Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Importance of Thinking Critically

Kris-professional pic

This past summer congressional Republicans and Democrats fought a fierce battle over the federal debt ceiling, and we will probably witness a replay of this of this fight as president Obama tries to pass his jobs bill. Since the ultra conservative tea party activists seemed to play such a huge role in the seemingly insurmountable gridlock that exists between the two political parties, I sought to become better acquainted with the conservative way of thinking. I started by reading several books written by two of the nation’s leading conservative political pundits. I chose Demonic by Ann Coulter and Of Thee I Zing by Laura Ingraham, because they were prominently displayed on the book aisle at (Target) a leading discount store which made it exceedingly clear that these written works were geared toward a mainstream audience.

As a worked through these volumes, I was struck by the intelligence of the authors, who were initially trained as attorneys, and actually agreed with some of the arguments they made. Coulter, for example, is correct in stating that Richard Nixon did all he could to end racism and discrimination throughout his political career. In fact, many historians and social commentators assert that Richard Nixon was far more liberal than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. I also agreed with a lot of what Ingraham has to say about consumer excess and bad manners. But with that being said, the best-selling authors made assertions that I could readily counter.

Both Coulter and Ingraham write disparagingly of feminists even though they are the beneficiaries of the first and second waves of the feminist movement. Coulter and Ingraham would never have had the chance to vote for the conservative politicians they so ardently admire if they had been born long before the culmination of the fight for women’s suffrage in 1920. And it is highly unlikely that Coulter and Ingraham would have had the opportunity to earn law degrees had they lived before the Women’s Liberation movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s changed social rules and forced open educational doors.

Coulter’s volume is especially riddled with contestable claims. Throughout her book, she likens liberals to an angry and violent mob which demonstrates that she has no academic understanding of what a mob actually is or, for that matter, the social conditions that give rise to the emergence of mobs.

There are also many more sides to the stories that Coulter presents. For example, on page 283 of Demonic she writes, “Liberals will even dirty up the founding fathers’ sex lives for political gain… in defiance of evidence that overwhelmingly suggests that Hemings’s only Jefferson consort was the president’s younger brother, Randolf, who frequently socialized with slaves.” If Coulter had been more widely read, she would have discovered that there is far more compelling evidence to suggest that that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings than did his younger brother Randolf. For instance, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed, which I reviewed for the Journal of International Sociology in 2009, presents the reader with pages and pages of historical data that has led most contemporary Historians to the belief that Jefferson did indeed have a long-term liaison with Sally Hemings.

And after reading Ingraham’s critique of elaborate and expensive children’s birthday parties, and elaborate and expensive children’s clothing, a point in which I readily agreed, the following thought came to mind: I don’t know anyone who throws lavish birthday parties for their children or dresses their youngsters in designer duds. Ingraham must have a large circle of affluent friends. No wonder she supports a political party that has lost sight of the needs of working people.

In the end it became clear to me that these best selling media personalities have written books geared towards their large conservative followings. Both highly educated authors absolutely have to know that any discerning reader would view global ascertains, such as Coulter’s contention that all liberals have an inability to think critically, with skepticism. With that being said, I certainly hope that people who read books like Demonic or To Thee I Zing will do their best to look at what’s written in these volumes, along with many of the other things they read or hear on television, with a critical eye. Our country is still in the throes of economic crisis, and we will soon be faced with important decisions such as voting for president. This makes it especially important for Americans to be able to analyze complex and nuanced issues from a number of different perspectives.

Kristyan Kouri