Nearly one week after John Kerry conceded the election to President Bush, my liberal friends have still to regain their full color. I remember the campus being deathly quiet on Wednesday afternoon — the only reactions I could get from passing Democrats were scowls and shaking heads. My suite remained silent for much of the evening: While a Kerry-Edwards sign continued to defiantly hang in the common room window, the overriding mood was profoundly morose. AOL away messages mourned the “idiocy of American society,” while a number of my friends posted links to the Canadian immigration Web site (the Tourism Board of Toronto, noticing this trend, contemplated conscripting George W. Bush as their new publicity model, but chose John Ashcroft instead).
Truth be told, I missed talking politics with Democrats. While I love being surrounded by Republicans (where the extent of our disagreements is often the magnitude of future tax breaks), I believe this campus is greatly enhanced by two-way dialogue. As much as I may lament being on the political defensive, I find that many of my favorite Yale memories consist of late-night debate marathons. After such a trying few months and an emotion-ridden campaign, the question remains of how we may return to normalcy. While Bush has expressed a strong desire to transcend “partisan divides,” his rhetoric has been drowned out by the cynicism of many campus liberals. Perhaps the Democratic activists are right — Bush may not be able to unite all of America — but this development should not preclude civility between our political camps. The few weeks before President Bush is sworn in give us ample opportunity to assess our own goals for the next four years. I strongly believe that constructive dialogue should be at the top of that list.
On Nov. 5, I organized a counter-protest for what I believed to be an anti-Bush rally. I had been sent an e-mail with the subject header “Don’t Mourn, Organize.” The letter expressed the dissatisfaction of many liberal students toward the election results and called on Yalies to assemble on Cross Campus to unite in anger. As College Republicans gathered in front of Sterling Memorial Library the next afternoon, we found ourselves to be far outnumbered by the Democratic crowd (some things never change). The tone of the gathering, however, was not one of emotional protest; rather, the meeting consisted of different student leaders exchanging project ideas for the next four years. The mood of students was not one of reconciliation with their conservative counterparts: Some individuals spoke of “resistance” and others of “fighting every day.”
Quite honestly, I cannot blame them for being troubled by the election: After glancing at the exit polls, all of which had Kerry up by mid-afternoon, I could barely eat dinner on Tuesday night. I also cannot blame them for wishing to promote the issues they feel are important. What I found disappointing, however, was the lack of open-mindedness exhibited by many of those in attendance. My fellow Republicans remained quiet for the duration of the event and listened to what each campus Democrat had to say. The same courtesy was not extended to me by several liberals, who preferred instead to shake their heads or laugh incredulously at what I offered.
The message I presented was not partisan in tone or in content. I told the crowd I wanted my “Democrat friends to speak to me again” and that I hoped to work with different groups to create open forums for students to learn about the issues. I discussed my goal for a bipartisan effort to bring ROTC back to the Yale campus, and how, since the election results cannot be changed, we should learn to live with it instead of holding candlelight vigils in protest.
As I returned to my place in the crowd, a friend remarked that these activists were “unreasonable”; however, the actions of many in attendance have shown me that all may not be lost between Democrats and Republicans on this campus. I was approached by one girl about ensuring clean elections, another about writing in a campus magazine, another still about my views on the current situation in Iraq. As I glanced around, I saw Republicans discussing ROTC with liberals; even more were gathering flyers and information about a few of the groups that had refused “to mourn.” A few students accused me of being “unconstructive,” but last I checked, promoting dialogue between sides is the exact opposite.
I see a divided campus and a divided country. Democrats, however, have to realize that there was nothing “unfair” about this election or inherently “stupid” about Republicans for supporting Bush. The culture clash between our two sides is real: Social issues will continue to split this country into two separate camps. The war on Iraq will continue to be a polarizing force between liberals and conservatives; the Bush call for an “ownership society” will similarly be met with opposition by many Yale activists. Over the next few months, however, I hope to lead Republicans in an agenda where the entire political spectrum may find some common ground. I expect to start an argument whenever I identify myself as a Republican; lately, the best I can get is an angry stare. Bring it on, Democrats — God knows I’ve missed you.
Al Jiwa is a junior in Pierson College. He is the president of the Yale College Republicans.