debate, but only if both sides are willing to do more than shout across a divide.
David Horowitz’s invitation to speak on campus last week — sponsored by the USC College Republicans — had the potential to do more than simply create a division. Unfortunately, neither constituency of students — those in favor of his visit, and those opposed — recognized the opportunity for dialogue, leaving both sides with backs turned and eyes closed.
The announcement of Horowitz’s visit incited a firestorm of opposition from a number of student groups — from Students for Justice in Palestine to Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation — all of whom felt the university owed it to its students to bar the speaker from campus, citing intolerant views that don’t jibe with USC’s policy of nondiscrimination.
The USC College Republicans’ response was to bar some students from attending the event, because of a “concern regarding the safety of [their] speaker.”
Wednesday night’s speech brought with it a tableau all too familiar to the world of politics. Protestors who were able to gain entry stood up during the event, turned their backs on Horowitz and were promptly ushered out by Department of Public Safety officers. Outside, protestors shouted and gestured, touting signs with slogans like, “His hate speech is violating my free speech.”
Horowitz imparted his views on students who were already set to agree with those perspectives, and few came away reassessing their convictions.
The USC College Republicans had every right to turn away protestors as a private campus group and the financiers of the event — that much is certain. As a political organization, however, they shot themselves in the foot by not fostering a more open debate.
Groups that wished to bar the figure from campus were equally stubborn.
Ultimately, both sides had an opportunity to create an open debate, and neither side chose to pursue it. After all, political conversation requires just that: conversation. Two discordant groups of students shouting over each other produces nothing more than a cacophonous din.
Hopefully, in the future, when controversial figures are invited to campus, their presence will promote an organized conversation about political ideologies. Both groups can listen to the speakers, after which they can discuss — through a sponsored forum — their ideas.
If this event proves anything, it is that when opposing parties are content to let ideological divides prevent productive discourse, all that remains in the middle is anger.
Lucy Mueller is a junior majoring in cinema-television production, and is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director.