Smith: Disappointing Discourse

by Andres Smith | 11/11/14 4:58pm

On Sunday night, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, spoke to a group of some 100 students in Wilder Hall. Various topics like the Keystone Pipeline and the midterm elections were discussed, but when it came time to answer the audience’s questions, one topic was homed in upon: same-sex marriage. Perry, like most in the Republican Party with which he identifies, is opposed to same-sex marriage, and he has not shied away from being vocal about it. In one of his 2012 presidential campaign ads titled “Strong,” Perry states that something is wrong with this country when “gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas.” While the several questions that the governor was given about this subject were not surprising, the nature of the questions was. One student asked whether Perry would have anal sex in exchange for more than $100 million in campaign contributions, while another question asked if he did not like anal sex because “the peeny goes in where the poopie comes out.” I, like many others, was offended and disappointed by these questions. That is, of course, after I repressed my childish giggling.

I agree with the sentiment behind these questions. In this day and age, same-sex marriage should no longer be an issue. If two consenting adults love each other and wish to celebrate that love through marriage, then I think that is for the better of society. I personally believe that Perry’s policies concerning same-sex marriage are reprehensible, to say the least. They are only made worse by the misguided reasons used to justify them, like his assumption that homosexuality is like alcoholism and can be treated. However, I don’t believe that the actions taken on Sunday night were the right way to combat Perry’s bigoted stance.

People often joke “if you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer.” I don’t believe that any of Sunday night’s questions were stupid, but I can almost guarantee that Perry did. By framing these questions in a way that people on the other side of the debate would see as ridiculous, you enable their dismissal. While these questions did get the issue out there and create an attention-grabbing headline, they didn’t force Perry to seriously answer them. A similar but differently worded question that emphasized Perry’s stance would have left the governor without any choice but to answer it straightforwardly — and face the consequences of reminding a room full of rational people that the governor of Texas thinks that homosexuality is comparable to alcohol addiction. A question that uses the word “peeny” makes Perry seem like the grown-up in the situation, and that says a lot.

These questions also leave me with mixed feelings about how Dartmouth is being represented. On the one hand, I’m glad that people at Dartmouth are willing to stand up and fight on behalf of marriage equality, and I’m proud to count myself among the people willing to do so. However, I also think that what happened on Sunday makes us seem like we are not open to a real discussion. While I think it was courageous to present these controversial questions and emphasize an issue that Perry has taken an unjust stance on, standing up in front of the sitting governor of Texas and rationally asking him to explain the logic of his views would have been even more courageous. Dartmouth is supposed to be a place where we can have a calm, open discourse about issues we are passionate about, and I think a good deal of the time it is.

However, when students take actions like these, it seems like we are not interested in hearing the opposing side’s arguments — only in advancing our own. In this situation, demonstrating how flawed Perry’s ideals are through logical discourse and well-thought-out debate would be exponentially more effective at showing the world how deeply harmful these ideals are.