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Works and Days

Do We Believe Anymore?

October 22nd, 2012 - 12:00 am

The Way of the Sophist

I had a lot of Obamas in class. They sat in the front of the room, posed long eloquent questions, mellifluously interrupted the lectures with clever refinements and qualifications, often self-referenced all that they had read and done — and then pow!: you grade their first test and there is simply nothing there: a D or F. It was quite stunning: how could a student be so confident in his rhetoric and so dismal in his performance?

Surely I thought this test must be some terrible mistake (did his mother just die? Had she came down with mononucleosis? Is this a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime bad day?). And then he takes the midterm and then the final and then turns in the paper — each effort proves more pathetic than the last. Yet in class the next day, there he is again, raising his hand, pouring out clever phraseology and eloquent exempla, as if he has not just flunked his test and is getting an F.

Each time you encounter such a Starbuck the Rainmaker or The Music Man, the experience still is discomforting, given the vast abyss between the eloquent grandstanding rhetoric and actual achievement — and the deliberate way in which you, the instructor, were to be conned. And if such students are athletic, dapper, charismatic, and sharply dressed (and for some reason they so often are), the disconnect becomes ever more arresting. Sometimes the debacle even worsens when they come to office hours after the first bad grade, “shocked” that the professor might underappreciate their rhetorical gymnastics. Similar is the gulf between Obama’s teleprompted verbiage and his actual performance of governing since 2009.

Straining Credulity

I also never believed in a “war on the women” simply because mostly upper-class, liberal, highly educated white women seemed to be angry that Catholic institutions d0 not wish to include free abortion and contraceptive pills among their generous benefits packages. Did I miss something? Who were supposed to be oppressed, and how and why? Could Ms. Fluke — who addressed an audience of ten in Nevada this weekend — and her partner not split the cost of a pack of ten-dollar prophylactics? Are not more women graduating with BAs than are men? To the degree there is a gender crisis, I think it may be more young working-class men without college degrees who simply cannot find jobs in the muscular industries and for whom society apparently has little need. Is the “war on women” what the long road from suffrage to equal pay has come down to — a psychodrama of the most privileged generation in civilization’s history?  So I simply do not believe that there is a war on anyone, much less women. To the degree there is a war, it is on fiscal responsibility, a war on paying bills and keeping solvent — something lost last week in more of binders, Big Bird, the war “in Iran,” Joe Biden’s continued gesticulations, and “Romnesia.”

When we hear of all the future brain surgeons and chemists who will emerge due to the amnesty offered by the Dream Act, I am not automatically skeptical. I have seen genius, discipline, and earnestness in young illegal aliens after teaching them classics for 21 years. But I no longer believe that for every future Einstein whom we pardon, the government will then deport those who broke the law to become gang-banging felons, copper-wire thieves, and drug runners; or those who were convicted of DUIs; or those who have never been off public assistance. Do we ever talk of the non-Dream Act? You see, if you pass a law that discriminates between the worthy and not worthy, and claims thereby that it both can make such distinctions and reward those who pass muster, then by needs the administration must likewise punish through deportation those it has determined are not to be pardoned. But I simply do not believe that will happen anymore.

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