I didn’t know much about New York Governor George Pataki before I decided to run with the don’t-ever-miss-an-opportunity-thrown-at-you-by-Yale philosophy and hear him talk.
I knew he was a moderate Republican — a foreign species for me coming from a leftist, urban background — but I figured, why not? So last Tuesday I walked through the rain, completely underdressed for the event in shorts and boots, to meet the governor.
I had never been to a Master’s Tea before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. With all the descriptions of Yale’s “super liberal” political climate, I figured there was a good chance that people would show up to hassle the governor about his support for Mitt Romney or slashing welfare spending. Instead, Pataki met an audience just as conservative as him, if not slightly more.
People snapped and nodded in response to his statements about the excessive entitlements Americans feel they deserve, eerily reminiscent of Romney’s catastrophic 47 percent remark.
Pataki explained that the average American’s political alliances are somewhere between center and right and that the country is falling apart thanks to our wildly leftist president. He didn’t explain how a right wing population managed to elect such a dangerous radical.
Sitting through the discussion, rolling my eyes, I found myself looking at the rest of the audience. Unlike me, they were mostly immersed in Pataki’s words, looking up to a man who represented much of what I’ve always viewed as just plain wrong. The audience was a perfect representation of the center-right America Pataki had described. And at Yale — the Yale I was constantly told was too left to handle. Conservatives complain about it, liberals revel in it and I, evidently, was misled by it.
The students at the tea seemed to mainly be social liberals with moderate to conservative economic beliefs. They agreed that we should boost our already gargantuan military spending. Some questioned the validity of global warming. Others sung the praises of strict voter ID laws.
Never in my life had I found myself in such a conservative environment.
Obviously the students who would elect to see Pataki speak would, on average, be more conservative than most. But, from the interactions I’ve had with students since arriving to campus, it seems that the typical Yale student isn’t nearly as liberal as many make them out to be.
Given a social issue like gay marriage, Yale students speak in complete support or know not to open their mouths in opposition. But when it comes to issues of the economy, working-class struggles, social programs, dare I say class warfare, students’ views are remarkably shifted to the right.
I have had fellow students explain to me that there is nothing wrong with CEOs profiting at the expense of paying their workers minimum wage with no benefits. I have been told that wealth disparity is just a part of life. Many Yale students figure that, as unfair as the system is, they are on the winning side and therefore don’t want it to change.
As much as people like to espouse the notion that Yale is a liberal institution, it acts as a stepping-stone to the world of big business. It’s a corporation that makes money wherever it can, and much of the student body will, a few years from now, be working for groups that do the same. To someone who comes from a high school where not supporting Occupy was frowned upon, this comes as a bit of culture shock.
I’m glad I went to see Pataki. The talk opened my eyes to a fact about the place where I’m about to spend four years that I hadn’t been ready to accept. Yale isn’t the liberal haven I’m accustomed to, even if some people say it is.
But that might be a good thing. I appreciate being surrounded by diverse views, even if I think some of them are despicable. And I’m glad to share what I have to say with those who think the same way about my views.
In a few years, we’ll find ourselves on opposite sides of the lines out there in the real world, but at least we’ll know how the other side thinks. Maybe that kid you sat next to in section freshman year will be sitting inside the high-rise outside of which you’re protesting. Maybe you will find yourselves representing opposing political parties on a ballot. As much as our paths might differ, we will have spent four years together. That’s a valuable education.
Diana Rosen is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.