I was forewarned.
Before I arrived at Yale as a freshman, many members of my family warned me. Yale would be too liberal, they cautioned. Especially on the issue of Israel, Yale was a veritable bastion of leftism. What I have actually found at Yale is more troubling than the hardcore liberalism my family warned me about. I have observed a massive and pervasive amount of fiscal conservatism.
What my family warned me about was the Yale that they knew from their youth — the radical utopia of the 1960s. The Yale where 400 of 1,000 graduating seniors in 1968 declared their intention to dodge the draft. The Yale where in 1970 President Kingman Brewster made classes optional in the face of aggressive radicalism. But that Yale is gone. Its long-haired, pot-smoking, pseudo-Communist students have been replaced with upper-middle-class kids possessing a strange, center-left sense of apathy.
Yalies are, for the most part, socially liberal. Even most of Yale’s outspoken conservatives are moderate enough on social issues. Many support gay marriage or the legalization of marijuana. They are against the war in Afghanistan and for greater privacy and respect for individual choice. Their social ideology is largely libertarian — keep the government out of my head, my classrooms and my bedroom.
But their fiscal ideology is decidedly right-wing. They are against expansive welfare programs and government spending. They want entitlements to be reined in and the deficit to be slashed. At least from my experiences, they have vague notions that government is too big and that success should not be taxed.
According to an April 2012 poll conducted by The Politic, a Yale undergraduate journal, Yalies expressed significantly more support for issues such as gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana than for raising taxes on the top 1 percent. Even though a majority of students favored raising taxes on the wealthy, it is notable that they supported this 15 or 20 percent less than these other contentious issues.
“I think very few ‘liberal’ Yalies are particularly liberal on both social and fiscal issues,” said Christian Vazquez ’13, a self-identified social moderate and fiscal conservative. Vazquez represents a growing number of students who share this ideology.
“Americans since the 1990s have tended to identify more with their social views on issues than their fiscal views,” Vazquez said. “As a results Yale’s ‘liberal’ campus is really only socially liberal with most Yalies having a somewhat vested interest in the fiscal status quo of conservatism.”
This brand of conservatism has always seemed somewhat elitist to me: the idea that if you don’t need anyone else’s help, no one else should either. It fits quite well with the sense of entitlement and superiority that is possessed by some people at Yale — people on the left and right.
A great number of Yale students are the product of either elite prep schools or elite suburban public schools, at which their worth is socialized into them. They are used to being the best and brightest; they didn’t need anyone’s help to get where they are today, they say. They worked for it, damn it, and it took time and effort and no small amount of stress.
Many kids from urban public schools feel the same way, because they shone in spite of less privileged beginnings. They did it, after all, so anyone else can, too.
Here’s the problem with this ideology: Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You did — you were valedictorian, debating champion, National Merit Scholar, Olympian or all of the above — but you probably had a remarkable amount of support from your parents. Studies have shown that the single greatest determining factor in a child’s success is parental support. That Yalies are wealthier than most is less important than the fact that their parents probably stressed education more than most. There are exceptions to this rule, obviously, but most Yale students come from beginnings that in some way pushed them to succeed.
Not everyone gets those opportunities and encouragement. Some need government aid to bridge the gap. After all, we all benefit from government programs, though some do more than others. But slightly higher taxes, slightly bigger bureaucracy — to many Yalies, these are too much to bear.
The radical liberalism of Yale’s recent past and the social liberalism of its present obscure the fiscal conservatism of its present and, I fear, its future. Yalies’ extraordinary success is callusing them against the struggles of others, and, strange though it may sound, shaping their fiscal ideology in a way that my family should truly have been worried about.
Scott Stern is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .