Regular readers know that I’ve made a trek to Arkansas Boys State every year since 1992. They get a taste of liberalism; I get a taste of how far I am outside the mainstream in many Arkansas homes.
This year’s highlights from my afternoon at UCA with almost 600 rising high school seniors (most of whom, fortunately, won’t be old enough to vote in November):
* PRESIDENTIAL STRAW POLL: I asked for a show of hands on the three remaining major candidates and I’d estimate the hands, applause and din divided this way — Trump, 65; Bernie Sanders, 30; Hillary Clinton, 5 (and frankly, that 5 is generous.) I said I supported Hillary and got the immediate retort: “What about Benghazi?” A recitation of Trump’s poor business record and his record of being on every side of every major issue didn’t seem to dampen the ardor of Trumpinistas.
* GAY MARRIAGE: Non-issue. Nobody made a peep about it, even when I tried to goad them, given the U.S. Supreme Court ruling since my last visit. There are Boys State delegates, who — no big deal — are openly gay.
* TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN THE RESTROOM: I think it wouldn’t have come up had I not mentioned it. A very few seem concerned. Several otherwise very conservative students indicated it just didn’t trouble them much, though one indicated it seemed unfair for men to become women and then compete in sports.
* ABORTION: It endures as the most frequently asked question. Over and over. Round and round in what amounts mostly to declarations of faith and statements aimed at getting me to admit I’m a murderer. I gather from crowd reaction at my standard recitation of the legality of and reasons for women’s reproductive rights that I am by no means alone in my viewpoint, if not in the majority.
I got a nice round of applause when I wondered why there needed to be separate government exercises for young men and women — Boys and Girls State.
But … I also got a Scripture lesson in the extended post-session grilling by a number of students. A young man, responding to my remarks about the struggle for equal rights for minorities and women, quoted Timothy 2 to me: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.” All I could think to say in response was that he should be glad my wife wasn’t around.
I wish I could say the session left me optimistic for a sea change in Arkansas political outlook, but I can’t. Nonetheless, I still got a charge out of the jousting. Plenty of the young men — including those on the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum — are very well informed. That’s hopeful.
UPDATE: I got a nice letter from a delegate thanking for my speech and noting — as I’m sure many others would — that though he was a Bernie Sanders supporter, that wouldn’t preclude his support for Hillary Clinton come general election time. I presume all understood that no voter will have a choice of Sanders, Clinton or Trump.