By: Robert Rosamelia
The New Direction for AU College Republicans
In President Barack Obama’s first public appearance since leaving office in January 2017, he appeared at the University of Chicago with a panel of six students and community leaders. The comments from one of the panelists, Max Freedman—himself a College Republican, struck me as particularly important to keep in mind. On the subject of being a Republican on a college campus, Max said, “Being a Republican on a college campus is in and of itself a sort of honor because most people don’t agree with you. And when you engage in the dorms and in the dining halls with those people who see you ‘the person’ and then you ‘the person with the political views,’ you’re forced to know yourself well and […] understand why it is you think what you think.” Max also touched on the breakdown of civility—what he calls an “empathy gap”—between conservatives and progressives.
Exactly! I couldn’t have given a better answer to the oft-asked question I receive about what it’s like being a conservative in a predominantly liberal environment like a college campus when I tell people that I’m the President of the College Republicans at American University. We know our community is small, but that only gives us more practice at debating and persuading others while deepening our own conservative viewpoints. This is precisely why I was so excited to come to AU in the first place, and this is why I am so honored to serve as the president of an organization that has an indispensable role in the competition of ideas at this university.
There are temptations abound to be more milquetoast in face of the prevailing progressive headwinds at AU as well as succumbing to that sense of victimhood we have come to expect from the campus left. In other words, the consistent drumbeat of conforming to the progressive narrative often makes it seem safer to either stay silent about views that cut against the grain or giving into the campus left temptation that we should expect a feeling of perpetual safety when expressing our views.
This approach squanders the immeasurable opportunity we as conservatives have in a university culture that is very often positioned against our values and ideas. I have said before that “[w]e disdain the campus left precisely because they’re professional victims. We ought to stand up & own the ‘courageous conservative’ moniker.” As the minority viewpoint, we owe it to ourselves to wear that status as a badge of honor and embrace the opportunity to persuade people to our point of view while sharpening our understanding of our own opinions.
We are Republicans because we believe our rights come from God not government, because we think the individual is sovereign, and because we believe that America is the greatest nation in the world. It is also important to note that our exceptional nature comes not from blood and soil nationalism, but from of our commitment to free enterprise and individual rights both at home and abroad. The competition of ideas will not be won by shying away from what is ultimately a duty and responsibility for all of us to dispense with the caricatures of our political views. I hope every College Republican remembers Max Freedman’s words when they feel the pressure of conformity. We are naturally inclined to eschew self-victimization and push back against the forces of progressivism, in the words of William F. Buckley, “at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
Speaking of the competition of ideas, I want to also take the opportunity to remind everyone that, to summarize the mission statement of the American Enterprise Institute, “if you believe the subversive truth that a competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society and that a free society is necessary for human dignity and human potential, then you are not alone.” Not only as conservatives but as Americans, it is not a reach to say that we all believe this to be a perennial truth. The immeasurable opportunity I previously mentioned is the fact that the competition of ideas is a great equalizer where our opinions are measured as no greater or lesser than those of our progressive counterparts. The one minor difference of course is that ours happen to be correct.
We know this, and we know that our participation in the competition of ideas in a way that is persuasive and positive is our strength to that end. President Reagan once said that “we Americans have never been pessimists. We conquer fear with faith, and we overwhelm threats and hardship with courage, work, opportunity, and freedom.” There is a creeping inclination among our modern body politic to turn the competition of ideas into a tribal war where one side must ruthlessly vanquish the other, and this unfortunately is not isolated to one ideology or party. We owe it to ourselves and our movement to enter the ideological playing field with optimism and hard work that is driven by the knowledge that our solutions enrich human dignity over government coercion, and we should be suspicious of the temptation to adopt the traditionally leftwing view that our political debates are the “moral equivalent of war.”
In February 2017, after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) violated United States Senate protocols against impugning a colleague, there were renewed examinations of the rawness of political discourse in the country. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) subsequently observed that “we are reaching a point in this Republic when we are not going to be able to solve the simplest of issues because everyone is putting themselves in a corner where everyone hates everybody” and called for all of us to “conduct debates in a way that is respectful of one another.” If the other side wishes to throw around hyperbole and skew the line between the political and the personal, that is something that should be looked at with pity instead of envy. It should not be seen as an invitation for us to do the same.
It is our responsibility to demonstrate comportment that honors the greats of our past and the strength of our ideas. That is why I am proud to preside over the AU College Republicans this year, and I am delighted to stand side by side with passionate conservative faces new and old to ensure we show the entire AU community that we are proud, we will not back down, and we are eager to debate. That all starts here. After being out of commission on a lengthy hiatus, I am thrilled to introduce the new and improved version of “The Conservative Conscience,” our premier publication for conservative viewpoints here at AU. I cannot wait to see the chorus of voices that step up to write for this journal, and I am excited to announce the launch coincides with the release of our new website aucollegerepublicans.org as the one-stop resource for all AU College Republicans. With that, all I have to say now is: Onward! Let’s show AU that the College Republicans are back in action and take comfort in the fact that it is always a great time to be a Republican.