One can't reasonably expect conservative street theater to conform any more closely to reality than liberal street theater does. At the Code Pink March 2003 anti-war protest, I was holding up a stick attached to a span of blue cloth that made me part of a river, so I'm certainly in no position to mock Young Republicans for their attempts to use metaphor to illustrate political views, particularly when I'm not exactly sure what a river had to do with an unnecessary war in the desert. Nonetheless, there's a certain childish charm in the river and the protestors who were leaping about me to represent the fish, that is decidedly lacking in conservative attempts to spark debate*. Take "Catch the Illegal Immigrant," which a NYTimes editorial describes as "one player poses as the immigrant, and everyone else tries to find that person. There's a prize, usually $200 or less, which is not much, but enough to celebrate the cheap exploitation of a fellow human."
Clearly the Times editorial board is a long way from their undergraduate days if they don't think $200 is a significant sum to a college student living on ramen. If there were a $200 prize in real life for reporting legal violations to the proper authorities, I'd be hanging out at the local chicken processing plant waiting to turn in the management for hiring people whom they reasonably knew not to be authorized to work in the U.S. I'd get $200 and a critical legal studies-style "this was my experience busting people for breaking labor law" article out of it.
As you might be able to tell, what irks me about the conservative game is not precisely what irks the Times. Though their editorial predictably concludes, "Educators should teach the game players about the real world," I don't think shutting down "Catch the Illegal Immigrant" in itself would be very effective in such a teaching moment. I'd much rather layer the game than protest it: add in H2 visas, Tyson's Chicken, southern farmowners bitching about their unpicked crops because of the recent crackdowns, etc. Games are a perfectly valid way to educate people. The problem with "Catch the Illegal Immigrant" is that it is simplistic to the point of being moronic, not that it was the brainchild of a Republican National Committee intern; whether there is a connection between the two, I shall leave to the individual to judge. In real life, the money is to be made in fining employers, not in deporting illegal immigrants. Indeed, the deportation process is rather expensive, and not simply because of the due process requirements for which Republicans have as much patience as they ever do (i.e. very little when it involves the life or liberty of people who have broken a rule, very much when it involves property). Every illegal immigrant who is plucked out of America may have citizen offspring for whom the government must find foster care, and a job for which a new worker must be trained.
Sadly, one cannot expect much in the way of reality from street theater, or of complexity from Young Republicans, particularly if the complexity would target people with money and power rather than those without it. And so the conservatives will play their games, the liberals will joylessly protest them, and I'll be disgruntled that this happens at NYU but not Columbia.
* Hei Lun said of the marriage-only-for-the-childbearing initiative in Washington State, "This is like the conservative bake sale, except that that was a one-joke stunt that didn't harm or inconvience anybody whereas this has the potential to drag on for months and involves the state." I took issue with his analogy:
I'm confused as to how this is like the conservative bake sale, given that the people who are putting forward this bit of political theater are saying "we are LIKE the people who feel insulted by this," whereas conservative bake sales implying that African American students are unworthy of admission to the college usually are staffed by non-blacks. This is a significant difference: gay people are saying "Hey, our rights are being denied supposedly on the basis that we don't procreate together; how would you feel if your rights were denied on that basis?" It's quite different to try to tell a group of people that they actually are like you and therefore should take your side, than to tell a group of people that they are unlike and lesser than you.Another commenter said, "I think the point of affirmative action bake sales is that it is university admissions departments who are telling a group of people that they are unlike and lesser than the rest," to which I replied,
Do the bake sale organizers ask the people to whom they sell what their SAT scores and GPAs were, and whether their parents are wealthy donors to the university, or do they assume based on skin color that all the black students got in on affirmative action and all white students got in on merit? (And that Asian students got in on overwhelming mindbending awesomeness.)Hei Lun then said, "PG, the analogy is of an interest group taking their opponents' stated position to its absurd extreme to show how wrong it is." I clarified,
I understand why you made the analogy; I'm pointing out how these would differ in being "counterproductive." (Well, I suppose if you're the conservative group and you don't worry about getting black students on your side, it's not counterproductive.)
Childless straights are sought as the allies of gays in the fight against a procreation-centric framing of marriage; gay people are saying "Look, if this is what gives people the right to marriage, you're in trouble too." There's no similar strategic move with the affirmative action bake sales; they are intended to be a metaphor of college admissions, one in which all blacks bring less value than all whites. Unless the bake sales are meant to make explicit to black students "As long as there's affirmative action, all of us (white students) view all of your (black students') accomplishments with suspicion," and thus get black students to oppose affirmative action as being against their own interests, they are not bringing the black students to the conservative side. But even then, it doesn't exactly put the conservative students and African Americans on the same side against a third party, as the claimed similarity between gays and childless straights vis a vis procreation-centric marriage proponents does.