Imagine that you’re writing a paper for a class — any class at all. You’re confident in your mastery of the course material, and you easily produce a well-written essay. But when your professor returns your paper one week later marked with an F grade and a “see me” scribbled below it, you’re bewildered. At office hours you ask why you’ve done so poorly. Your professor tells you that your arguments were strong and your thinking impressed her, but you cited no evidence to support any of your claims. Therefore, she couldn’t give you anything but a failing grade.

Needless to say, that rarely (if ever) happens at the University. Heck, that wouldn’t even happen at most high schools. As students, we’re aware that an argument carries no weight unless backed with solid evidence. This goes for any subject. In the face of evidence to the contrary, or in the absence of any evidence at all, outlandish claims don’t hold up.

Academic discourse doesn’t exist without evidence. That much should be common sense. So why did some on campus suddenly forget this basic tenet of academia the moment Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor came to Ann Arbor last week?

Case in point: a Michigan Daily viewpoint titled Good work, Mr. Leader written on behalf of the College Republicans. Published on the day of the House Majority Leader’s visit, the piece praises Cantor in a spate of buzzword glorification à la Fox News that would bring a patriotic tear to any Tea Partier’s eye.

According to the viewpoint, Cantor has been busy this term “rolling back job-killing regulations,” “fighting tooth and nail to prevent implementation of President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional health care law” and making efforts “to engage in dialogue, reach across the aisle and find common sense, agreeable solutions to our economic problems.” After all, it’s obvious that “the only job Obama cares about saving is his own,” right? The term “job-killing” appears three times throughout the viewpoint. What a rich adjective.

In their analysis, the College Republicans cite no academic or professional studies, no data, no polls, no history, no specifics — nothing even slightly resembling factual evidence that might support their broad, bold claims. I realize we’re working with limited space here (around 750 words), but any scrap of objective information would really help me out. At the very least, mention a credible report that we can access on our own time. Buzzwords like “job-killing” are sexy, but hollow. They get you great ratings on cable news, but they accomplish nothing in the real world.

And then there was Cantor’s speech.

Before I go any further, let me first say that I didn’t appreciate the protesters who, during the question-and-answer session, thought it useful to stand up and shout down Cantor whenever they disliked his answers. Yes, I realize Cantor evaded nearly every question he was fielded. And yes, I realize how frustrating it was to watch. But making a spectacle, no matter how well intentioned, only undermines the integrity of your cause.

To tell you the truth, Cantor’s speech was pretty boring. The only part of his talk that I enjoyed, and the only part with any real substance, was the bit about his family history. Fleeing religious persecution during the turn of the century in Eastern Europe, Cantor’s grandmother immigrated to the United States with nothing but the promise of the fabled American dream. I found it touching — perhaps because it was the first time I’d ever seen Cantor appear remotely human.

In his speech, Cantor frequently argued that government should give struggling Americans a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” He never specified what exactly distinguishes one from the other, but given his hostility toward Occupy Wall Street, I’d assume hand ups don’t include any tax hikes for the wealthy. Cantor also spoke about giving all Americans the opportunity to “climb the ladder” of success. “We should want all people to move up and no one to be pulled down,” he said. That sounds nice, right? His rhetoric was so devoid of substance that I couldn’t really agree or disagree with any of it. His words were just there, lifeless.

In reality, the House Majority Leader promotes draconian policies that run counter to the American dream — a fairytale that is dying, if not already dead. In a landmark study last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, 65 percent for the next 19 percent, about 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent. According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States has more unequal income distribution than countries such as Iran, China, Egypt and Tunisia. How would Cantor remedy these issues? I have no idea. His speech never really addressed them.

Next time, Mr. Cantor, try to bring something substantial to the table.

Daniel Chardell can be reached at chardell@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.