Yes, there is so very much to talk about today, like the way-cool DOMA verdict in Massachusetts, so very much to get all foamy and filthy about, like slime bucket David Vitter's abetting of a girlfriend-attacking aide, but for a moment, the Rude Pundit is going to thank someone who, for the better, impacted him like an asteroid hitting the earth and taking out the dinosaurs.
There is one major reason that the Rude Pundit has and holds firm to certain beliefs about people, the nation, and the world, and that is a professor from his first semester of college. The Rude Pundit spent only a year at Tulane University, but in a single course, Professor Jean Danielson completely and utterly transformed his worldview. She died Monday. She wouldn't have remembered the Rude Pundit if he had his name in neon on top of his head, but, chances are, there would be no "Rude Pundit" if it hadn't been for Prof. Danielson.
In her Political Theory class, she taught us freshmen everything from Aristotle to Rousseau, and she did it all with such conviction and genuine, if muted, passion that it forced the young, conservative Rude Pundit to re-examine everything he had been told about the world, by his parents, by the media, by his friends, by Ronald Reagan. When we got to Thomas Hobbes and the social contract, and he realized that that's what Republicans saw in humanity, he bailed on the right and opened his mind to the possibilities of progress through liberal ideology, not the repression and control demanded by a conservative view of the world.
There are two moments that the Rude Pundit remembers fondly: there was a wannabe anarchist in the class, the obnoxious kind of stoner who's read a bit of Carlos Castaneda and thinks he knows it all. Prof. Danielson, who loved arguments in our class, wrote the word "liberty" on the blackboard and asked what we thought it meant. Johnny Needstobathe said, "Well, you may say that word's 'liberty,' but I may say it's 'frog.'" She asked him to repeat himself. He took it further. "You might see it as that word, but I might see it as 'frog.' You only see 'liberty' because someone told you that's what it is."
She nodded and responded, "If you go around telling people that you think 'liberty' is a 'frog,' you won't get very far in this world." And she went on. The lesson? Bullshit is for bullshitters who have nothing else to say. Don't waste everyone's time. Especially if we're talking about liberty.
The other moment is more an image. The Rude Pundit would visit Prof. Danielson in her office, where stacks of books and papers filled the space. There, he laid out the deep conflicts he was having about his worldview. Smoking away, back when that sort of thing was allowed, she led him to understand that you have to construct your web of beliefs on more than just the weak threads of blind obedience to those you're supposed to respect. You have to be willing to go into the tangles and thickets, get cut up and bruised, and then come through on your own to see what you know now. Yes, she was very Yoda in her methods.
The Rude Pundit has often told the story of his walk across the Tulane campus one autumn night, on his way to a Young Republicans meeting, of how the friend he was walking with thought that it was ridiculous that Congress wanted to cut spending on the nuclear arms race, of how the Rude Pundit stopped and said, "No, I think we have enough missiles. I don't think I can go to this meeting," of how he right there and then abandoned Reagan and the right-wing for good.
Prof. Danielson caused that night to happen. And that night led to this blog. He is grateful to her every day. Here's hoping that students in the years and years after had such life-altering revelations because of her.