Politics & Policy

Not Getting It

The Left suddenly thinks it's the minority on campus.

Frustrated by conservative activism on college campuses, the Left has unveiled secret weapons to counter our Ann Coulters and Ben Steins: Ashley Olsen and Oprah Winfrey. Keisha Senter, speakers’ bureau coordinator for Campus Progress, introduced the group’s newest stars at its recent and first-ever national student conference.

Campus Progress, a project of billionaire George Soros’s Center for American Progress (CAP), seeks to “empower a new generation of progressive leaders.” Leftist organizers admit to being overwhelmed on the college front by groups such as the Young America’s Foundation, even though colleges and universities have been propagating liberalism for decades.

According to CAP’s former campus programs director Ben Hubbard, “A national effort to work with students on the substance, intellectual foundation, and communication of progressive ideas is needed.” With the realization that food-throwing doesn’t win debates, as was demonstrated by certain assailants of Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Bill Kristol, and David Horowitz earlier this academic year, leftists have finally organized a conference to discuss ideas–or so is their spin.

For the past 30 years on college campuses, the Left has been regurgitating concepts that do not work: socialist, pacifist, redistributionist…you get the tired old idea. Instead of injecting some fresh thinking into the young left-activist bloodstream, panelists at Campus Progress’s national student conference rehashed big-government policies, drew ridiculous parallels, and conveyed embarrassing talking points.

Moderator and former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers asked a panel to define progressive values. Paul Begala, host of CNN’s Crossfire, told of the value of “progressive patriotism.” He graciously went on to elaborate using an analogy: “Cain said, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’ ‘You bet your ass,’ God said.” Begala continued by saying that Republicans reject his celestial wisdom and instead come from the mindset: “I’m going to get mine–screw you!” Another panelist, Thomas Frank, the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, said progressive values are “freedom plus groceries.” Heather McGhee, economic-policy analyst with Demos–a left-wing public-policy group–said progressives value “shared prosperity.” Students seeking guidance were given socialist solutions, which are no longer charming–not even in Russia.

At universities, conservatives are no stranger to being called “Nazis.” Thomas Frank decided to keep that spirit alive. According to him, “They [Republicans] didn’t have any problem with Hitler, other than the fact that they thought he rocked.”

One young progressive asked how to campaign in the suburbs. He was not given an answer, but a specious sound bite. It’s difficult to campaign in those areas, said Ruy Teixeira, author of The Emerging Democratic Majority. “They are not our base–the white married couples who moved away from the cities to get away from minorities and smog.”

David Halperin, senior adviser for Howard Dean’s presidential bid and the conference coordinator, bemoans the millions of dollars having been spent instigating conservative activism on college campuses. He told the Washington Post that “We’ve been on the defensive for 25 years.” Yet he and other liberals routinely miss the fact that groups such as Campus Progress are wholly unnecessary. The counterpart to organizations such as the Young America’s Foundation is the university itself.

Schools habitually offer courses in “ethnic studies,” “queer studies,” “gender studies” and have set up institutions such as multicultural student unions and women’s centers to spread liberalism under the rubric of tolerance and diversity. It’s a canard to say that liberalism is not embedded in the university, as Campus Progress purports. Schools don’t have courses on “Conservatism and American History” and surely would never invite Thomas Sowell or Clarence Thomas to speak at commencement, but have allowed Wesley Clark and Thomas Friedman.

It’s not the lack of resources, but the tactics used and ideas professed that cause student apathy toward progressive activism. The Left’s routine support for divisive concepts such as racial preferences, the banning of ROTC recruiters from campuses, and their widespread commitment to enforcing political correctness will keep them as second-rate activists. Soros’s millions will not help.

Liberals had their chance at this conference to discuss something original. Unfortunately, they took the occasion to cast aspersions on conservatism with empty, dubious, and hateful rhetoric.

Jason Mattera is the spokesman for the Young America’s Foundation. The Young America’s Foundation is an educational organization, which promotes conservative ideas on our nation’s campuses through lectures, publications, and conferences. During the 2004-2005 academic year, the foundation sponsored over 500 lectures. Lindy Dinklage, an intern with Young America’s Foundation, provided research for this article.


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