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Shut them up. Will they go away?

J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward takes note of moves in the Jewish community to censor liberal voices, in this case Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schulz. A Democrat, she was disinvited from speaking at a Miami synagogue on Memorial Day after a complaint from a member of the synagogue and chair of the local Republican committee. The issues may differ, but like Victoria Kennedy's disinvite from Anna Maria College in Massachusetts, the notion flourishes that disappearing people from the podium will make their ideas disappear.Or, is it just women who must disappear.

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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I don't think there is compelling evidence that this is a sexist thing. It is more that some groups have come to the conclusion that listening to diverse opinions is evidence of a wavering spirit. Of course, there's not much compelling evidence that that is true either!

Thanks for this post, and jbruns, thanks for your comment. As for the "sexist thing" issue, it seems to me that sexism in our society (not unlike racism) is one of those things that is almost never *the* reason for something (e.g., Wasserman Schulz and Kennedy's disinvitations), but is very often *a* reason for something. In 2008, reactions to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were (I think) rarely *just* driven by sexism. On the other hand, innumerable reactions to Clinton and Palin's candidacies were fueled *in (no small) part* by sexism.

Do they really believe that "listening to diverse opinions is evidence of a wavering spirit?" Perhaps; but I think it's often the case that such disinvitations come from the fear that the disinviters know that they have no good answers to questions that might be raised by the disinvited. (Apologies for the neologisms).

Luke: I agree with your more nuanced analysis. Nicholas: I think that if 'they' truly examined their motives that, yes, the underlying problem is that they fear that contrary opinion will cause people to question orthodoxy. And it is really complicated by the fact that the contrarian arguments have such apparent merit.

Nicholas --Right. We don't want to be discomforted, suffer cognitive dissonance, admit we were wrong, have to check things out. And Wasserman is a particularly articulate speaker. Very simple and clear. Keep an eye on her. I expect to hear a lot more from her.

Nicholas Clifford: The "disinviters" (to use your coinage) are usually the very people who issued the invite. The "inviters" usually have changed their minds because of pressure from certain quarters. In other words, the people exerting the pressure to have the invited speaker disinvited are usually in a position to hurt somehow the institution involved.

Setting aside the sexism/sexist question, can anybody point to a disinvited male in recent months? I'm not arguing the point, but am curious, since I haven't noticed any.

In recent months, no. But wasn't there a rather well-publicized case a few years ago when Tony Judt was disinvited from an NY speaking engagement on the Middle East?I wouldn't have thought of disinvitations as having anything to do with the sex of the speaker -- or even his or her gender, for that matter. But if no one comes up with any recently disinvited males, I will eat my words, having first cooked them -- la bonne femme, of course.

While not quite disinvited, male pediatric neurosurgeon extraordinaire Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins aroused a strong protest against his being commencement speaker at Emory University because he favors creationist theories over Darwin's evolution. He had previously received about 50 honorary degrees. The surface issue there was explicitly religion. One wonders if maybe there should be a special university tolerance exemption applicable In the case of the few who perform such life-changing feats as Carson does.

"Right. We dont want to be discomforted, suffer cognitive dissonance, admit we were wrong, have to check things out."Oh, for a minute I thought you were referring to the church hierarchy. Or were you?

May 3, 2012 Western Center for Journalism:Last week, State Senator Robert Hagan had his nose rubbed in the reality of the War between the Catholic Church and Barack Obama when he was disinvited to speak at this months commencement at Mercy School of Nursing, a Catholic school in Youngstown, Ohio.The disinvitation came at the direction of Bishop George V. Murry, the head of the Diocese of Youngstown.

April 26, 2012 Huffington PostHigh school graduation should be a time of optimism, family, and hope for the future. But one Michigan school has turned it into a time for controversy and backwards thinking. The Sacred Heart Academy's high school in Mount Pleasant, Mich. has decided to rescind its invitation to their graduation keynote speaker, the older brother of one of the graduates and an alumnus of the school. Why did they decide to not include this young man with strong ties to the private Catholic academy?Because they found out he is gay.

Suffering cognitive dissonance can be an exhilarating experience; sometimes you can really learn something new, or be reminded of something you've forgotten. For example, I will usually start reading a Ross Douthat column and if he catches me in the first paragraph, I go on. Mostly I don't agree with him, but his "conservative" arguments retain a mode of reasoning that has been lost in much conservative discourse, and which remind me of the apologetic courses once featured in Catholic high schools.But cognitive dissonance is not always exhilarating. For example, I pretty regularly pass on David Brooks's column in the NYTimes; I find his categories hopelessly muddled; his arguments beside the point. For example, his column this morning (which I did read) on the Wisconsin vote is a case in point. He thinks Scott Walker cares about deficits. He doesn't acknowledge that Walker disdains the power of unions and working people, but not the power of the Koch Brothers and all the other rich guys who've contributed to his campaign and no doubt to our national deficit.

Thanks Bruns. Clearly we're not dealing with sexism.

Jbruns:State Senator Robert Hagan, a Catholic father of 14 children, was disinvited?

Helen, see Jimmy Mac

Clearly were not dealing with sexism.--------Really? How many men were invited to be commencement speakers this year? How many women? How many men were awarded honorary degrees this year? How many women?How many men were invited to speak in synagogues, churches, and mosques this year? How many women?(Debbie and Vicki were what percentage of the total number of women? The men mentioned above were what percentage of the total number of men?)(Agree about Douthat and Brooks. Love Debbie Wasserman Schultz!)

"Because they found out he is gay."Gay Catholic? Who would thunk.But we can't have them speaking to our kids, right? After all, we know that their main agenda is to re-cruit!And Catholics wonder why outsiders see and hear this stuff and ask: what is WRONG with these people? Do they have their heads stuck where the sun don't shine? speakers at the top ten schools. One woman. (Scroll down about two inches for the link to the top 100.)

'Right. We dont want to be discomforted, suffer cognitive dissonance, admit we were wrong, have to check things out.'"Oh, for a minute I thought you were referring to the church hierarchy. Or were you?"Jimmy Mac --Sadly, I was referring to all of us, me included :-(Sigh.

For next year's commencement at Yale, they should invite Margaret Farley to be the commencement speaker. After all, she's the only Yale faculty member to have a book denounced by the CDF -- that's quite a distinction.

Alas, Jimmy Mac, Ann Olivier was describing the human condition, as she herself attests.However, Pope Benedict XVI evidently considers himself and the church's magisterium to be above the human condition. In any event, he has decreed that only a hermeneutic of continuity in the Roman Catholic Church will be acceptable during his reign as pope. What was good enough before the Second Vatican Council regarding the church's teachings concerning sexual morality should still be good enough today. That's continuity. Therefore, he has had the CDF denounce Sister Margaret Farley's book as not representing official Catholic teaching.

Gerelyn: Sexism and racism (or should we just say bigotry) are woven into the fabric of American culture. Almost everything is affected, one way or another, by them. I was just responding to the question of whether sexism was the dominant factor, and I don't think so.

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