Little, Nameless, Unremembered Acts

Michael Hagan ’15

I’m a public schoolboy. I went to an elementary school named for an old farming village, a middle school posthumously named after the founder of my high school, and a high school named for my town. Where I’m from, things are rarely named for anything other than the schools they serve unless they are dedicated posthumously in memory of great members of the community or tragically lost friends. The school belongs to the community; there are no special distinctions to be bought or sold.

Perhaps this is why I have an aversion to the practice of naming buildings, venues, scholarships, events, or really anything after their benefactors. I’ll readily admit that this aversion is probably to a fault; some of the greatest contributions to society have been made through philanthropy, and I cannot blame anyone for desiring to be remembered for generous giving. Every time I walk through the doors of a building named for its benefactor, though, I think to myself- is the promotion of one’s own legacy the best function for the name above this entrance? Is it not in greater accord with the values of the Church and Providence College to, in thanksgiving, honor a person, event, or principle that helped the benefactor reach a position from which he or she is able to make a such a monumental contribution (as many buildings at PC are)? Is it not more enriching to let God keep the glory, and to root one‘s legacy instead in what William Wordsworth called “the best moment’s of a good man’s life- his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love?”

Don’t confuse my discomfort with some philanthropic practices for ingratitude. I am deeply grateful for the facilities we use, the endowed scholarship I receive, and the new humanities center that will house many of my classes. I do, however, take grievance with the tit-for-tat donor relations approach the administration openly flaunts. It is unsettling that Fr. Shanley does not hesitate to share, “I ask people everywhere I go- do you want to give millions of dollars and get your name on the school of business?” I respect the right of donors to style their gifts in the manner they choose, but if Providence College truly operates on the values it advertises, it should not degrade Friars of any station in life by assuming they believe their own legacy to be more worthy of remembrance than any one of the remarkable human or spiritual individuals, events, or principles that helped them build it.

Obama, Romney, and Women… Oh My!

Hannah Howroyd ’13

After reading Ms. Forster’s article, “Obama Leads War on Women, Romney Protects Them,” in this week’s Cowl, I felt the need to respond and provide an alternative point of view. I am sure other students will be voicing their opposition, and before we reach another match-up of Slut Walk vs. The Cowl, I’d like to submit my take.

I found not only the article’s presentation of President Obama to be slanted and warped in regard to his alleged views on women, but the discussion of women itself was distorted.

The article’s classification of womanhood perpetuates a certain female stereotype. Regardless of whether ideals of womanhood be propagated by males “imposing upon us the desires of men” or whether it be coming straight from a female, I found the compartmentalized definition bestowed upon the female sex distasteful. Women make up more than half of the world’s population. We all do not think, act, or vote the same way. By pressing upon women this ideal of “what it means to be a woman,” the article deepens the fallacious entrenchment of a narrow definition and notion of womanhood. The ties between women transcend their potential to be mothers, just as men are not classified as a demographic solely based on their potential to be fathers. Therefore, the strict categorization of “proper womanhood” in relation to motherhood is off-base.

The platform of President Obama in regards to the discussed topic of birth control coverage is inclusive and defends a more comprehensive definition of womanhood. As a woman, I’m not writing to tell you how to think or act; and neither is President Obama. Yes, President Obama has “vociferated that the government should provide funding for birth control;” yet does he mandate that every woman is required to take birth control? Absolutely not, and he never will. It is the individual choice of each woman to decide what is best for her and her body. On the contrary, it is the neo-conservative ideals of the right-wing that have been pigeonholing women in how they conduct themselves. If I don’t want to take birth control, I won’t. But who am I to tell someone that they cannot and should not?

Now, as a Catholic woman, I understand Ms. Forster’s point of view; yet by the very nature of our government, the church and state are distinct and separate. What are and are not acceptable functions of government is a debate for another day, but it is not the job of the government to instill and indoctrinate insular ideals of femininity. Rather, it is the government’s job to administer equitable and inclusive programs that do not seek to disenfranchise or coerce those with varying ideologies. I found it disconcerting that Ms. Forster’s article did not mention equal pay for equal work. If we, as women, value and cherish our potential to be mothers to our children, then shouldn’t we be able to support these children with a fair income, equal to the ones enjoyed by our male peers?  The government should not only support an individual woman’s right to make her own decisions, but also actively work to ensure that the same paths, opportunities, and rewards are available to her as to her male peers.

Furthermore, I found the article’s pejorative classification of the “not-so-feminine feminist” to be utterly degrading. Calling someone a “not-so-nerdy scholar” does not invalidate that person’s attainment of good grades just because they don’t fit into the mold of a “nerd.” How can someone be justified in writing off another woman’s femininity simply because she stands up for her rights? Just because one does not fit one faction’s narrow brand of “feminine” does not mean that she is any less of a woman, or that her voice should not be heard.

Neither Ms. Forster nor I should ever force our personal understandings of what it means to be a woman on the female population. Each woman is an individual first, and has both the capacity and freedom to understand her womanhood and define femininity in a way proper to herself and her beliefs. Every woman ought to be able to exercise this liberty rather than abiding by and feeling held underneath a constant barrage of generalized ideological definitions.

The article discussed in this Friarside Chat can be accessed here via TheCowl.com

Come Home, America – The Legacy of George McGovern

Michael Hagan ’15

“It is not for nothing that I will go to my grave believing that ours is the greatest country on earth.” – George S. McGovern

George McGovern, a hero in war and peace, passed away Sunday morning in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the age of 90. McGovern, a decorated WWII Air Force veteran best known today for the crushing defeat Richard Nixon dealt him in the 1972 presidential election, represented South Dakota in the US Senate through two tumultuous decades.

McGovern entered the Senate eleven months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Under the Johnson Administration, the Senate would be a pivotal battleground for matters of war, civil rights, and social justice. McGovern, like most Americans after WWII, aligned with the values of the post-war bipartisan liberal consensus, but it was a profound sense of empathy (which he attributed to his mother and Wesleyan pastor father… who were, as a matter of fact, Republicans) that compelled him to push the envelope in taking ownership of and battling injustice in the United States and abroad. “We ought to be stirred, even to tears, by society’s ills” he wrote. “Sympathy is the first step toward action.”

His empathetic and self-giving character was evident in his courageous service at war (in which he was shot down over the Adriatic), in his nearly life-long fight against hunger at home and abroad, in his work to bring Democratic leadership out from closed-door smoke-filled rooms, in his fight for peace, and in his humble post-Senate life and career.

From early in his term, McGovern openly opposed US military involvement in Vietnam and greater Indochina. In just over five years, his definitive and uncompromising commitment to ending the war sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party. Seen as successor to the leadership of the intra-party anti-war movement after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, the first-term junior senator’s name was plunged into the presidential nomination struggle. Pro-war Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated for president in 1968, but in an election that perhaps no Democrat could win after a disastrous convention, California Governor Richard Nixon won the White House.

When Nixon, under the guise of “peacemaker,” escalated the intensity of the war and spread it through greater Indochina, McGovern would not be complicit in the façade. Nixon would make him and American liberals pay dearly for it. “A vote for McGovern is a vote for acid, amnesty, and abortion” was the common smear. Nixon used a strategy of fear (i.e. Southern Strategy, Silent Majority) to pull at best prejudiced and at worst hateful factions under the Republican tent. “Republicans have commandeered God, family, and flag – things we all value, no matter what our party affiliation or how flush our bank accounts,” wrote McGovern. Though, by today’s standards, he himself had liberal tendencies, Nixon’s strategy broke the GOP off from the decades-strong liberal consensus. He initiated a multi-decade transformation that injected contempt for many of the marginalized into the Republican Party, alienating those who still clung to the post-war spirit of “America Victorious.”

McGovern was in every way resistant to this transformation. In this regard, perhaps George McGovern was the true great conservative of post-war America; he clung like hell to the values that defined the American Century. “I always thought of myself as a good old South Dakota boy who grew up here on the prairie,” he told the New York Times in 2005. “My dad was a Methodist minister. I went off to war. I have been married to the same woman forever.” Opponents would unjustly mask McGovern’s distinctly American identity, accusing him of being cowardly and unpatriotic. History calls him a liberal. Were he a candidate today, neo-conservative fear mongers would most likely – and inaccurately – hurl the term socialist.

George McGovern was one of the last living giants who could tell you first-hand what the Greatest Generation really stood for. His generation endured dire economic depression, experienced war first hand, and was fittingly determined to prevent both. They stood for peace, but knew when to fight. They believed in personal financial responsibility, but knew first hand the need for social solidarity. Chris Christie was clearly confused when he invoked the Greatest Generation in his keynote address at the 2012 Republican National Convention; George McGovern nor Mark Hatfield, Sam Gibbons nor George Romney, John Kennedy nor Nelson Rockefeller would subscribe to the neo-conservative, nay-saying, supply-side worldview of too many in today’s right-wing.

“Compassion does more than make people feel good; it is a smart way to approach the world.”

George McGovern was not foolish enough to believe that social progress was the natural product of net growth. Social progress requires an acute social consciousness and commitment to justice. The roots of his political philosophy reached far deeper than net financial growth or political power; his compass was compassion, and it guided him through a humble life of great deeds.

“During my years in Congress and for the four decades since, I’ve been labeled a ‘bleeding-heart liberal.’ It was not meant as a compliment, but I gladly accept it. My heart does bleed for those who are hurting.”

It is hard to do justice in words to a hero. This longer-than-average post, for which my draft was admittedly much longer, can only begin to shed light on the incredible story of an incredible man. Following in the example of George McGovern and the Greatest Generation, may our hearts too bleed for those who are hurting. May compassion be our common guiding political, economic, and social principle. May we live every day knowing our country to be the greatest on earth, and honor her by holding the dignity of her people as our shared priority.

May we accept this great American’s traditional, patriotic, and compassionate invitation: “Come home, America.”

The iconic “Come Home, America” segment of McGovern’s 1972 acceptance speech begins at 27:19

An Impersonal Approach Makes Everything Personal

Michael Hagan ’15

I’ll begin by immediately acknowledging President Barack Obama’s closing statement from the Tuesday, 10/16 Presidential Debate for what it was- a calculated final strike, a trump card held until the very end of the hand, the ace closer in the President’s rhetorical rotation. It was very much the right move at the right time, and because of that, it is easy to dismiss or gloss over.

“…when [Governor Romney] said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.”

Do not dismiss it. Democrat or Republican, decided or undecided, wonky or apolitical, heed the President’s suggestion here. Consider who is written off in statements like the one Mitt Romney made to donors about federal benefits recipients. Consider how statements like this replace individual identities and stories with the label “parasite.” Consider the “us vs. them” mentality that shapes and proceeds from such language.  Consider the implications that mentality has for our political climate. When politicians are willing to write-off and alienate such large slices of our population, it is no wonder that Congress is at a standstill while Presidential Debates nearly become fistfights. When one tries to strip another of his identity and reduce him to a label, it gets personal.

Whether it’s Mitt Romney writing off as parasites a group that includes the elderly, veterans in need, the sick, the disabled, the temporarily unemployed, and the generationally impoverished, or a Democrat making derogatory generalizations about top-earners despite the charity, willingness to play by the rules, and well-channeled talent of so many, the corralling of unique individuals under inherently unjust labels is destructive. It runs against the egalitarian spirit of America Victorious that drove such sweeping social change in the post-war decades. It divides united people into factions. It congeals the great melting pot. It draws the lines for European-style class struggle.

Fundamentally though, this kind of labeling reduces rather than celebrates the individual person. Far reaching implications aside, this pervasive practice is unacceptable, and ought to be rejected no matter who employs it.

Reelect Barack Obama: A Jets Fan’s Perspective

Nick Wallace ’14

One plays quarterback for the New York Jets. The other is the commander-in-chief of the United States. What could Mark Sanchez and Barack Obama possibly have in common? The answer: more than you think.

Both Sanchez and Obama represented “hope and change.” After a disappointing 9-7 season without making the playoffs in 2008, the Jets traded their first two picks of the 2009 draft along with three players in return for Sanchez, who was selected fifth overall. Coupled with the hiring of the outgoing and flamboyant defensive personality of Rex Ryan as head coach, the addition of Sanchez forced Jets fans to believe that their team would once again be a contender in a division dominated by Tom Brady and the Patriots the previous decade. Similarly, Democrats rejoiced when Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois who gained national recognition at the 2004 Democratic National Convention for his epic keynote address, won the 2008 Presidential election. Obama replaced the Bush administration, which became infamous for the use of signing statements, the implementation of the Patriot Act, and the launch of a pre-emptive and unjustified war against Iraq. Essentially, Bush turned the role of the American President into a unitary executive to which the other branches were subordinate.

Both Sanchez and Obama enjoyed early success. Sanchez and the Jets played in back-to-back AFC championship games in 2009 and 2010. He helped lead the Jets to four playoff road wins, which was tied for the most of all time before Eli Manning passed him in subsequent seasons. In 2011, Sanchez led the Jets to the most efficient red-zone offense in all of football, throwing for 21 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. President Obama also enjoyed success early in his first term. As President, he signed laws to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and ended the excessive deregulation of the finance industry that caused the financial meltdown of 2008. He ended the imperialistic war in Iraq and ultimately ordered the military operation that killed Osama Bin laden.

However, Sanchez is ultimately blamed for the Jets latest woes, and President Obama is criticized for being the reason why the American economy isn’t growing fast enough.

But the truth is that Sanchez isn’t the reason the Jets are a mediocre football team.  Their offensive line is in shambles, and even the departure of the incompetent Wayne Hunter has not helped. A quarterback needs time for a play to develop in order to succeed; Sanchez is not getting it. Additionally, the Jets struggle to run the football and suffer from injuries to two of their star skill-players, Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis. Has Sanchez struggled as well? Of course. But to point all fingers at one member of a team is ludicrous. Mark Sanchez doesn’t stink, the team does.

Similarly, Barack Obama is not the reason why the United States is losing its hegemonic position in the world. Countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China are rising. Moreover, the president traditionally has little control over the economy. The Federal Reserve controls inflation. Congress makes the budget. While the contemporary presidency features presidents that advocate for certain economic plans to be put into effect, Congress ultimately needs to give it the “go-ahead.”

Like Mark Sanchez, President Obama isn’t the problem; it is the entire American political system. President Obama inherited the mess previous administrations created; it will take time to fix it. But things will not be fixed with the expanding polarization of political parties. Tea Party Republicans elected in 2010 came into the House with an “anyone but Obama” mindset. Failure to compromise and work together has led to ineffective governance that would leave the founding fathers ashamed.

And where does Tim Tebow fit in to all of this? Tim Tebow is Mitt Romney. Simply put, they are both worse alternatives that will not fix the problem. With his lack of receivers, slowing defense, and horrid offensive line, Tim Tebow would struggle more than Sanchez. Romney’s inexperience in foreign policy, his neoconservative social views, and his inability to connect with the American people will ultimately put America worse off than it is right now.

Let’s not call for change just for the sake of change. Keep Mark Sanchez. Keep President Obama.

A House Divided: Give Bipartisanship A Chance

With congressional disapproval ratings at around 80%, does the Hill know something the rest of us don’t when it comes to getting work done in Congress?

Hannah Howroyd ’13

This past semester while studying in Washington, D.C., I had the chance to intern on Capitol Hill. Now, before you think this is a chronicle of a stereotypical “Hill Intern”, I implore you to hear me out.

Going into the semester-long internship, I and others around me kept asking the question, “Why do you want to work for the most hated place in America?” The self-inquiry was valid, seeing that Congressional approval ratings are at all-time lows — hovering in the 10-13 percentile at the start of the year. Frankly, apart from my scholastic drive to see policy making first-hand, I wanted to see if there was, in fact, truth behind this perception of the anemic and partisan pace of Congress. The ubiquitous news headlines that clamored “gridlock” or “paralyzed” intrigued me to find out firsthand if the nation is really at a standstill. Is Congress truly riddled with dysfunction, policy gridlock, and crippling partisanship? Can those that we have elected into office really be bickering over petty details, whose feet-dragging has lead to TSA shut-downs, funding scares, and the like? It seemed as if repercussions of the ineffective, quarrelling Congress were being felt far beyond Washington. Perhaps it was my naïveté or lack of exposure to the ways of Washington, but I wanted to quell or confirm concerns about the state of America for myself.

What I found was that yes, the rumors are true. Partisanship is creating a deep schism between what is being done and needs to be done. Interning with a Democratic Congressman (a minority in the House), I saw the policy-halting effects that partisanship had on effectively passing much-needed and time-sensitive legislation. Now I’m not saying that to err is solely on the Republican side—for partisanship is a two-way street—or that the phenomenon of a divided executive and legislative branch has never occurred (see: Clinton Administration and the 104th “Gingrich” Congress, etc.). But when Republican leadership in the Senate vows to do their utmost, not to have their constituents voices heard, but rather to make sure President Obama is a one-term president, you know there is an inherent flaw in the current system.  Legislation and compromise for legislation breaks down, and it directly threatens the very Americans that the Representatives are elected to represent.

Nota bene: my view of Congress now is not pessimistic, for the extreme hard work and long hours that the office and staff undergo is not in vain and should not be overlooked. However, I presume a more accurate word for my experience when it comes to looking at partisan issues is disheartening.  In order to change the current status quo of severe partisanship in Washington, maybe Congress needs is to look at itself with an out-of-the-Beltway pair of eyes. The highly-politicized atmosphere that surrounds Capitol Hill is almost heavier than the humidity that engulfs Washingtonians. In order to take a few steps forward, perhaps a change of perspective by taking a few steps back— out of focus of Independence & Constitution Ave—is needed. Congress needs to, and this is, admittedly, rather simplified, listen to the people they represent instead of focusing on which partisan talking points they will stick to next, or which big business interests they have whispering in their ear. Big-picture thinking is needed; the country cannot be revitalized with this nuanced, partisan nitpicking building up roadblocks for America.

In Defense of Big Bird

Michael Hagan ’15

After making a case for the morality of public spending cuts, Mitt Romney named several programs he would axe in order to “encourage economic growth.” Predictably enough, the first program named was (say it with me) – Obamacare! What followed this familiar line, though, was a little more unusual and perhaps much more revealing on Romney’s part.

“I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep spending money on things, borrowing money from China to pay for it.”

Thus our familiar, feathery childhood friend found his way into the realm of presidential politics. The dismissal of the essentiality of federal funding for public broadcasting is not new. Many pro-austerity politicians, after seeing one too many British sitcoms rerun on their local Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate, have challenged federal funding before. They argue that private donations will sustain PBS; after all, the funds allocated by the quasi-government Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) only represent 15% of the total PBS budget. They defer to the market, saying that if there is truly a need, it will be met privately; why waste the public dollar on an anachronism?

Their attacks rest on false assumptions and reveal either shameful ignorance or deliberate neglect. Perhaps they are, for lack of research, ignorant to the kind of support the CPB provides to PBS. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was launched as part of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. It was and remains an answer to the gap in availability of quality, informative, and age-appropriate entertainment to Americans of every age group. Before the CPB, public broadcasting was available only to communities willing and, more importantly, able to sustain it through viewer support. The CPB brings public broadcasting to markets where viewers can’t afford to sustain a television station by the time they put dinner on the table. These are the PBS stations that rely on federal aid for as much as half of their overall budget. Arguably, it is in these more impoverished markets where public broadcasting is most vital.

Defunding the CPB will not end public broadcasting as we know it. You, Mitt Romney, and I will likely still have access to the safest and most educational television programming available for children, as well as a diverse line-up of enriching programs for adults. Many Americans won’t, though. Only children in affluent markets will meet Big Bird, travel to Elmo’s world, and have their favorite show brought to them by “The Letter J.” Entire cities of children will never hear the memorable jingle, “Having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card!”

Don’t worry though, the free market, as always, will provide a solution! Ah yes, rest easy- iCarly can replace Sesame Street! Don’t have cable? Well, sorry kids, looks like you’ll just have to wait for Saturday morning. Don’t be sad, all of your learning and laughing with your favorite shows over a bowl of cereal or afternoon snack was inhibiting private sector growth. C’mon kids, everybody’s got to pay their fair share.

If you just cringed, you understand that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a legacy of an era when positive social change, independent of but complementary to overall economic growth, was a priority for lawmakers. Mitt Romney shows his true colors when he places this key agent of social progress in the United States second among programs that would not survive his administration.