While walking to check my mailbox one September day, my friends and I passed a table in Wilder Bowl displaying a poster: “Vote Against the War: Vote Nader!” Groaning, my friends—both politics majors—muttered that “voting for Nader is voting for Bush,” and thus began a lengthy discussion about politics on campus.
I could barely follow their conversation. Although I read the New York Times’ headlines every day, I’m not politically fluent. However, I did understand the significance of their topics: the pitfalls of our current system of government, the effects of the media and press on campaigns, and the rise of neoconservatives in government and on campuses. My friends were articulate and spoke with conviction, and I was ashamed at my inability to join their debate.
I did offer one nugget of information. Time magazine reported in August that while most college professors identify as liberal, student views are moving toward the right on issues like abortion, the environment, and affirmative action. (Students are taking more leftist and libertarian views on the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage.) On a national scale, campus “radicalism” is now aligned with conservative values.
When I relayed this information to my friends, one of them joked, “Where are they? Republicans? Here? Where are they?”
“Don’t you think it’s important to have them around, to challenge and strengthen our views?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, of course. But they’re wrong, and they’re ruining this country.”
Clearly, the viewpoints of my friends do not reflect national statistics.
Up until the late 1960s, Oberlin College
was a model Republican stronghold. In many election years, Oberlin’s
Mock Conventions—large, nationally publicized affairs—were
enthusiastic rallies at which students and faculty fought over which
Republican nominee should run for the presidency. Even the Mock Convention
of 1968—amid national debates over Vietnam, civil rights, and the role of college campuses and activism—went to the Republicans.
“Half the fun is seeing the other side,” says James Edwin Meeks ’60, of the 1960 convention, one of just four Democratic Conventions in Oberlin’s history.
But however fun and instructive a broadening of viewpoints can be, my politically intolerant friend shares a sentiment that quickly engulfed college campuses during the 1968 political season: discourse should lead to action, and action should be for the good guys. Oberlin quickly became a hotbed of liberal thinking and action.
So back to the question: where are the Republicans? I know a few. I see them in class and hear them talking in the dining halls. I watched them depart from a campus lecture delivered by conservative columnist David Brooks, and wondered if they had been reassured that they weren’t alone.
The Oberlin Review in September featured two students who consider themselves “liberal Republicans.” Both are frustrated by cut-and-dried political classifications. “Imagine the discourse and dialogue Oberlin could have if students of all political opinions would speak, challenge, and educate each other,” said one.
I, for one, share his belief. I’d like to hear from Oberlin’s Republicans. I want them around so I don’t forget that politics isn’t just about choosing a side, it’s about compromising and discussing all sides. A liberal arts education isn’t synonymous with becoming liberal; it’s a basis for deciding what you think is right. I’m still unsure about my own ideas and beliefs, but I do know there are at least two sides to every issue. In the end, politics is about action, and I want my actions to be the right ones.