Had someone told me three years ago that I would one day be writing a conservative column in The Maroon-News I would have laughed at him. When I came to Colgate, I was liberal through-and-through. In fact, I was a borderline socialist. In 2006, I cheered as the Democrats took back the Congress and I had Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer signs on my dorm room door. In 2004 I had even compared George W. Bush to an parasitic amoeba in my high school paper. So what happened?
Well, back home in suburban Buffalo I grew up in an area that was heavily Democratic. I never really gave the other side a chance. I bought into the idea that Republicans were war-mongering, gun-obsessed neo-fascists who left much to be desired in the brains department. I equated the liberal viewpoint with the educated viewpoint. Even when on issues like abortion my instinct was toward being pro-life, I still followed the Democratic Party line.
Not much changed when I first came here, but then I started to realize conservatives could be smart, too. There were several key moments on my drift to the right. One was reading James Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans, which was an even-handed take on George W. Bush’s war cabinet. While the book did not convert me to the conservative point of view, it gave me a new respect for Republicans. It was clear that the people in the Bush administration were intelligent people, and a lot of what they said even made sense. A course I took my sophomore year on religion and the state in America helped in my move toward conservatism. The instructor did an excellent job of providing readings on both sides of very controversial issues, and we spent a lot of time in the course reading opinions — mostly dissenting ones — by Justice Antonin Scalia. I went into the class thinking of Scalia as a fascist. I came out agreeing with much of his textualist approach to the Constitution, with some important exceptions. In short, when given half a chance, I realized not only that conservatives could be intelligent and articulate, but also that their ideas made sense.
The fact that this change happened here at Colgate is a credit to the fact that this campus does indeed do a good deal to foster intellectual diversity. That said, I do think it is easy here to fall into the trap of conflating conservatism and ignorance. Often I find both sides of issues are not presented in classes, and often we are not as open as we could be to conservative viewpoints in the classroom and outside of it. Unfortunately, for some reason it seems that even really educated people are not immune from anti-conservative stereotypes. I was shocked when Dr. James Cone, the father of black theology, appeared on campus last week and made the claim that it was no contest intellectually between Obama and McCain. I was also surprised that people here were juvenile enough to draw Hitler mustaches on posters advertising Newt Gingrich’s speech on campus. I think we should be above conflating conservatives with Nazis.
Newt Gingrich brings me to another point. While I was at Newt’s lecture an individual got up and essentially asked how one can both think rationally and be religious. Then he later claimed that religion might be more prominent in low income areas because those people are less educated. This is not the only statement I’ve heard here conflating religiosity with ignorance and a lack of critical thinking, and I have to say I find those kinds of statements the epitome of ignorance. You just have to get to University Church’s bible study on Tuesdays to know that religious people aren’t stupid. In fact, you’ll find out that they ask deep, probing questions about the nature of existence and how to reconcile their faith with the problem of evil, what we know about natural history and contemporary moral issues.
Of course, this problem of stereotyping is as much a conservative problem as it is a liberal problem. All too often I hear conservative commentators criticize liberals as un-American or Godless. This is equally unacceptable in my book. I may not agree with liberals, but I acknowledge that neither side has a monopoly on brains, faith or morality. It is time for both sides to grow up. There is enough merit to each side’s arguments to sustain serous debate without resorting to stereotypes.