Yale’s newest political party, the Party of the Left, aims to initiate a new U.S. liberal movement through debate and coalition-building, organizer Silas Kulkarni ’06 said Friday at the group’s first informational meeting.
The POL will hold its inaugural debate, “Resolved: Women should be eligible for the draft,” Thursday night in the Branford College Common Room. Party founders and interested Yalies said they hope the POL will create a “new, cohesive ideology” at Yale that will unite left-leaning thinkers and eventually spread beyond campus to the national political arena, but some students said they are skeptical about the party’s chances for success.
Founding member Paul Selker ’08, one of 10 founders including current members of four existing YPU parties, said the POL will be a debate society for all who identify themselves as left of center and are frustrated with the state of the American left.
“The left has been losing in America and has been losing bad,” Selker said. “We are fractured and we are splintered. The Party of the Left is an answer to that problem.”
Kulkarni — a former Yale Political Union president and Party of the Right secretary-treasurer who identifies himself as liberal — said serious philosophical debate among those on the left is necessary to compete with the conservative movement in the United States. Divided liberal factions must recognize areas in which they agree and form a cohesive ideology that can appeal to a mass audience, he said, which was a strategy successfully executed by conservatives in the years leading up to the Reagan era.
“If the right wing has learned to do something well, by all means, let’s steal their tricks,” Kulkarni said. “They probably stole them from us 30 years ago.”
Despite the ambitious goals set by its founders, the POL has far to go before these high-reaching ambitions can be realized, Kulkarni said. In addition to building the requisite membership base and party infrastructure, he said, the POL must first complete a complicated process — demonstrating sufficient interest and membership commitment — to join the YPU, which may not be possible this semester.
Furthermore, the YPU is currently considering a proposal that, if passed, will make it even more difficult for new parties to join the Union. Under current regulations, the party would have to obtain signatures from one-sixth of the YPU’s active members saying they would join the party. The proposed additions would require the party to register 25 voters — meaning they would have to sign in to at least three meetings in a semester — in each of the first two semesters after being recognized by the Union.
If successful, the POL will be the first party to join the Union in 10 years, since the Conservative Party in 1996, YPU Speaker Alex Charrow ’07 said.
Another major challenge Kulkarni said is facing the left at Yale that the POL hopes to overcome is the distinction between activism and more formal discourse.
“A lot of activists are skeptical, if not openly hostile, to debate,” Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni said the group hopes to draw activists by developing a form of debate that compliments activism, placing practical goals in the broader framework of a unified liberal movement.
But some are questioning the group’s ability to overcome the obstacles ahead.
Political activist Ted Fertik ’07 said he thinks many students at Yale are too busy working toward actual political change to want to spend time discussing ideological details.
“We have a very engaged and active campus, [and] I don’t know whether a ton of people are going to be moving their activism over to the YPU,” he said.
Fertik said he thinks the lack of ideological cohesion on the left may, in some circumstances, exist because of genuine ideological differences rather than because of an absence of debate and cooperation.
“There is a broad ideological range that I’m just not sure can be bridged,” he said.
Independent Party and YPU member George London ’08 said that although the POL aims to unite liberal students, it may instead have a fracturing effect on the left at Yale. He said the YPU is already struggling to support six parties, and the new group will inevitably draw members from previously established ones.
“Trying to divide people into yet another party is maybe not the best idea,” London said. “Their goal isn’t explicitly to steal other people, but they have and they are going to need to, in order to get the party started.”
Daniel Graves ’09, who said he is considering joining the POL, said he has gone to several YPU events but has not yet decided which party will be the best fit for him. He said the POL interests him because it promises to debate a variety of opinions.
“This party seems like it’s more loose and into debating than some of the other ones, at least as they appear at YPU debates,” Graves said. “They seem more open-minded.”
Party of the Right Chairman Andrew Olson ’08 said that although he also thinks the POL may disrupt the current parties in the YPU, a group committed to more intense philosophical discussion on the left will actually benefit conservatives at Yale.
“It would be good for the conservatives in the Union, for the right in general, if there was a stronger left in the Union coming to debates,” he said. “The left in the Union needs to be revitalized.”
But Olson said he thinks the POL may face a serious leadership vacuum next fall because some of the founding members — including Kulkarni — are graduating, while those who will remain are largely inexperienced or have other commitments to the YPU.