The events of last semester have reinforced a strong sense of partisan pride among Yalies. More than at any time in recent memory, liberals and conservatives unapologetically trumpet their views, ideals and politics. While the election has long passed, Democrats still adorn their bags with anti-Bush paraphernalia and defiantly wear Kerry/Edwards merchandise; the Bush-Cheney hat and “Dubya” pins, meanwhile, remain fixtures for Republicans. Emotions have hardly died down. Many liberals have called for open resistance against W., declared a one-sided moratorium on political discourse (Republican-bashing, a fixture of campus life, continues unimpeded), and propagated myths about the “stupidity” and “fundamentalism” of Red America. For Republicans, meanwhile, faith in the political process has been reassured: They have been handed a strong mandate to enact the Bush agenda and protect American interests against the threat of Islamism.
The pundits have stressed the emergence of “two Americas” in explaining the presidential election, stressing the sharp cultural divergence between Red and Blue states. I believe that this analogy can be taken even farther: At Yale, a partisan culture-clash is real and growing. Campus politics are sharp, passionate and emotion-ridden, and the differences between liberals and conservatives stem not from their relative emphasis on idealism or pragmatism but from fundamentally different values and first principles.
What is it that unites Yale Republicans? They are religious, but not necessarily evangelical. Their spirituality leads to a belief in a moral order that must be recognized and protected. The importance of these values is evident from Republican calls for the protection of life (on issues like stem cell research and abortion) to the war on terror. There has also been a pronounced reaction from conservatives to the secular fundamentalism professed by many campus liberals. While some Democrats may intend to simply reaffirm a separation of church and state, many espouse views which are anti-religion and discriminate against persons of faith. To many liberals, religion is dangerous dogmatism. To most Republicans, faith is an indispensable source of clarity and strength.
Republicans are individualists and believe the purpose of government is to protect and empower citizens, not run their lives or affairs. It should surprise few that most Republicans have middle and upper-middle class backgrounds — that, both at Yale and in America, the core of the GOP are not the fabulously wealthy, but those who work diligently to make ends meet. These individuals are naturally hesitant to support those they believe have not sacrificed to the same extent as they. Republicans often subscribe to the belief that hard work is rewarded: as such, the government should be sparing in levying taxes on income and property. To Democrats, the state has the duty to reduce inequality between individuals, and therefore, campus liberal groups emphasize the need for unions and worker groups. These ideals, needless to say, are unjust by most Republican accounts.
The most significant divergence between Yale Republicans and Democrats has surfaced over issues of patriotism and security. Conservatives defer to the protection-oriented government embodied by the Patriot Act, while liberals dismiss such measures as “fascist” and “overly intrusive.” America remains to most Republicans a city on a hill: There is no moral equivalency between the United States and the world’s despotic regimes. Conversely, for too many liberal activists, we should be constrained by the same rules as Syria or Iran and defer to ineffective organizations such as the United Nations. For conservatives, the ideals of American republicanism redeem our actions abroad; for liberals, our ends are invalid or have been corrupted by our militaristic means.
Most conservatives will agree that Yale has been a polarizing influence. Almost all will attest that they have become more Republican over their time in New Haven; a few (if you press them) will admit that they entered Yale as liberals and have undergone a major shift to the right. Perhaps most striking about this development is how vocal these converts have become. They are at the forefront of every event, proud to advertise their affiliation and campaign for their candidates.
This transition can be explained in two fashions. For many, their time at Yale has exposed them to considerable conservative literature, and these materials have either awakened new insight or reinforced existing values. These students have become more conservative by independently developing their faculties within the Ivory Tower. For most, however, this Republican galvanization has occurred as a result of interactions with Yale’s overwhelming liberal majority. Democrats are united on few matters: Much more ideologically diverse than Republicans, they have suffered from a general lack of cohesion. In an almost Huntingtonian worldview, in which “there can be no true friends without true enemies [and] unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are,” they have only found strength in attacking Republican values.
The anger and frustration of liberals has roused campus conservatives and brought dissatisfied Democrats within rightist ranks. Indeed, the mindset of Yale liberals has convinced many moderates that they are not only of a different political party than the Democrat majority — but more significantly — that they are of an entirely different political culture.
Al Jiwa is a junior in Pierson College. He is president of the Yale College Republicans.