Ignoring conservative ideas costly

Whitman is well known as a liberal institution, but recently, different political flavors are beginning to taint this campus. This Monday, well-known conservative pundit David Brooks came to Whitman to share his views on the election campaign. Pockets of radicalism (allegedly) are beginning to emerge, notably in groups and gatherings like Whitman Anti-System and Radical (WAR) and the Forum for Radical Discussion.

This gumbo of diverse political and ideological views is a refreshing and welcome break from the monotony of liberal thinking that dominates Whitman. Do not misunderstand; I would certainly call myself liberal, but I would also argue that the Whitman campus is not particularly receptive to or tolerant of views that deviate from traditional liberalism. In light of David Brooks’ visit to Whitman, I decided to read some of his work so that I would be more informed before going to his talk. I was most interested in his piece in The New York Times titled “The Conservative Mind,” which discussed the ways in which traditional conservative political theory differs with the economically-centered conservative rhetoric that is being tossed around this election. Brooks argued in a reasonable and moderate tone, explaining the social theories behind traditional conservatism.

It was an illuminating read. Brooks argued that at the heart of traditional conservatism was the dedication to establish a secure social base for citizens so that they, the citizens, might make bold economic ventures that would enrich the economy. Brooks explained that, ideally, a conservative government would lend a subtle hand to the lives of citizens, helping them maintain their social security (theoretically through social mobility programs and domestic spending). Nowadays, he concludes, conservatives are moving farther away from social responsibility and maintenance in favor of reducing federal power and economic freedom.

His vocabulary was both familiar and unfamiliar. Political terms that belong to the liberal agenda like “social mobility” and “communal solidarity” were present, but so were phrases like “self-discipline” and “government support equals dependency.” Brooks tugged on my political heartstrings, acknowledging the importance of social security and the value of community politics, but never faltered in arguing as a traditional conservative.

I am very grateful to him. I saw a great deal of wisdom in his writing as he embraced political terms from both parties, revealing that liberalism and conservatism are not as mutually exclusive as we might think given today’s political landscape. I found myself agreeing with him on many counts, wanting eagerly for him to expound on the terms I found unfamiliar or problematic, and also filled with respect.

My idea of a conservative pundit, much less the conservative party, is Bill O’Reilly. However, after reading Brooks’ article, I realized that conservatism, if expressed in a way that is understandable and respectful, has a great deal to teach me. I cannot write off the entire tradition of conservatism simply because I find Bill O’Reilly or George W. Bush distasteful. It was then that I began to consider how I behave as a liberal. Am I respectful? Tolerant? Receptive? Is there such a thing as a left-wing O’Reilly?

In short: Yes. I saw during my time at Whitman the rabidity of liberals in the classroom, trumpeting the virtues of liberal living and the evils of conservatism. A great deal of conservative bashing, truly bashing, is done on our campus, and I feel for the Whitties I know who identify as moderate or conservative, who tell me that they often feel stifled, even afraid, to voice their views in class. I dread the thought that I ever made someone afraid to speak their mind, and I am ashamed because I believe I probably have.

Regardless of how right you think you are, how convinced you are of your correctness, you can learn anything if it’s presented in the right way. We must be conscientious of the way in which we present our opinions, which must be in a way that is respectful, inclusive and, most of all, educational. Whether you are liberal, conservative, radical, moderate, whatever, I urge you to consider the way in which you convey your perspectives and to make sure that, through your words and actions, you do not inadvertently silence someone who is made too afraid to speak their mind. Similarly, give those with differing opinions the same respect, and listen to what they have to say. The goal here, I believe, is a critical appreciation, not simply a criticism, of what people have to say.




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