Infiltrating the College Republicans

    The hallway is empty, aside from a Northwestern police officer and two men in navy suits with those secret service wires tucked behind their left ears. They give off these official vibes that flirt with my nerves as I peer down the corridor furtively.

    One of the men opens the door to a classroom – the door at which I’ve been staring – and I make my break for it. I follow him into the room as naturally as possible. And here I am: a small Annenberg classroom with only about 20 students (members of the NU College Republicans), an assortment of what I imagine are security detail and advisers, two cameramen and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

    I feel the thrilling rush of a spy. I – a liberal who grew up listening to NPR and whose first R-rated movie seen in a theater was Fahrenheit 9/11 – was not invited. In fact, my uneasiness about entering the event is borne in part from my political background. I feel awkward stepping into a place where I am pretty expressly not wanted – the College Republicans sent out an email over their listserv that encouraged members not to spread the word too much, as they wanted to limit it to members and their guests.

    I am neither. I hope they don’t ask me for what I imagine is standard-issue: my personal wallet-size shrine to Reagan (they would totally know I was a poser if I said I left it at home). Although I am being facetious in my shifty demeanor, there is a legitimate sense of awkwardness that washes over me. Especially in the current political climate, I have an inkling that the College Republicans would not take kindly to a visitor whose mom cried when Bush won in 2004.

    It’s not a stretch to say that political pundits would call us opponents if we were running for office. As Cantor talks about his disappointment with a president who wants to increase capital gains taxes and the virtues of a “hand-ups, not hand-outs” attitude, I slink in my seat. Some of the College Republicans nod in agreement as he outlines these beliefs, but I feel my bleeding liberal heart beat a little faster.

    I had been excited for this event; regardless of differing political beliefs, I am sitting about 10 feet from one of the nation’s highest elected officials. Even so, a few drops of anger dwell in the bottom of my stomach as Cantor emphasizes promoting equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Yes, because God knows if we made our tax code a little more progressive we would seriously endanger the institution of wealth, I think.

    But then the self-coaching kicks in. Okay, here I am, listening to his views. No, I don’t agree with them, but – wait, did he just brag that his home state, Virginia, has no labor unions for public employees? I don’t know if I’m just imagining it, but I feel like the cameraman has panned to my face a decent amount throughout the talk. Does he detect that hint of a frown forming on my lips? Does he know that I’m an outsider?

    As I chase these thoughts around my head, it strikes me just how polarized this nation’s politics are. I know, I know: That’s all anyone ever talks about. Bipartisanship is so rare that it’s basically equated to godliness in politics. We all want to hear about politicians who “reach across the aisle,” because doing so is portrayed as inherently positive when it’s perceived that everyone else sits around Capitol Hill bickering. But as I sit here, occasionally cringing at some of Cantor’s statements, I understand why.

    The imaginary sarcastic dialogue I construct every time he makes another point reminds me of the political vitriol we see every day on every major news station from politicians. As citizens, we complain frequently about the intense political rivalries that make for sometimes uncivil dynamics in Congress. But as I sit in Annenberg listening to America’s House majority leader, I realize just how much I am part of the problem. The aggressive political back-and-forth that makes headlines is a part of my mindset: I have internalized it.


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