I work at a university for a department in the humanities. It is a very liberal campus in a very liberal state. And yes, it’s pretty much as bad as you’d think it would be where diversity of political views is concerned. But I manage to stay sane by keeping my head down and mostly avoiding political discussions where possible.
Several years back, however, I was walking to the on-campus convenience store to grab a snack when I noticed there was a Marine Corps recruiter manning a small table near the door. And, next to the recruiter –and I mean right next to the recruiter– was a young man holding a sign reading: “Careers in Torture and Murder.”
As I approached, I fully intended to just thank the Marine for his service and ignore the protestor. That would be message enough. But, as I got closer, I became more and more. . . well, angry. No doubt this kid with the sign considered himself to be brave. No doubt, he considered this to be the ultimate expression of courageously “fighting the Man.” On a very liberal campus, in a very liberal state, this was his courageous stand against the forces of darkness in (as Christopher Hitchens once put it) the long twilight struggle against Bush-Cheney.
So, as I approached the table, I extended my hand, which the Marine shook firmly as I said, “Thank you for your service. And I’m sorry you have to stand here next to this clown.”
Yes, I called sign-guy a clown right off the bat. Name-calling isn’t exactly civil. But then again, neither is standing next to someone you know can’t/won’t respond and obliquely (yet unmistakably) calling him a murderer and torturer.
To be honest, it has been several years and I don’t remember how the “clown” responded as I began to walk away. But whatever it was, my response was: “You really should be ashamed of yourself.”
“I have a right to be here,” he declared.
“Of course you do. But just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean it’s not an incredibly crappy thing to do,” I said.
“The military is anathema to the principles and values of higher education,” he responded.
At this point, I must admit I probably was rolling my eyes and raising my voice as I responded: “That is just pseudo-intellectual nonsense. What you’re really saying is that you have a right to be here but he doesn’t.”
Gesturing to the Marine, as he stood there stoically (though smiling slightly, I hope because he appreciated what I was saying), I suddenly became aware that he was probably instructed to avoid a “scene” at all costs. And I didn’t want to make his job any harder.
“You just have a problem with freedom of speech!” yelled the wannabe revolutionary as I was reaching the above conclusions.
“That’s bullsh-t and you know it,” I said. “You have the right to be a jerk and hassle this guy like this. And I have the right to tell you how unseemly and embarrassing your behavior is.”
Again, the memory has faded with time, and things were kind of a blur, so I don’t remember exactly what was said from there though I do recall that things continued on in that way for at least another minute or so. All the while, the sign-holder kept looking over at a group of fellow students across the way, and I half expected some of his friends to come back him up. And every time I glanced around me, I would note among the gawkers a familiar face or two passing by, staring back at me, mouth agape. Not so much in disapproval as in disbelief. They must have been wondering what had gotten into me. But, years before I could ever know who Andrew Breitbart was, I was “being Breitbart” in my small way and was well beyond caring who was witnessing my distinctly conservative behavior.
But, eventually, getting nowhere (as expected) and with that poor Marine just standing there, smiling from time to time, but otherwise just trying to remain uninvolved, I finally said to sign-guy in exasperation: “Look, if you can’t see how unseemly what you’re doing is, I guess I can’t help you. But this man deserves your respect and gratitude instead of your arrogant condemnation. Unlike you, I realize that he is a better man than I will ever be. And though I won’t presume to say that I speak for him, I will say that what you’re doing here comes off as incredibly sh-tty.”
And with that, I turned to the Marine, offered my hand again (which he shook), and said to him: “I’m sorry if any of this has made you uncomfortable. I realize you probably would just as soon have had me ignore this guy. I didn’t mean to make your job any harder.”
“No problem. Thank you, sir,” he said.
And I walked off. Adrenaline still pumping. Becoming somewhat embarrassed that I had “made a scene.” But also thankful that I had mostly kept my cool and words hadn’t failed me.
So. . . anyways, that’s my own tale of “being Breitbart” even if only for a brief spell and in a very small way a long time ago. I realize there’s no scandal exposed. And I didn’t really accomplish anything other than attempting to shame a punk kid that was being a jerk to one of our guys in uniform.
I wonder what Andrew would have said had I ever met him and told him this story. I of course have no idea and hesitate to guess. But I’d like to think that he’d say: “It’s a shame you didn’t get that on video.”
Next time, Andrew. I promise.