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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Closing of a Mind

"For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Gresham’s law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most passionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate." Walter Lipman.

My thoughts on the debate tonight are many and somewhat jumbled in places. Forgive me in advance if this comes off like one of my more unsuccessful legal writing assignments. First, I'd like to thank those who were there to learn, to debate, to dissent, to reason, and above all to respectfully learn about an opposing view. As you may know, if you search my prior posts, I personally came into the debate tonight rather opposed to Yoo's constitutional view. Unfortunately, I did not get much of a chance to hear a debate. The frenzy of a few people drove reason from the building, and left the hippies, foaming at the mouth, against the rest of the people. It obviously united the speakers. There was no substantive debate on the issues, because the opposition to Yoo had to continually defend him from scurrilous claims of everything vile. That took away from my education on the issue. In fact, it put me on Yoo's side, too, regardless of my views. The man wrote a legal memo on a legal issue, not a moral issue. It was obvious that few in the crowd could even hope to compete with him on intellectual grounds, so they retreated to the more defendable ground of epithets, interruptions, and the most ridiculous costumes I've seen in quite some time.

I'm not really going to deal much with the substantive issues that were raised (few as they were). I will mention that Yoo did have some good points that I had not thought. I'll also mention that I was happy to have heard of most of the cases presented on both sides. Charles did a good job preparing us. And all of the law students I saw were remarkably respectful and courteous, leaving the greasy, aging, hippies to protest. I knew it was going to be confrontational, when I saw a protestor outside in the freezing cold, manfully holding some sort of sign accusing Yoo of playing Zed to Bush's Maynard. (Actually that would have been the most intelligent and entertaining metaphor of the night, most protestors actually stuck to the tried and true "torturor, murderer, babykiller, etc" epithet.) I was sitting in the back, and was constantly struck by the humor of seeing women who looked vaguely similar to my grandma, sternly standing in orange jumpsuits either raising signs, or displaying wires they'd cut from their curling irons hanging from their hands. I was hedged before and aft by foul smelling do-gooders with no idea of the substantive law, just opinions based on articles in the People's World Weekly, who would pull out the occasional note card and launch into some poorly worded attack on...something. I couldn't understand what they were saying most of the time, but their preparation shamed me somewhat, especially compared to my prep work for most con law work. I need to work on having less knowledge but more vitriol packed into my responses to Charles' questions, I think. A simple "I'm not sure", or "I don't know", are certainly inferior to a strong "BABYKILLER!" The protestors usually spoke loudly but incoherently, until the University police, doubtless happy at the break from escorting tipsy frat boys, and vomiting sorority girls back to their various places of abode. One particularly entertaining bald man in front of me made me fear for his sanity. Whenever he'd disagree with a point (including with ones that were absolutely factual, such as legal precedents), he'd expansively shake his head, looking similar to my golden retriever's tail when he sees me return from a long absence. He also murmured something about the "bombing of Dresden" sagely under his breath, as if it were the definitive answer to John Yoo's point on Hamdi and Ex Parte Quirin. People were irate after the speech to find that none of their questions were read. The angry cry went up, "Those are all law student questions!" To which I noted to myself that last time I had checked, this was a law school event, sponsored by law students, and primarily for law students. The funny thing was that much of the yelling and interrupting and anger would probably have qualified as torture if it had been done to any prisoner currently in custody.

I went and thanked Yoo, his counterpart, and the police, afterward. I should have thanked the protestors. They contributed to one of the most entertaining evenings I've had in quite some time, and certainly my most entertaining experience at the law school, even passing the occasionally mediocre professor talent show. I admit that I was frustrated at the lack of knowledge I recieved. Actually, who am I kidding? I loved the spectacle. A good fight always gets my juices flowing. Also, it crystalized the debate for me (although not necessarily in a good way). I realize that although we focus on reason here at the law school, I will perhaps run into a similar crowd, substituing invective for insight, and vituperation for vigorous intellectual debate. I hope in that case that I will comport myself as well as did the speakers for tonight, as well as the various students who tried to calm the crowd down in order to learn.


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