By Jay Kirell
There must have been something in the water.
This morning my comparative politics class had an absolutely fascinating discussion on millennial attitudes about politics in America. It was the end of the fourth week of classes – right around the time most professors usually get a handle on who the talkative and engaged one’s in the class are…and who has to be brought out of their shell.
And today, all shells came off.
For the first three weeks my class focused on the core requirements that will be featured on exams. This week started with our Tuesday class attending a “symposium” on Gridlock in Government that featured former Vermont Governor and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, former New York Republican Senator Al D’Amato, as well as two moderate-right Newsday columnists, Lawrence Levy and Rita Ciolli.
I’ll spare you the boring details of the 2-hour snooze-fest that resulted, only to sum up the event with three bullet points:
- “Sweet Uncle Al” tried to charm an audience who had no idea who he was.
- Two unknown newspaper columnists tried to sound like moderates in a room full of liberals.
- Howard Dean wasn’t the fire-breathing Republican-bashing Howard Dean students were expecting.
After an hour and 50 minutes of their lives about 300 students will never get back, the floor was finally opened to questions.
Just like that, life had returned to the room! An actual dialogue might be about to take place.
Three students got to ask questions.
Of a former US Senator and a former presidential candidate many will probably never get the opportunity to meet and ask questions of again. To say the audience wasn’t thrilled would be correct.
This frustration seemed to manifest itself in both our professor and fellow students this morning.
Our professor, who I mentioned in previous volumes is 6-months pregnant [and should be noted, is only a few years older than me], generally instructs the class from the far corner of the room, seated on her desk. Usually she lectures from there with help of PowerPoint slides, rarely going to the board to write anything with a dry erase marker. Under normal circumstances this would probably make for a dull class and you’d chalk it up to a lazy professor – but given the situation it’s obviously warranted.
Today she started out the class not with anything from her notes – but with a discussion about Tuesday’s event. She began by criticizing some of D’Amato’s statements on European trade.
I should mention that my professor, in addition to being an obvious flaming liberal, is also an expert on Europe and Latin America. I wish I could tell you exactly what D’Amato said that angered her, but I’m pretty sure I was daydreaming about a meteor falling on me at the time, since that’s what I was doing whenever D’Amato was handed the microphone.
Once my professor was done with her statement she asked students about the overall theme of the lecture – Gridlock in Government – and what they believe is the cause of it.
The first student that raised his hand was a young man who happens to take another political science class with me – on International Politics – and from the few classes we’ve shared it was quite obvious he falls into the “talkative and engaged” category that I mentioned earlier. Just to paint a picture, imagine the lovechild of Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes.
Let’s call him Haddow.
Now imagine Haddow heading to the professor’s office both before AND after class to talk politics, as well as raising his hand to answer a question or make a comment – LITERALLY EVERY FIVE MINUTES. Now, in fairness, I find Haddow tolerable because he’s actually smart and knows basic political facts and seems like a genuinely curious person.
Some of the other students I’ve encountered seem to be missing one of those crucial components to learning. The first class we were in this morning had a student in it who is basically the bizzaro version of Haddow. This kid literally did not know the difference between the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He thought we invaded Afghanistan because they had WMD’s.
So this eager beaver student – the lovechild, not the bizzaro confused child – raised his hand and said the problem with American politics was that everyone says that it’s better to work together instead of standing up for what they believe in, but people in his generation don’t want to compromise with the generation that got the country into the mess it is now.
Instead of addressing his point, the professor pivoted and asked the class, at large, whether they, as the millennial generation, feel people their age look at politics differently than generations prior to them.
Hands shot up. There were a few nods of agreement with the overall sentiment that their generation was more open-minded and progressive than past generations. The thread of open-mindedness lead into a discussion about race, and that’s where things got really interesting.
The professor asked “Do you think race is still an issue for your generation?”
Hands stayed down.
“Okay,” the professor said. “You, you, you and you,” she stated as she pointed at four students – two of the four black men in the class, one of the two black women…and the kid I referred to in my last article as ‘Little Bill O’Reilly.’
The first student the professor pointed at was a young man who comes to every class dressed like he’s going to a hipster wedding. Like, he even wears a hat. To class. This type of hat:
[WARNING: Hipster Rant Ahead]
Except it’s always a different hat, and a different suit, and different shoes.
Keep in mind, the dude looks absolutely fantastic, I’m not knocking his style.
Just…hipsters, man. I know Brooklyn is technically part of Long Island as a landmass, but there needs to be some 2-state solution that’ll separate Old Navy-wearing folk from the people in the Hamptons and Williamsburg who do ironing before getting pizza.
[END Hipster Rant]
So the professor once again pointed at young man and asked him, point blank, “do you feel as a black male race relations are better among your generation?”
He was totally not comfortable being forced into answering that.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, fidgeting in his freshly-pressed suit. “I mean, I don’t judge people by their skin color.”
The professor pointed at the next student, a woman who introduced herself by saying she was from Texas.
“SqueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeomgI’mfromTexastoooo!!!!” came from the student sitting right next to her, shocked that someone else from the nation’s 2nd largest state had discovered the mysterious Island of Long.
After the “Real World-Hofstra” moment had died down, the original speaker went back to her point:
“I’m from Texas and I know down there the older people have more problems with racism than younger people do.”
The professor pivoted to the other black male student in the front corner opposite from me.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess it’s better than it was, but it’s not that great.”
And finishing up with the O’Reilly progeny – who I had mentioned in my last column sat right behind me last time to tell me how he “fact-checked” my earlier statement – had today moved his seat two columns over and three seats back:
“I think it’s a lot better than it was, but people are still going to think there’s racism, even if there isn’t,” said the future free-republic message board poster. “My dad owns a company and one time he had to fire a black guy and it was totally for the right reasons, and the black guy sued my dad and claimed it was racism. He lost, so you-know, just saying.”
And just like that, our professor searched for her dry erase marker and as quickly as she could given her condition, made her way to the board where she proceeded to pick up on our lesson plan and drop the issue of race like a hamster turd she thought was a raisinette.
Among the one other interesting tidbit from today’s class, I did go on a semi-rant about Al D’Amato and the crooked Republican party machine that ran Nassau County from the 1960’s until collapsed under its own corruption in the late 1990’s. Most of the class seemed receptive to it, except for lil’ O’Reilly, who said: “Are you saying the Republicans are corrupt?”
To which I replied: “Walk outside this building, turn right and head straight. You’ll hit what used to be our football team’s stadium. The pavilion hall at the front is called Margiotta Hall.”
Which is described as follows on Hofstra’s own website: Margiotta Hall, a magnificent three-story, 22,500-square-foot building, is a centerpiece of the Hofstra University Athletics program.
That picture above is from their website.
“Who is Joe Margiotta?” I continued. “A mobbed-up Republican party boss who ran Nassau County politics with an iron fist for nearly two decades until he was finally convicted of federal crimes, but not before basically wasting the golden years of development and growth for Long Island by making sure the only people who got any sort of job in labor or government – influential or not – was a Republican.”
The professor tried to interject, but I told her I was connecting it back to the symposium.
“And he gave tons of dirty money to Hofstra, and Hofstra put his name on a building,” I said. “And one of Joe Margiotta’s crowning achievements – his political protégé and his lasting legacy after his fall from power – was Senator Al D’Amato.”
I can’t wait to see what fact-checking O’Reilly does this weekend.