Politics or religion makes for impolite discussion — or so my mother once told me. Apparently, no more. With one week until Election Day, the posters, buttons, chalk and T-shirts are out in full force and in your face. Even thefacebook.com has joined the political orgy with an “Intended Vote” category, and members have taken the opportunity to write witty barbs like “Kerry. (I don’t want a moron running the country)” and “Bush=Hitler, Nader hates America, so — GO KERRY!” Aside from the DKE brother with the Bush-Cheney ’04 trucker hat and those fetching girls with Bush pins at the football tailgates, the election imagery on campus is exclusively left-of-center.
Faced with the deluge of brazen liberal hype, the right-leaning student is faced with a predicament: He can either cower within the confines of his suite, or confront the onslaught of propaganda by sporting Republican campaign gear. A month ago, I opted for this latter, more fashionable route by dropping twenty bucks at georgewbushstore.com for a Bush-Cheney ’04 T-shirt.
As much as the shirt was a show of my support for the president in this election, it was also an attempt at a social experiment to see how Yalies would react to support of “that moron,” George W. Bush, and of his “sinister sidekick,” Dick Cheney. As I walked around campus, wearing my politics impolitely and literally on my sleeve, the snickers were numerous and the faces were priceless. Strangers met the shirt with looks of disgust. Friends laughed, knowing that I was out to irritate the delicate sensibilities of as many campus liberals as possible. The countless double takes, frigid stares and disapproving head shakes indicated that I at least drew some ire and perhaps even a prayer for the salvation of my soul.
Along with liberal, righteous indignation, the Bush-Cheney T-shirt experiment also revealed a covert fraternity of Bush supporters on campus. Though few and far between, a handful of thumbs-ups and friendly smiles indicated that there are at least a few Republicans among us.
If I didn’t succeed in aggravating any left-leaning students, I certainly got the job done with the “Spartacists,” a couple of fried hippies proffering Communist screeds and sporting “End the Racist Death Penalty and Free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” “Bush is a War Criminal” and [insert token liberal cause here] posters in front of the Yale post office.
Normally, I wouldn’t waste my time discussing politics with such incorrigible and deluded leftists, but today was different: My Bush-Cheney shirt yearned for some love and attention. I confronted the “Spartacists” about their eulogizing of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and their desire to free a brutal cop-killer, but they wouldn’t have any of it. One glance at the Dubya logo and the intellectual heirs of militant Marxism refused to even acknowledge me. Apparently the shirt didn’t do it for them.
Ivy-League elitism and the stuffy trappings of smoking jackets and Mory’s have long been associated with Yale, but this traditional arrogance has morphed into a conceit of a different type. The reactions to the Bush-Cheney shirt revealed that many Yalies were appalled at the thought of any self-respecting student possibly supporting Bush in this election. These individuals take for granted that because someone is reasonably well-informed and educated, he must be liberal and voting for John Kerry. Only gay-bashing, right-wing Christian fundamentalists (read: insane) or recruited athletes from Texas (read: ignorant) could vote George W. Bush for president.
If you don’t fit Yale’s warped stereotype of a Republican, people are stunned that you, as a rational person, could vote for evil incarnate. And if you do fit the stereotype of the insane or ignorant Republican, you probably don’t advertise your political views, lest you unleash the unholy wrath of the pissed-off Yale activist.
We conservatives may be in the minority at Yale, but it’s a position that we relish. True, campus protest culture may often border on inane. True, a room full of seething Democrats cursing the presidential debates may be irksome. And true, Yale liberals, sheltered from the real world, may incestuously breed an unhealthy, elitist arrogance as embodied in the contemptuous reactions to my shirt. But for all that is wrong with Yale’s brand of liberalism, the upshot is that the conservative is challenged from the classroom to the dorm room. The passionate, intelligent liberal forces us to think about our convictions and at times, to moderate them — but most of the time, defending our beliefs only strengthens them and fuels our obstinacy.
Keith Urbahn is a junior in Saybrook College.