The dirty c word

Will the Democratic sweep of the 2008 elections create intolerance toward conservative voices on campuses?

In perhaps his most poignant piece for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi argues in âÄúThe Death of a Red StateâÄù that since the presidency of John F. Kennedy, âÄúthe GOP won the battle of cultural preferences.âÄù Thus, the GOP took poor, white, working-class voters (the base established by FDR) away from Democrats, leaving the party with an identity crisis. However, Democrats have recently morphed into a party championed by women, minorities and homosexuals âÄî a coalition built from the ground up due to the vision of a white America to which conservatives cling. European countries, seen swooning for Obama during his version of Eurotrip, got it right away: Why choose the pallid, awkward, reckless, all-or-nothing Sen. John McCain âÄî the embodiment of American arrogance âÄî when you could have the cool, skinny, biracial guy whose rallies look, as Taibbi put it, like a college discussion group? What the Obama victory affirms is that in a social war between an accepting, multicultural party and an intolerant, monolithic one, Democrats come out on top. Cue drunken parties on the Main Green and marches to the state capitol, high-fives and pats on the back for supporting a candidate whose victory represents not just a verdict on policy but on the moral stance of the country. What former President George W. Bush âÄî as well as pals Cheney, Rummy, Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and many others âÄî have done, according to Taibbi, is morph the word Republican âÄúinto a poisonous sobriquet that no politician with bipartisan aspirations will ever welcome again.âÄù Most Brown students couldnâÄôt agree more. And that is a problem. An Obama victory has the potential to validate a dangerous yet popular sentiment on our campus: a self-righteous rejection of all things conservative. The election storyline of intolerance vs. acceptance that Taibbi outlines is in many ways similar to Rovian tactics âÄî an establishment of a good vs. evil battle that is both oversimplified and dehumanizing. Lost in our politically active campus is not just a conservative presence, but mere respect for the opinion on the other side of the coin âÄî the former, perhaps, a byproduct of the latter, in that there may be closeted conservatives unable to come out due to a dismissive environment. Ironically, at Brown, it seems that we liberals pat ourselves on the back for voting for acceptance, all the while displaying intolerance for conservatives. My political science lecture, a class of more than 200 students (a lecture geared toward current events and the 2008 election), felt at times more like an Obama rally than nuanced discussion. The campaign advertisements the professor showed us were often hard to hear because many students laughed uncontrollably during McCain campaign ads. Our customary brief discussion on current events often turned into a mass mockery of Republican campaign tactics and, of course, Gov. Sarah Palin. How many conservatives felt comfortable even revealing themselves as such, let alone comfortable enough to enter the debate? While screaming and clamoring for the abstract possibility of change, many of us have drowned out and dismissed the possibility for debate on substantive issues or for challenges to our ideals. If the aftermath of this election says anything about Republicans, it is that there is a legitimate rift between social conservatives and economic conservatives âÄî between ideologues concerned with Muslims in the Oval Office and homosexual marriage and traditional Republicans who have concerns about billions of dollars in new spending and the aftermath of a destabilized Iraq. To disregard conservatism is not merely condescending, but dangerously narrow-minded in challenging times when all input is needed. So, as change hopefully comes to America, will we ourselves change how we deal with each other? Ultimately, this is not a question of politics, but a fundamental question of community and co-existence. At an institution where individuality, academic debate and open-mindedness are prized ideals, will we persist on a trail of insularity or embrace our diverse opinions? On this question our edification depends. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Brown Daily Herald at Brown University. Please send comments to [email protected]