Yesterday, I attended the second annual student conference for Campus Progress, a sub-organization of the Soros-funded Center for American Progress. Prior to the conference, I had developed a personal as well as political prejudice against Campus Progress for its snide and disingenuous hit pieces on WFB and Kate O’Beirne. But I ended up meeting all sorts of liberals (oops, I mean “progressives”), even some thoughtful ones.
This is not your parents’ generation of leftists. Panelist Majora Carter told students, “Make peace with your inner capitalists.” They are indeed a kinder, gentler bunch that seems to be open to a free exchange of ideas. This civility was best displayed by a debate between Penn State Professor Samuel Richards, one of David Horowitz’s 101 Most Dangerous Professors, and Jacob Laksin, a senior editor for FrontPageMag.com and researcher for Horowitz’s book. There was no shouting or personal attacks by either panelist or by the students in the audience. (Kudos to Laksin for walking into a lion’s den and holding his own.)
Paul Begala seems to have a sense of humor, sort of. Last year he was accused of saying “Republicans want to kill me” at the Campus Progress conference, something he steadfastly denies. To make light of last year’s kerfuffle and poke fun at “right-wing pseudo-journalists” (I think he must have been referring to me), Begala had two projection screens beaming messages that included, “Chavez and Castro may be commies, but they make killer margaritas” and “Raise the minimum wage to $200 per hour” throughout his speech.
At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but conclude the attendees were simply a bunch of liberals who are trying to “reframe” the debate (see Anthony Dick’s excellent review on the topic). There seemed to be a consensus among students that “liberal is a dirty word,” hence their embrace of the “progressive” label. While they might even decide to dress respectably and shower more frequently, that which we call liberalism by any other word would smell as foul. A broad coalition of the Left was in attendance, from abortion advocates and gay marriage proponents to anti-war activists and Union reps, but Campus Progress wants to unite behind more moderate issues. Decreasing student debt through federal loans and developing alternative energy received the most attention from the event’s organizers. Yawn.
Despite a speech by Adrienne Brown of the Ruckus Society that urged students to “starve the war machine,” “break the f***ing rules,” and turn campuses into “hotbeds of sexy revolution,” most speakers emphasized moderating on rhetoric. In Sen. Barack Obama’s warm and cuddly keynote address, he urged students to cultivate a sense of empathy “even for a conservative protesting outside of an abortion clinic.” But the pro-infanticide-choice Obama, who voted against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act as an Illinois state senator, probably would have made more headway with conservatives if his empathy translated into opposition to killing infants, rather than offering a mealy-mouthed plea for niceness.
The left is utterly obsessed with race and sex. One of the biggest topics on a panel of bloggers was how to find more non-white men as news sources (I’m told to check out SheSource.org to find my daily quota). There was also a panel on the hip-hop community (I’m still not quite sure what the hip-hop community is) that included Bakari Kitwana, author of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America. It also included Billy Wimsatt, a white guy who got on the panel for editing How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, as well as rapper Fat Joe, who had some choice words as Jason Mattera notes below.
But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. Earlier in the day, Michael Schweizer, a junior at Stanford and a native Iowan, told me: ”It’s frustrating that some people here think they can say anything about low income whites. They’re called rednecks, hillbillies, white trash—something that wouldn’t be tolerated for any other group.” Hip-hop panelist Amina Norman-Hawkins told me in a private interview that she was open to the idea of charter schools and vouchers. So maybe there’s still some hope for the Left.