Two Americas, Redux.

In 2004, before personal and political scandals clouded his political prospects, John Edwards was riding high as a leading Democratic primary candidate and future vice presidential candidate. Edwards’ campaign stump speeches continually addressed the idea of Two Americas: the idea that there was one America for the wealthy and one for “everybody else.”  While Edwards has been relegated to the political backwaters reserved for disgraced former public officials, his commitment to addressing the growing stratification of American society remained in the background of the 2008 election and has become one of the defining issues in the 2012 election on both social and economic issues.

How do we become a country that works on behalf of everyone instead of promoting the interest a select few?

Although some Americans sidestepped the recession and do not worry about achieving some measure of social equality, many continue to struggle to regain financial stability and to fight for social justice. In the wake of the economic crisis, many looked to big banks and the employees of Fortune 500 companies as the natural guilty parties. While movements such as Occupy Wall Street may certainly be subject to criticism due to a lack of cohesive thought and strategy, they do have a point: the wealth gap and its societal repercussions are growing and they need to be addressed. Soon.

Minorities are often hardest hit by these crises as they are frequently scapegoated due to the mistaken perception that they are the main consumers of the resources provided by social safety programs such as welfare and Medicaid. In January 2012, while campaigning for a spot of the Republican ticket, Rick Santorum stated that he didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.“ Sadly, these views are not unique to Santorum’s platform as similar sentiments have been by Newt Gingrich during his campaign and by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign fundraiser in Montana following his much-maligned NAACP speech. Similarly, we have seen increasingly negative comments regarding Latinos and immigration in recent years.

Like minorities, women have also been subject to the Republican cutting board. The displays of insensitivity are numerous. From House Republicans’ previous attempt to restrict the language of critical bills such as the Violence Against Women Act to Missouri Republican congressman Todd Akin and his misguided notion of “legitimate rape” to social conservatives’ oppressive stances on issues such as abortion and contraception, current GOP leaders have made it clear where their priorities lie.

Recently, the Yale Political Union hosted Rick Santorum presumably in an attempt to introduce some ideological diversity into Yale’s primarily liberal campus. However, there is a grand difference between allowing bigotry and misogyny to enter our environment and fostering a thoughtful discourse about differing political philosophies. Yale is a community that repeatedly espouses its commitment to diversity of all kinds – race, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. We strive to create a milieu that integrates people from all walks of life in order to promote a society that respects all of its members. In our own way, the university and its students strive together to make the idea of “Two Americas” a relic of the past.

Yet, Santorum appears to remain committed to these divisive politics. This is a man who has compared homosexuality to “man on dog.” He has criticized the prevalence as working mothers as detrimental to the American family and as a product of “radical feminism.” He persistently attempts to prime racist sentiment with references to welfare and immigration that lack even a kernel of respect for the minority communities he attempts to addresses. I find it deeply disturbing that we are allowing a man who clearly does not understand the Yale’s ideals to espouse his hateful remarks within the beautiful space of Woolsey Hall, a space where we frequently unite as a school community.

Living in a country that is on its way to becoming a majority-minority state, in a country where women make up over 47% of the total U.S. labor force (a number that continues to grow) and hold more college degrees than men, one can clearly see that Santorum’s social views are antiquated. His ideology is mired in the schismatic concept of “Two Americas.” In this time of uncertainty, in which we are lag behind other developed countries in areas like infant mortality, life expectancy and education, we need forward-thinking solutions instead of the same-old attempts to marginalize groups that are critical to the country’s progress.

In letting Rick Santorum speak at our university, we have not shown a commitment to intellectual diversity. Rather, we have given hatred a platform.


Akinyi OchiengComment