The Romney T-Shirt and Philadelphia’s Campaign of Hate

by Christopher Paslay

When it comes to tolerance, the Samantha Pawlucy incident reveals our city’s glaring double standard.

“All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm nearly 70 years ago but the novel and its themes of hypocrisy, corruption, and double-standards are more alive than ever.  Ironically, this week I will be starting a unit on Animal Farm with my students and over the course of the next month we will be analyzing Orwell’s text as an allegory for the atrocities of communism and the Russian Revolution.  We will also be taking a look at how the novel’s themes apply today.

A current event we will cover is the recent “Romney T-shirt” incident involving Charles Carroll High School student Samantha Pawlucy.  Last week Pawlucy, a white 10th grader, wore a pink Romney/Ryan T-shirt to school on dress-down day and was allegedly ridiculed by her African American geometry teacher and a school aid for being disloyal to the Democratic party; Pawlucy’s brother also wore a Romney T-shirt to school and was harassed by classmates.

According to the Inquirer:

Samantha Pawlucy (borrowed from the Inquirer under fair use clause)

Samantha Pawlucy, a sophomore at Carroll, said her geometry teacher publicly humiliated her Friday by asking why she was wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt and going into the hallway to urge other teachers and students to mock her.

“I was really embarrassed and shocked. I didn’t think she’d go in the hallway and scream to everyone,” Pawlucy said. “It wasn’t scary, but it felt weird.” . . .

Samantha Pawlucy said that after going into the hall, her teacher called into the classroom a nonteaching assistant who tried to write on the T-shirt with a marker. She allegedly told the teen to remove her shirt and said she would be given another.

Pawlucy said her teacher told her that Carroll was a “Democratic school” and that wearing a Republican shirt was akin to the teacher, who is black, wearing a KKK shirt.

Lynette Gaymon, Pawlucy’s teacher, apologized to Pawlucy and her family during a school meeting the following Monday, although the Pawlucy family has stated that they question the sincerity of Gaymon’s apology.  Apparently, the black geometry teacher and the school aid were just joking when they made the alleged comments about Pawlucy’s Romney T-shirt.

Yesterday, the Pawlucy’s went to Carroll High School to file an official complaint, where they were heckled by students who shouted obscenities at the family.  For the past week students have been threatening Samantha, and the girl currently fears for her safety.  The Philadelphia School District is currently investigating the situation, and Gaymon, who made no comment to the Inquirer, is still teaching at Carroll although no longer teaching Pawlucy’s class.

The “Romney T-shirt” incident is a perfect tie-in to the Animal Farm theme of “The Abuse of Language as Instrumental to the Abuse of Power.”  As put so astutely by SparkNotes:

One of Orwell’s central concerns, both in Animal Farm and in 1984, is the way in which language can be manipulated as an instrument of control. In Animal Farm, the pigs gradually twist and distort a rhetoric of socialist revolution to justify their behavior and to keep the other animals in the dark. The animals heartily embrace Major’s visionary ideal of socialism, but after Major dies, the pigs gradually twist the meaning of his words. As a result, the other animals seem unable to oppose the pigs without also opposing the ideals of the Rebellion. By the end of the novella, after Squealer’s repeated reconfigurations of the Seven Commandments in order to decriminalize the pigs’ treacheries, the main principle of the farm can be openly stated as “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This outrageous abuse of the word “equal” and of the ideal of equality in general typifies the pigs’ method, which becomes increasingly audacious as the novel progresses.

This theme fits perfectly into the “Romney T-shirt” incident, as well as the collective effort by Philadelphia liberals to manipulate language in order to demonize and vilify all those who oppose Democratic policies as well as the Democratic party.  When I say “Philadelphia liberals” I mean teachers, parents, the local media, and any other entity that works to indoctrinate youth and kill freedom of expression.

In other words, teachers (Lynette Gaymon equating a Romney T-shirt with the KKK), local columnists (Annette John-Hall equating voter ID laws to the violence and opression of Jim Crow), and parents (mothers and fathers who teach their children that wearing a Romney T-shirt is racist) are abusing language in order to intimidate and bully others into following their politics and world view; they are using language not as a means of freedom but as an instrument of control.

Just as the pigs twist and distort Major’s visionary ideal of socialism to keep the other animals in the dark, so are the media–and now, incredibly, schoolteachers–distorting Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of equality and social justice to keep children and citizens as a whole misinformed about Romney and the Republican party.  As a result, because of the manipulation of language, students like Samantha Pawlucy and her brother are no longer able to oppose the politics of the Democratic party without opposing the ideals of MLK and being labeled “racist” in the process.

My wife and I live and work in Philadelphia, and we see this on a regular basis.  In the high school where I teach, the anti-Romney, anti-Republican attitude is so deeply embedded in the culture it has permeated the drinking water.  Just mentioning Mitt Romney’s name causes many of my students to cry “racist” and “bigot” and “hater,” and for what?  Because he’s a Republican?  Because he’s a Mormon?  Because he believes in traditional families, a free market, and small government?  Because he wants to cut entitlements, cut taxes, and believes that people should be the captain of their own ship?  This makes him an intolerant racist devil?

Me and my wife in our Romney T-shirts

Last night, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden on City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.  Because of its approximation to Wynnefield, the restaurant is both staffed and frequented predominantly by African Americans.  As we entered the restaurant, we immediately picked-up on the fact that we were receiving dirty looks from other patrons eating their dinner.  Interestingly, my wife happened to be wearing her Romney/Ryan T-shirt.

This thinking and behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, is dangerous for a couple reasons.  First, it is an assault on free speech and democratic ideals.  Shutting down other’s opinions and calling them names (and using grossly inappropriate hyperbole such as “KKK” and “Jim Crow”) is the ultimate example of intolerance and hate speech.

Second, it is divisive and shuts down the avenues of communication.  Instead of teachers, parents, and the media promoting teamwork and teaching our youth to listen to the views of others and exploring alternative viewpoints, today’s youth are being taught to close their minds to opposing viewpoints and are being conditioned to call names.  Put another way, our city is preaching hate and intolerance.

Tragically, there seems to be very little public outrage.  If the situation were reversed (if a black student were ridiculed by a white teacher for wearing an Obama T-shirt), there would literally be protests in the streets (think of the Valley Swim Club debacle or the Don Imus Rutgers joke).  Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or both would be on a plane to Philly, and the local chapter of the NAACP would be circling the wagons.  The Philadelphia School District would have issued a formal apology by now and you can bet the teacher in question would be at the very least on administrative leave.

To show support for Samantha Pawlucy and freedom of speech in general, I will be wearing my Romney/Ryan T-shirt next week as I teach my lesson on Animal Farm.  Because this is not an official message of the school or district, because I will not use this to indoctrinate my students, and because I do not feel it will cause a disruption in the classroom or school, I feel I am well within my rights to publicly show support for Samantha Pawlucy and for freedom of speech in general.

It’s time to bring back America’s democratic ideals, and to speak out against the campaign of hate and intolerance being promoted by parents, misguided teachers, and the local media.  Please visit the “Support Samantha Pawlucy” page on facebook to show your support.

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Annette John-Hall, Voter ID, and the Bigotry of Low Expectations

by Christopher Paslay

A recent column by Annette John-Hall can serve as a valuable teaching tool on propaganda, voter integrity, and the soft bigotry of low expectations.

This coming week I have decided to use Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall’s article “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles” as part of my lesson on persuasive writing in my 10th grade English class.  Below are three issues we will cover, including questions for class discussions.

Voter ID and the Integrity of Our Electoral System

In September of 2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former president Jimmy Carter, issued a report titled “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections.”  In order to prevent voter fraud and rebuild American confidence in our electoral system, the commission made five recommendations, one of which was to require voters to show ID to vote:

To make sure that a person arriving at a polling site is the same one who is named on the list, we propose a uniform system of voter identification based on the “REAL ID card” or an equivalent for people without a drivers license. To prevent the ID from being a barrier to voting, we recommend that states use the registration and ID process to enfranchise more voters than ever.

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed.  In 2008, the court upheld Indiana’s photo ID requirement, ruling that it was a non-discriminatory means of protecting the integrity of elections.

Despite the opinions of Jimmy Carter and the U.S. Supreme Court, Annette John-Hall insists calling for voter ID “is really just a political dirty trick [by Republicans] to enact one of the harshest laws in the nation, intended to suppress votes under the guise of combating fraud that doesn’t exist.”

According to a story in USA Today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, however, voter fraud does exist:

In Texas, evidence of voter fraud abounds. In recent years, my office has secured more than 50 voter fraud convictions. Those include a woman who voted in place of her dead mother, a political operative who cast ballots for two people, and a city council member who registered foreign nationals to vote in an election decided by 19 votes. Voter fraud is hard to detect, so cases like these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, supporters of voter ID laws insist that one case of voter fraud is all it takes to spoil the integrity of our electoral system and justify voter ID laws.

Discussion Questions: Are voter ID laws needed to protect the integrity of our electoral system?  Is one case of voter fraud enough to justify these laws?  Why or why not?

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

“Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less–the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

These were the words of George W. Bush in a 1999 speech on improving education.  The same can be said of voter ID laws and the need to educate Americans on the importance of voting and acquiring the proper ID to do so.  Helping the poor and disenfranchised get an ID is much broader than simply voting; it is giving them the documentation necessary to both navigate and participate in 21st century society.

Currently, a valid ID is needed to cash a check, apply for working papers, apply for a marriage license, apply for a mortgage, fly on a plane, get a credit card, buy a car, rent a car, rent an apartment, rent a post office box, buy alcohol, cigarettes, a gun, take out student loans, take out home equity loans, leave the country, get back into the country, get car insurance, get life insurance, get home owners insurance, etc.  One would think those interested in empowering the poor and disenfranchised–those interested in helping struggling people better their lives–would do everything they could to help those in need secure a valid ID.

Interestingly, people like Annette John-Hall rail against voter ID and all its transformative benefits like the plague.  Instead of pouring their energy into getting the needy up to speed, they spend their time trumpeting to the world and all who will listen why the poor (and the young, and the old, and students, and minorities) CAN’T comply.  Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t.  No way.  Impossible.  Just too hard.  Too daunting.  They engage in laborious studies on why a minute group of Americans can’t overcome basic challenges, like the Brennan Center for Justice’s report “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification.”  How much money was spent on this report, and more importantly, how many thousands of IDs could have been acquired and given to indigent Americans in its place?

The Brennan Center claims the ID laws are “restrictive.”  John-Hall calls the ID laws “suppressive.”  Others, like the Inquirer, compare the laws to Jim Crow and insist they amount to the equivalent of a “poll tax.”

Why?  Here are the three best arguments against voter ID laws to date, as concluded by the Brennan Center: state ID-issuing offices have limited hours, long lines, and in some cases, require the use of public transportation.  This is what people like John-Hall call “Jim Crow.”  Those minority of Americans (less than 11 percent of the population) who want to vote and don’t have an ID have to take a bus, wait in a line, and coordinate both of these activities to fit into a time when the ID-issuing office is actually open for business.

Most Americans (75 percent) support voter ID laws and believe it is by no means unrealistic (or discriminatory) to expect Americans to be able to perform these aforementioned tasks.  Many will argue that assuming citizens are unable or unfit to do so is condescending, counterproductive, and a hindrance to their well being and growth; some will argue that such low expectations are the true source of voter suppression.

Discussion Questions: How might Annette John-Hall’s low expectations of the poor and disenfranchised influence their ability to vote?  How might these low expectation hurt society as a whole?  Does John-Hall have any underlying political motives or agenda for opposing voter ID laws and voter education?

Dishonest Journalism and the Use of Propaganda

In her article “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles,” Annette John-Hall uses a propaganda technique known as a “red herring” to convince the public that voter ID laws are harsh and suppressive.  Her article tells the story of Anthony DeCarlo, a 72-year old life long voter and recently retired CEO of a billion dollar company.  DeCarlo was recently (and mistakenly) alerted by the Commonwealth of PA that the name on his driver’s license (Anthony DeCarlo) didn’t match the name on the voter rolls (Anthony J. DeCarlo) and that “he might have a problem.”

Well, as it turns out (as it is revealed near the end of John-Hall’s article), DeCarlo didn’t have a problem; his ID is fine, his voter registration card is fine, and he will be able to vote in November, just like he’s done for the last 50 years.  So why is John-Hall’s article headlined “A retired CEO can’t top voter ID hurdles”?  Doesn’t not being able to “top voter ID hurdles” mean not being able to vote?

No, it doesn’t.  This is the convoluted and misleading game played by John-Hall and her editors–a propaganda technique known as a “red herring.”  The voter ID hurdles DeCarlo wasn’t able to clear involved going down to a DMV office and dealing with a “bureaucratic shuffle,” receiving a bit of frustrating misinformation from a clerk that was later rectified; if people like John-Hall simply cooperated with voter ID laws and voter education instead of railing against it, perhaps DeCarlo may have known that, according to votespa.com, “photo IDs do not need to exactly match their voter registration, but the names must substantially conform.”  DeCarlo may have also known that as a senior citizen, he could have simply cast an absentee ballot.

But to those busy readers who only happened to skim John-Hall’s headline (or only read the intro to the piece), one would think DeCarlo had his right to vote “suppressed.”  Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

In PA, the state has spent millions on voter education and has set up a website to assist anyone interested in voting to acquire an ID (in many cases free of charge), register, and get to their polling place to vote.  Even if a person doesn’t have a photo ID, or they are indigent and unable to obtain one without payment of a fee, they can cast a provisional ballot and will have six days to provide their photo ID and/or an affirmation to their county elections office to have their ballot count.  Senior citizens, the disabled, and others unable to get to their polling place can cast an absentee ballot.

Discussion Questions:  Is Annette John-Hall’s article propaganda?  Is her use of a red herring dishonest journalism?  How might this misleading information harm the public’s trust of voter ID laws and negatively impact the integrity of newspapers?

Annette John-Hall Would Make a Lousy Journalism Teacher

by Christopher Paslay

Inquirer columnist calls news editor who values excellence, truth, and integrity over skin color “ignorant”. 

On Sunday, Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall wrote an article about the principles of journalism headlined, “Alarming decline of diversity in newsrooms.”  She opened her piece by writing:

“A high-level editor once told me that of all the journalistic values he thought were critical to running a top-notch newsroom, racial diversity ranked, like, fifth on his list.

For him, the more traditional principles of ‘excellence,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘integrity’ took precedence.

Frankly, I was shocked – not because of his honesty, but because of his ignorance. There can be no excellence, truth, or integrity in covering the news without a diverse newsroom.”

As a veteran schoolteacher who’s taught journalism to a diverse group of Philadelphia teenagers for a number of years, after reading Ms. John-Hall’s piece in Sunday’s Inquirer, I was shocked by her alarming decline of good sense. 

Two things struck me as concerning after reading her piece:

1.  That Annette John-Hall would consider someone who valued excellence, truth, and integrity over skin color “ignorant”. 

2.  That excellence, truth, and integrity are not universalistic human qualities, rather, subjective notions based on race. 

Since Ms. John-Hall’s piece is, to be blunt, not only idealistic but dreadfully generic, I’d like to be trite myself and quote from one of the most overused but important speeches in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream:  

“. . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . . .”

I wonder if Ms. John-Hall would consider MLK “ignorant”?

Tragically, the idea that all people, regardless of race, possess universalistic human qualities such as “excellence,” “truth,” and “integrity” is under attack by writers such as John-Hall.  She insists it’s the news media’s job to help people come together and understand each other in an increasingly polarized society, yet she herself perpetuates this polarization by her obsession with skin color and her penchant for observing everything in society through the prism of race.        

“And while the media have a responsibility to cover the news with excellence, accuracy, and integrity,” John-Hall writes, “they also have an obligation to report with cultural authority if they want to stay relevant to the communities they cover—and to themselves.”

In other words, black reporters should cover black neighborhoods, white reporters should cover white neighborhoods, Jews must cover Jewish communities, and gays should write about the Gayberhood. 

As a journalism teacher, I find two problems with this line of reasoning.  First, reporting with “cultural authority” inhibits a journalist’s ability to be a neutral observer.  When it comes to objective hard-news stories, the journalist is primarily concerned with the 5 “W’s” and the “H”.  In other words, the journalist is concerned about the facts.  And true facts will remain facts regardless of who reports them. 

That is, of course, unless a reporter wants to inject his or her own “cultural authority” into a story.  For example, how objectively is a homosexual reporter who’s been subjected to assaults because of his sexuality going to report a story on the beating of a gay student on a university campus?  How will this reporter’s personal baggage impact the retelling of events?  Traditionally, an editor might pull such a person off of a story like this because they are too close to it.  Better to have a random, disconnected reporter cover the events.

The second problem I have with John-Hall’s “diversity” argument is that it suggests that at our core, human beings are fundamentally different.  I’m not talking about cultural or physical differences, I’m talking about differences when it comes to universal ideals such as “integrity” and “excellence”. 

If you will, Ms. John-Hall, can you explain to me the difference between white “integrity” and black “integrity”?  Can you explain the difference between Russian “excellence” and African American “excellence”?  The difference between gay and straight “accuracy”?    

News organization in America must be careful not to discriminate because of race.  When a journalist has mastered his or her craft, he or she should be given the opportunity to work for a news organization, regardless of his or her skin color.  In other words, the principles of “excellence,” “truth” and “integrity” are not subject to cultural interpretation, and this fundamental ideal is the first thing I teach my journalism students.

Core principles do exist that connect all people as human beings, despite John-Hall’s insistence otherwise.  With that said, it’s a good thing Ms. John-Hall is not teaching about these principles in a classroom environment. 

No offense, Ms. John-Hall, but you’d make a lousy journalism teacher.