Anyone who’s ever read, well, anything I’ve ever written knows I’m not exactly a conservative columnist. I love Bush-bashing as much as the next Yalie, and I take aim at the proverbial elephant in the room — the Republican party — on the increasingly frequent occasions when it makes an obvious target. And yet I write today with a surprising but urgent message for you: Yale needs more conservatives on its campus.
What has driven me to such a drastic conclusion? After being forced to watch Fox News for an entire week over spring break, I can assure you that I don’t relish the idea of flooding our beloved school with a bunch of aspiring Bill O’Reillys and Ann Coulters. Nevertheless, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the liberal “group-think” mentality that permeates our school, and indeed, the entire Ivy League.
The problem is not unique to campus liberals. If there’s one thing the headlines coming out of Washington lately have revealed, it’s that being in the overwhelming majority drives you to do incredibly dumb things. What have our Congressional Republican friends been up to since expanding their edge over Democrats in the last election? They’ve gutted the House Ethics Committee rules, rammed through a pork-stuffed Bankruptcy Bill, charged ineptly to the defense of Terri Schiavo, taken steps to scrap the sacred Senate filibuster, proven incapable of rallying behind a coherent Social Security plan and proven all too capable of rallying behind a House Majority Leader charged with more ethical and legal lapses than Al Capone. Righteous indignation aside, none of this is smart politics. Insulated by an army of conservative lobbyists, rightist staff members and each other, I think the party leadership is starting to lose touch with what the rest of the country really thinks.
Just as Republicans, increasingly used to their political dominance, are getting overconfident and sloppy, so too we campus liberals have a tendency to get complacent in the progressive paradise that is Yale University. Most of us share a set of standard-issue political priorities that we take largely for granted: minimizing economic inequality, preserving the environment, empowering women and minorities, protecting gays from discrimination and so forth. We hold these truths to be so self-evident that we usually don’t stop to question why they’re true, or why someone might disagree with them. Whenever some Republican from the outside world intrudes on our liberal la-la land, sporting a large “W” button and questioning these fundamental assumptions, we grimace and pray for him to leave quickly.
Of course, I think we’re right and they’re wrong. But because most Yalies don’t have to confront Bush-supporters on a daily basis, they see conservatism as an abstract problem that can be safely observed from afar. When Republicans impose the global “gag rule” or ram through tax cuts for the wealthy, with a few notable exceptions, we cluck our tongues and congratulate each other for being enlightened enough to collectively disapprove of these regressive actions without ever wondering what exactly we could do to change them. In class, our professors slyly drop the occasional Bush-bashing laugh line, and we enjoy a good chuckle as we bask in the comfort of knowing that our learned elders agree with us. Demonstrations, teach-ins and rallies for innumerable progressive causes teem in the streets, and even as we roll our eyes at the excesses of GESO, we derive secret pleasure in the activist atmosphere that envelops us. We may be peeved in principle about what is happening to the country, but in practice we liberal Yalies are spoiled to the point of utter inaction.
On the other hand, conservatives at Yale go through a diametrically opposed experience. The Republican Yalie is a student behind enemy lines — every position taken, every argument advanced, is bound to be met not with sympathetic coddling, but with frigid skepticism. In order to stand fast and defend their opinions at Yale, conservatives must engage in daily hand-to-hand combat with those around them, forcing them to identify, replace and strengthen any inconsistency or flaw in their political reasoning. If we grow slow and fat gorging on the leftist feast that is academic and political discourse on this campus, then they become tough and lean through scarcity and adversity. In short, only the fittest and sharpest conservatives make it out of Yale intact.
But what does this ultimately mean? To oversimplify the situation, right now our left-leaning school churns out an annual cabal of right-leaning future world leaders. They band together at conservative campus oases like the Grand Strategy program, emerging with Ivy League diplomas and a battle-tested willingness to advance the Republican agenda. Meanwhile, a horde of complacent liberals are released into an untamed country far more in ideological sync with the new Pope Benedict XVI, by all accounts an implacable opponent of everything Yale secular liberalism embodies. They are few but well-armed; we are numerous and likely to become road-kill.
I worry the gulf between the politics of Yale and the politics of the wider world has become a chasm very difficult for most liberals to cross — we no longer understand where much of the country is coming from, as we were so rudely reminded in the 2004 election, and therefore have little hope of leading it anywhere better. We may not like what the political composition of the United States today looks like, but unless we do a better job of reflecting it in our student body, we will never understand how to begin changing it.
Roger Low is a sophomore in Branford College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.