Last year, the NU College Republicans put ASG President Ani Ajith on notice for joining the protest against NUCR Spring Speaker Dinesh D'Souza. They complained that the political dialogue on campus often turns monotonous, and when Ajith didn't just avoid their event but actively protested it, he “discriminated against intellectual diversity and tolerance of other ideas.”
The College Republicans should not be surprised, though, when their classmates protest their events. There are a number of factors that make it hard for NUCR to be taken seriously.
First, Millennials pride themselves on being tolerant. When the College Republicans bring speakers to campus who are perceived as intolerant or even racist, it should not be shocking that they don’t receive a warm welcome.
Generational demographics are also working against conservatives on campus. Only 18 percent of Millennials identify as Republicans, and only 28 percent identify as conservative. The fact that audience members who support College Republican speakers tend to be older is a function of demography, not campus culture.
Most importantly, though, every speaker the College Republicans bring is a hack.
It’s not just that figures like Joe Walsh and Allen West, two of the major speakers for the “Freedom Week” event that just ended, seem to prefer grandiose gestures to substantive legislative debate. It’s that they can hardly be taken seriously by members of either party who value seriousness in politics.
Joe Walsh is a hack. He frequently makes claims completely unfounded in reality. Tuesday night, for instance, he claimed the United States to be more than $100 trillion in debt. While Walsh might include predicted unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, those are definitely not part of the debt. In his last election against Tammy Duckworth, he brazenly demeaned her military service and implied that her willingness to talk about her service made her not a “true hero." Duckworth, a pilot who lost her legs and part of the use of right arm after her helicopter was hit in 2004 by a rocket-propelled grenade, is just as much a hero as any other person who gives their all in the service of this country. Choosing Walsh to speak on conservative ideas on campus is foolish. Choosing him to speak for an event centered on Veterans Day is insulting.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Allen West is also a hack. Outside of the prisoner abuse scandal that no one on campus seems to want to publicize, he has called for the censorship of news media and believes that very real civil rights violations, like discrimination against LGBT employees, “don’t happen out here in the United States of America.” This statement flies in the face of actual research on the issue. A disregard for the facts and a single term in the House do not qualify someone to seriously represent conservatism on campus.
Yes, Walsh and West talk frequently about freedom and what it means to the United States. This is not exceptional. Though U.S. voters do not demand that our politicians wrap themselves in flags, we do at least require that they wear them on their lapels. No politician worth the title is going to be so stupid as to openly oppose the idea of freedom. No sane adult would oppose this premise either. There are staunch believers in freedom, both Democrats and Republicans, running for their local library boards. Belief in freedom alone is not a qualification to talk about it.
Even beyond their lack of qualifications, there are other issues with the speakers that College Republicans continue to bring. Four of the last five speakers that they have brought to campus – Walsh, West, Dennis Prager and Herman Cain – have all been the subjects of extensive media coverage for Islamophobic remarks. Bringing in speakers like this is not an appropriate way to reach out to the multicultural community. These are not speakers who can help represent Republicans and conservatives on campus; they are people who benefit from stirring the pot and wallowing in controversy.
As representatives of their party on campus, College Republicans have a responsibility to show their party in the best possible light. As fellow Northwestern students, they have the responsibility to not bring in speakers who might offer support for racist views or who consistently present opinions hateful to one group or another on campus. It is not acceptable to pretend that they have no connection to the speakers they bring to campus, as though paying someone to come and speak can be done without endorsing their views. “We were just trying to start a discussion” is not a good enough defense for bringing hateful speakers to campus.
If we would commit ourselves to supporting the cause of freedom, then we must be willing to acknowledge that simply “sparking a discussion” is not enough. We have a greater responsibility to each other and to the cause of freedom than to simply pretend that bringing right-wing provocateurs onto campus is somehow supporting freedom of speech. The College Republicans are right to note that the political dialogue on campus tends to swing to the left. Joe Walsh and Allen West are not the way to fix it.