|The Mood On Campus: Conservative Collegiates Rising
FINAL EXAMS ARE underway at the University of Colorado at Boulder but between the cram sessions, 40-or-so students find time to attend the semester's last College Republican meeting. Brad Jones, the group's 20-year-old president, confidently approaches the lectern - his t-shirt proudly displays a man chucking the United Nations' emblem into the garbage, and pinned Patton-like to the wall behind him is the American flag that he brings to every meeting. He speaks to the group with easy humor, and has good reason to smile: during his short term at the helm of the CU College Republicans (usually not a popular position in Boulder, a Left wing college town), the group's membership has exploded by 500 percent.
This growth is typical on American campuses. The Economist reports that College Republicans have tripled their membership in the past three years, "recruiting 22,000 new members in 2002 alone"; the number of chapters has also ballooned, from 409 to 1,148.
The rocketing numbers echo polls that chart the political views of college students - and young Americans in general - taking a pronounced shift right. At traditionally liberal campuses, where Bush-bashing is almost an institution, the shift is a shock to the system. These new Right wing 'activists,' who rabidly defend the Republican president against criticism, are locking horns with their liberal professors. Things could get ugly.
As they'll tell you, they're angry, they're organized - and they're looking to upend the status quo. Drawn to conservatism as much as to just being "anti-liberal," they've been dubbed the 'Hipublicans' by The New York Times. To others they're simply the 'New Right.' They don't fit the suit-wearing, business-card swapping stereotype of College Republicans of the past. Instead, many are middle-classers wearing average 20-something garb of spiky hair, goatees and faded jeans.
Jones fits this new mold: his family is definitely middle-class. And though he says he was influenced by his father's conservatism, it wasn't until he came to ultra-progressive Boulder that he was drawn to Republican politics. "This university has made me more conservative," he says.
"I didn't come to CU thinking I'd be some crusader, I thought I'd be some rock-climbing hippie."
He says he felt persecuted for his new political beliefs by professors who ridiculed conservative viewpoints - a sentiment often repeated by Republican students. This prompted him to get involved, but he says the student government system was also stacked against alternative (conservative, that is) ideologies. "The establishment in Boulder says that they encourage dissent, but what they really mean is dissent that they agree with."
Having trouble swallowing patriotic Republicans as those being "marginalized"? Get used to it.
In schools across the US, voices are screaming liberal-bias at www.noindoctrination.org, a web-forum where students list names of professors they say ignore dissenting views or forward, as one student put it, a "liberal anti-American agenda."
In Colorado, the bias card has been thrown to the forefront by David Horowitz, a conservative political writer known among liberals for his anti-slavery reparations efforts. Horowitz, whose Academic Bill of Rights seeks to protect conservative students and faculty from so-called political persecution (and whose speeches routinely degenerate into shouting matches), has found a devoted audience in Colorado among conservative students and Republican lawmakers. He was one of the radical figureheads of the New Left during the '60s, but pole vaulted the political spectrum, landing on the far Right in the 1980s.
Perhaps more than anyone, he understands how to manipulate the subtleties of the extremes. Standard thinking says that conservatives assume superiority because they feel their common sense trumps everybody else's while liberals assume their superiority because they feel their morality trumps everybody else's. Horowitz has exploited the liberal myth (those intellectual Rapunzels more interested in theory than the real world) by re-shaping it into a weapon that he uses against the Left's intellectual support base.
After private meetings with Horowitz, the state senate is currently toying with the possibility of introducing legislation requiring that academic institutions "ensure academic diversity." Democrats are labeling this as yet another power-grab by Republicans - a mind-bending role-reversal: now, it's the Right that shouts discrimination and demands change to the oppressive power structure, while the Left dismisses this as oversensitivity and cries foul at government regulation seen as intrusive and impractical. This highlights how Right wing strategists have, in recent years, embedded conservative thought into liberal campus culture by casting young Republicans as - get this! - victims of the system. Republican Davids battling a massive Left wing Goliath? "There's a certain excitement at being the underdog," Jones says.
With the meeting in full swing, he energetically speaks about one of his favorite extracurricular activities: pissing off liberals. The audience responds with a storm of suggestions: a pro-Palestinian exhibit in the library must be removed. Flood the email in-box of a campus administrator - whose personal office displays an American flag "defaced" with African colors. Then Jones suggests an event that has been happening on numerous campuses - an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale" where white students are charged more than minority students for the same items. The crowd goes wild.
Later, Jones explains that the Campus Republican's goal is not only to screw with liberals, but to wage a kind of ideological jujitsu: use the momentum of your opponent, in this case Left wing anger, to expose how irrational he is. Then as he lays weakened on the ground, gain some momentum of your own. "Well, either you're going to love us or you're going to hate us. And even if you hate us," he says, "at least we're going to get good press coverage."
Jared Jacang Maher's work has appeared in the Chicago Reader and several underground publications. He is an editor of Life and Limb, an anthology by skateboarders published by Soft Skull Press.