Sellers: Politically Combustible Youth
As many of you are already aware, on Sunday night I asked Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, if he would have anal sex for $102 million. This is why I did it.
Ben Packer ’17 started by asking, “In 2002, you supported Texas’s anti-sodomy laws. Do you dislike bootysex because the peeny goes in where the poopy comes out?” He used childish language to highlight Perry’s childish logic regarding (homo)sexuality — he denies thousands of people human rights because he finds anal sex icky. Childish language strips the act of all stigma surrounding homophobia and forces him to confront the unfounded reasons he condemns anal sex. Further, laws against sodomy are explicit — they can limit legal sex to a penis going into a vagina and punish people who do anything else. Supporting a constitutional amendment that limits marriage to a man and a woman is sexually explicit and is a main tenet of conservative platforms. The words “booty sex” are explicit, but it is already part of the conversation; pretending it isn’t just to be polite doesn’t qualify as civil discourse.
I disagree with the notion that a pre-campaign speech can foster “productive political discourse,” as it incentivizes saying as little as possible to appeal to as large an audience as possible. To say it can reach beyond empty, evasive rhetoric is at least delusional and at most is willfully upholding disempowering structures.
Even when Timothy Messen ’18 attempted to engage Perry in what is considered serious discourse by asking if his views on homosexuality have changed since he compared it to alcoholism, Perry defaulted to states’ rights, and ignored the role his own morality plays in his decisions. The fact that The Dartmouth and the national media conflated Messen’s question with ours says something about what people consider to be meaningful political discourse — is any mention of his inflammatory views considered inappropriate? Messen’s question would have not been acknowledged by the media had it not been mistaken for “trolling.” In my view, it would have been a disgrace to an institution of higher learning to engage only in superficial discussion that helps mask offensive and oppressive views behind decorum.
The confines of “civil discourse” are defined by those in power to keep them in power. The reason this action was uncomfortable is also why it was necessary: it occurred outside the limits of what Perry and others who benefit from the dominant discourse deem appropriate. But it is important to challenge the boundaries of propriety. When confronting those in power who actively disrespect the rights and humanity of others, any demand to civility is ironic. The questions were offensive because they confronted his actual policies. Why is our tone — as politically powerless undergrads — more offensive and shocking than his enacted homophobia as a man with incredible amounts of money and power? Respect in this context is not a paramount or meaningful concept. I’m not advocating disrespect per se — rather, that incivility can be an effective and appropriate tool for such circumstances. My questions were disrespectful, but I reject the notion that I should respect a man who holds power simply because he holds it. It should matter what he does with that power, and what he does is oppress people he finds icky.
I asked Perry if he would have anal sex for $102 million, which is the amount of campaign contributions he received during his multiple runs for governor. As Packer explained, “This particular question occurred in the background of Perry’s moral opposition to anal sex (which we are criticizing), and was motivated by the fact that if Perry has any moral boundaries that have not been carefully selected by a team of campaign managers to appeal to specific constituencies, he has almost certainly had to violate those moral boundaries for campaign contributions.” The power Perry has accumulated is large and threatening.
Our intention was not to make Perry change his mind, nor was it to make him leave. If anyone reads the circulated sheet, the intention is clear: it is to mock the individual and the event. It is to send the message that those in power do not deserve respect if they use that power for ill. A person deserves respect based on their actions, not their status.