He was one of the Oberlin Mafia, the nickname we gave the succession of bright young reporters who found their way to Arkansas years ago looking for their first reporting jobs. Nice kids, all of them. And almost all of them would go on to successful careers. But, fresh out of Oberlin, some of them still exhibited a few of the ideological tics they'd acquired at that politically correct campus. And they couldn't help but reveal them. Usually when politics was being discussed. As it regularly was.
Even the nicest and best mannered of the bunch, which this young man was, would fall back on certain newspeak phrases when pressed. He astounded me because, though a Yankee, he had beautiful manners. He was from Rochester, N.Y., and I've thought well of that city ever since. You could tell he'd been raised right.
I've mercifully forgotten what hot topic of the day we were discussing at lunch that day. Feminism, then known as Women's Lib? Homosexuality? Vegetarianism? The American League pennant race? It scarcely matters because, on hearing something particularly provocative said on the other side of the issue, he could scarcely contain himself. "That," he exclaimed, "is a mindset that must be crushed!"
The phrase has stuck with me. It is so emblematic of what civil discourse isn't. My young friend was suddenly transformed -- into a forerunner of today's shout shows on television. I could swear his eyes almost gleamed when he shouted the phrase. He could have been Lenin on a soapbox.
But the seizure lasted only a moment before he returned to his more civilized self, smiling a little sheepishly. As if some inner demon had been released.
How strange. We were all newspapermen and, while we might disagree about everything else, the one thing we surely could agree on was the importance of free and open expression. Ideas were meant to be expressed, not suppressed. Isn't that what a free press is all about? Crushing mindsets is not in our job description.
Long years have passed since that revelatory moment, but it comes back to me on occasion. Like whenever the orthodoxy of the moment decides that some ideas may not be expressed. Or at least they must be denied an equal hearing. And an equal footing in the public forum.
Case in sad point: The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court the other day in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which concerned a student organization at Hastings Law School, part of the University of California in San Francisco.
To those unacquainted with current ideological fixations, the group's aims might seem wholesome enough -- to discuss the law from a Christian perspective, study the Bible, that sort of thing.