Burning Questions with First Amendment Week Keynote Speaker Jon Lovett

Photo Credit: CAA

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Burning Questions with Jon Lovett – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

1. You’ve done a great deal in your life, and you’ve only just turned 30. What keeps your work ethic so strong?
I’ve had a few really lucky breaks. Getting to work for Hillary [Clinton], getting to work for President Obama, getting to write a TV show for NBC – these were very lucky breaks where I happened to be at the right place, at the right time. Other than that, it was two things: one, trying to be really honest about how much I had to learn and trying to really learn from people around me. … The other part was about knowing when to listen.

2. Is there something you haven’t done yet that you want to do?
I have no idea. I really try not to be a planner. I really try not to think too far ahead. I try to take things as they come. When you think of your life as a series of career choices, I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s much better to take the opportunities as they come … and also be ready to take a chance.

3. What do you think is the most valuable thing you’ve ever done?
I’m really proud of the number of speeches I had the chance to work on in the White House. There were moments where I had the chance to help influence important decisions, that being a speechwriter gave me the chance to make an argument that I’m really proud of. That experience – working at the White House – there’s nothing quite like it. There’s no experience like seeing the president deliver a set of remarks that you helped write and that you’re really proud of. Those were the times I felt like I made a real contribution.

4. What does the First Amendment mean to you personally?
It’s our great defense. It’s our great protection. There are a lot of places that don’t have that. They do have the right to elect their leaders, but they don’t have the same set of protections that we do. The First Amendment is our defender against the people who tell us that our ideas aren’t worth hearing, that our ideas are dangerous or that our religion is dangerous or that what we’re saying about power is dangerous. There have always been times in which really good ideas are considered unacceptable, but we’ve been protected by the fact that we have this amendment that says it doesn’t matter what everybody thinks.

5. What’s your reaction when people protest “First Amendment!” in cases that aren’t governmental, like when “Duck Dynasty”star Phil Robertson was suspended for homophobic comments in a GQ profile?
When people say, ‘Oh, they’re violating First Amendment rights,’ but it’s obviously not a First Amendment issue, it’s an inarticulate way of saying that they don’t like somebody being told not to say something. So obviously, that’s incorrect. There was no actual First Amendment issue in play. … But it is actually an important point. It’s obviously a point being made incorrectly, but it’s a really important point, that the freedom of speech doesn’t begin and end with the government. … In this particular case, what he said was pretty terrible. I understand both sides, and it obviously wasn’t a First Amendment issue. But that conversation playing out, of people having the right to say terrible things, at the same time, a conversation about what you’re saying is unacceptable is sort of how the culture changes. It’s how we decide how we change as a culture. … That’s a good thing.

6. You’ve spoken multiple times about bulls— in our culture. What makes this subject particularly compelling to you?
The culture is nothing new. I think it’s been around for a long time. We’re in this position where it’s almost like it’s been weaponized. Politicians have gotten very good at using that to figure out how to craft their message. Advertising companies have gotten very good at pushing the buttons of consumers. … Also, the Internet and social media and all the different ways we absorb the entertainment information now means that not only have companies gotten better at it, they’ve also gotten everywhere. An advertisement is no longer the back of the paper. It’s on your phone, it’s in your life – we’re surrounded by it. … I just think it’s an interesting time for people to try to tell the truth.

7. You’re really an active Twitter user – do you think having such a public, immediate forum for using our First Amendment right helps the cultural dialogue?
Yes, I do. I think Twitter has a downside. I think thoughts that come quickly aren’t always the best ones. We’ve all said things in conversation that we regret. Twitter is a way of saying things immediately, and that of course has some risk to it. At the same time, I think Twitter has been an incredibly positive force. It’s done really great things for people that didn’t previously have a voice, or a way of connecting with powerful interests that controlled newspapers and TV stations. They have a voice now, and they can reach those people. When there’s an important story, we don’t just read it now – we share it. And that sharing is powerful. People now can argue and debate with each other and make their best case … and, look, obviously, it’s a mess. It’s a big mess. But I think that conversation is really good. A lot of people make fun of Twitter and make fun of social media and say that it’s a bad influence on culture. But it’s amazing how often that comes from people that already have a platform, a way to reach out to people. … There are people who don’t have that. They have a chance to be part of that conversation. I think that it’s without a doubt, even with some negatives, a much better think for the culture.

8. With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games having just started in Sochi, where freedom of speech is not only unprotected, but is also particularly threatened, do you feel like this is a good time to be reflecting on our First Amendment rights?
There’s never a bad time to do that. I think you look at what’s happening, and you see journalistic institutions being shut down in Russia, and then you see all this corruption in the Olympics, and you see the crackdown on people, and you think, well, the freedom of speech is a great protector against corruption. And when you get rid of it, you very often find yourself not just in a country where people don’t have the right to speak – you find yourself in a country that’s fallen apart because there’s nobody holding the government accountable. We’re so lucky that we have this incredible tool of protecting ourselves and keeping our country on the right path.

Sandy Hook Shooting

The Breaking Point

Sandy Hook shooting

Photo Credit: Shannon Hicks | The Newtown Bee

I woke up at 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. It was my first day off after three weeks of sheer insanity, so I went into full hibernation mode. The first 30 minutes or so after I woke up was spent lazily browsing the Internet. I barely looked at any social media, only seeing a stray post on my Facebook Timeline about gun control. It didn’t immediately catch my interest – there was a shooting in Portland a couple days ago, I figured it was referring to that. About 10 minutes after waking up, I finally saw a tweet about a shooting in Connecticut.

Then I turned on CNN. And I wished I had never woken up.

It’s safe to say that Americans have woken up to far too many shootings this year. This past summer, I contacted my friend in Colorado in a panic making sure that she was okay when I heard about the Aurora theater shooting. It felt like every day for a month afterwards there was new news of a shooting. Soon enough, they fell out of the news cycle again as the election took over – an election that featured almost no debate about gun control, that is. Then came the aforementioned Portland mall shooting earlier this week, which put guns back into the public consciousness. 2012 was on its way to being remembered as the Year of the Mass Shootings.

And then we as a nation received the ugliest wake-up call ever: 28 dead in an elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT. All of a sudden, we couldn’t take any more.

I honestly believe the nation has hit its breaking point in the wake of this shooting. In the past 48 hours, we’ve seen irresponsible journalism, silence from the NRA’s social media and, rising above the fray, a stunning titled called “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” that provides a unique voice among the cacophony. (If you haven’t read the piece yet, please do so. It’s incredibly important.)

Would this still have happened if more action had been taken after James Holmes shot up a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” this past summer? We’ll never know. But I do know that if something doesn’t change now, the American people aren’t going to stay silent. The question is: what needs to change?

“I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” makes the care of the mentally ill the primary point of discussion, and that message has been echoed across the Twittersphere in the past few days. Others are insisting that gun control is the issue here (Slate published an article I think was incredibly poorly-timed and disrespectful, but still worth reading). Some are trying to speak with voices of reason, but they’re getting lost in the battle to be the most extremely left- or right-minded. Ultimately everyone wants change, but no one can agree as to what that change should be.

I would be blown away if Americans could get it together enough to decide what the change needs to be and commit to making something happen within our government, but I have absolutely no faith that will happen. This tragedy is so heartbreaking for so many reasons, not the least of which is the 28 lives lost to senseless, inexplicable violence. Perhaps even more heartbreaking is the idea that it could easily happen again because we as a nation are so divided that we can’t decide how to fix the problem, much less decide what said problem is.

And that division is possibly the most heartbreaking part of all.

Holding on to hope

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Holding on to hope – Los Angeles Loyolan.

The Final Stretch

Design Credit: Kevin O’Keeffe | The Los Angeles Loyolan

If you bought into the message of hope that President Barack Obama ran on in the 2008 presidential election like I did, the last four years were probably a disappointment. I know I was underwhelmed – an obstructionist Congress and unrealized, sky-high expectations stymied promises of a different kind of presidency. In addition, Obama got far too caught up in the battle over health care, to the detriment of everything else he ran on.

In truth, what we were expecting was too much, and what Obama led us to expect was too unrealistic. So why am I voting for Obama once again? Three reasons: he is still looking out for my interests, he’s significantly better than Governor Mitt Romney and I still believe in his ability to lead this country.

I’m part of two major groups that supported Obama en masse last election: college students and LGBT individuals. From the perspective of a student who wants to be employed two years from now, it would be easy to say that the disappointing unemployment numbers from the last four years would lead me to vote for Romney. However, that would require Romney to have announced a clear and concrete plan to get job numbers up beyond “I was a job creator at Bain Capital.” Which, like so many things, Romney has failed to do.

What hasn’t Romney failed to do? Well, he has not failed to make clear that he would slash Pell Grants, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a college student who values an affordable education so I can get one of those jobs Romney promises to create, I’m horrified by Romney’s suggestion.

I’m also horrified that Romney doesn’t support marriage equality, something the President does. When Obama announced his support in March of this year, according to The New York Times, I was originally skeptical of whether his motivations were political and how much he would actually do for marriage equality. He somewhat enforced this with his statement recently that he wouldn’t push marriage equality on a national level, according to an interview with MTV. However, compared to Romney, who defends the archaic and arbitrary Defense of Marriage Act, Obama is far superior.

In fact, in almost every way, Obama is better than Romney, if for no other reason than that he knows what his policies are and can communicate them effectively. Romney has changed his positions so many times on so many different issues that he makes Senator John Kerry, who bore the ‘flip-flopper’ label in the 2004 presidential election, look positively decisive. Does he support a woman’s right to choose? Depends on the day – earlier in the campaign, he said he wouldn’t pursue anti-abortion legislation in an interview with the Des Moines Register. Almost immediately, his campaign “clarified” the remarks by saying that Romney is pro-life, according to The Huffington Post.

What about funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Well, in the Republican primaries, he wasn’t a fan, according to The Daily Beast, but he’s been suspiciously silent on the subject since Hurricane Sandy started ravaging the East Coast.

There’s a lot of value in a leader who can stick to his guns, especially when the stakes are as high as they were just last week when Sandy caused a state of emergency. Obama was such a strong leader in that situation that even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a staunch Republican, effusively praised the President. Such leadership was also shown when Osama Bin Laden was taken down – something that caused a spike in Obama’s approval ratings, according toABC News.

The worst thing about all the flip- flopping is that Romney is often adamant that his positions never changed. I can’t see someone like Romney being effective in such a situation, especially when he’s someone who lies about almost everything. Romney just doesn’t strike me as a strong leader in the slightest – but I still believe in Obama’s ability to lead.

I’m aware of how unpopular it is to say that I still have faith in the hope Obama once promised, and I’m not sure I do to the same extent. However, I do know that Obama has the right ideas for this country to continue moving forward. He’s more honest than Romney is, he’s done far more than anyone gives him credit for and I know he wants to finish the job he started in the last four years. I’m ready to give Obama that chance. There is still hope.

I still have hope.

Two-party debate: An exercise in futility

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Two-party debate: An exercise in futility – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Two-party debate

Cartoon Credit: Jackson Turcotte | The Los Angeles Loyolan

By all accounts, Tuesday night’s second U.S. presidential debate was an exciting affair. President Barack Obama showed he had some serious fight left in him. Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn’t back down. Moderator and CNN journalist Candy Crowley did what so many of us have been dying to do and fact-checked Romney on air. Compared to Romney’s dull-as-dirt total knockout in the first debate, this one was absolutely fascinating.

So why am I so unsatisfied?

From an unbiased standpoint, the debate was grand political theatre; at points, it honestly looked like the two candidates were a moment away from coming to blows. However, I’m not an unbiased observer. As an American citizen, a college student who hopes to get a job someday and a gay man who hopes to get married someday, I’m very much biased towards specific agendas, and I care about who wins this election. From that perspective, all the debates have been a bunch of, to borrow a phrase from Vice President Joe Biden, “malarkey.”

This isn’t entirely the fault of the candidates, though. It’s more the fault of the two-party debate format that makes every political battle “he said, he said.” Except for the rare moments when a moderator intervenes (Crowley’s aforementioned fact-check, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz’ relatively aggressive moderation in the Vice Presidential Debate), most of the time, viewers are left to infer whether one candidate or the other is being honest. (That is, of course, something that didn’t used to be an issue when lying in a debate wasn’t so rampant and unapologetic, as Romney has proven to be so far. So remember, it’s still kind of the candidates’ fault.)

While I don’t like the two-party format, I don’t particularly like bringing in a third-party candidate either. What’s so theoretically great about a two-party system is that the extremes are represented, and great debate can spring from the differences. Obviously, that hasn’t happened so far. Like I said, theoretically.

What the debates need is a real-time, fact-checking system. Again, theoretically, the moderator should do this, but between Jim Lehrer’s poor performance as moderator in the first debate and the ridiculous rules the campaigns unsuccessfully tried to enforce on Crowley in the second, the moderator is clearly not serving this function. Under pressure of being fact-checked, the candidates would have to provide real answers, hopefully creating some real discussion and showing the differences in their platforms. In that model, undecided voters could make an informed decision about how to vote. Additionally, policy wonks would be able to hear a real discussion about issues. Imagine that.

While political theatre is great, ultimately it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and I, for one, think the very biased observers – the American people – deserve a true debate.

Forgive me if I’m not holding out too much hope, though.

Don’t hate the “8”

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Should “8” play?: Don’t hate the “8” – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Graphic Credit: Alberto Gonzalez | The Los Angeles Loyolan

It shouldn’t even be a debate.

I’ll admit – I’m curious as to what fellow contributor Lauren Rockwell’s argument is regarding the LGBT Student Services (LGBTSS) Office’s presentation of “8,” the pro-marriage equality play, at LMU tomorrow night. From my point of view, not as an LGBT individual, nor as someone who is pro-marriage equality, but simply as an LMU student, I fail to see a single valid reason why the play shouldn’t be read on our campus.

Agree or disagree with what the play is arguing, the fact is that the show must go on, not because of the subject matter, but because it is an expression of a faction of students’ opinions. Their voices deserve to be heard.

For those who aren’t familiar with the play, “8” is a dramatic interpretation of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial currently headed for the Supreme Court. The case is about the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the infamous amendment to the California constitution that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Written by Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” “8” is an unabashedly biased and activist look at the trial, but it never pretends to be anything else.

Controversy brewed about the presentation of “8” on LMU’s campus when The Cardinal Newman Society posted an article about this on its blog. The post, which has been picked up by a couple other Catholic blogs but has failed to make a dent in the greater media sphere, argues that LMU is promoting gay “marriage” (complete with incredibly condescending quotation marks) through its production of “8.”

What The Cardinal Newman Society fails to understand is that if LMU were to shut down the production of “8,” the University would be silencing student voices simply because they are at odds with the Catholic Church’s positions – a terrifying proposition, and completely at odds with the Jesuit mission to educate the whole person and encourage learning, as LMU’s mission statement reads.

When asked about “8” in an interview with the Loyolan, ASLMU President Bryan Ruiz said that he believes LMU students’ self-expression “does need to be heard.” LMU and President David Burcham are clearly working with the same mindset, and their refusal to cancel the show is inspiring.

I’m incredibly proud to go to a religiously-affiliated school that is comfortable presenting a pro-marriage equality play on its campus while not fully endorsing it. To endorse the show would indeed be a violation of the Catholic position, something we shouldn’t ask the University to do. But to shut it down would violate our mission. So in truth, President Burcham and his administration have done the only thing they can do without appearing hypocritical to some part of the University’s identity.

You’ll notice I haven’t talked much about why I think “8” is so great and how important the message it will spread to students is. That’s because “8” isn’t great, and I think said important message is something the majority of our student body already supports.

On paper, “8” is a clumsily written play, full of preachy monologues and an unwillingness to portray marriage equality opponents as anything but morons. The marriage equality debate deserves a better dramatic interpretation, and I have no doubt that several years down the road, we’ll see one. But a show being bad isn’t any reason to censor it from running. As the Loyolan’s primary theatre critic for the past two years, I’ve certainly seen shows I didn’t like, but you never once heard me call for their cancellation out of sheer disgust. Besides, the point of “8” isn’t to be great theatre – it’s activist in nature.

The message it is spreading, however, is something I think most students on this campus and across the country already feel: Marriage equality is the right thing for right now. Even among young conservatives in the U.S., support for same-sex marriage is rapidly rising. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from May shows that almost half of young conservatives do indeed support marriage equality – and among young liberals, that number is sky-high. So, I don’t necessarily think a college campus, even a Jesuit one like LMU’s, is the most effective stage for a play like “8.”

What does any of this matter? Simple: It doesn’t. No matter how bad the play is, how repetitive its message may be or how much it may get The Cardinal Newman Society’s panties into a bunch, there is simply no valid reason to cancel “8.” At the end of the day, this is about students’ free expression, and we go to a school that values said expression.

That’s something worth celebrating, not debating.