Conservative Coming Out Day has come and gone, and has left in its wake much controversy. It was an overblown, unnecessary event, but we should acknowledge that conservatives are sometimes shouted down on this campus and that “Republican” is a dirty word in some circles. Liberals and conservatives alike certainly have a lot of progress to make in the name of reasonable dialogue. That being said, a much more interesting issue emerges when we take a look at Conservative Coming Out Day in the context of the Republicans’ larger faux-populist strategy.

Jesse Singal

Republicans press the campus liberalism issue because it fits into their grander strategy. The GOP, the varsity political squad to the Democrats’ freshman “B” team, has created, refined and mastered the idea of the “oppressed majority.” The oppressed majority consists of solid, everyday Americans – Americans with American ideals. Said Americans are then immediately put on the defensive by “elitists.” Elitists, in short, don’t understand the average, “real” American, as they are too busy pursuing an agenda antithetical to the beliefs of such Americans. And here’s where the fun begins, because the GOP has found no shortage of elitist straw men to pummel – it has truly advanced in its tactics since the days of the “welfare queen.” The average American, at one point or another, has been oppressed, humiliated and disenfranchised by loony liberals, diddling Darwinists, haughty homos, pretentious professors and a million other elitist groups, each more loathsome than the last.

It’s a masterful strategy to portray these groups as powerful cabals that enjoy great power and are wholly disconnected from the America the GOP cares about. It’s also completely ludicrous. Look at Washington – do liberals or Darwinists or intellectuals run the country? It couldn’t be further from the truth. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s a compelling story, and it suits the needs of its author.

Because as long as the average American truly believes that the country is run by, say, gay-liberal-socialist-college-professor-Darwinist journalists, it will be such figures – not the people who actually control the country – who will bear the brunt of any anger or feelings of resentment. Karl Rove knows this better than anyone. The issue of gay marriage wasn’t on so many state ballots in 2004 because of some sort of populist movement in favor of family values; rather, it was there to remind the voters that gay people don’t understand them, can’t be trusted and are a force to be reckoned with.

Conservative Coming Out Day was just another vehicle through which the GOP could pontificate about the oppressed majority. Universities are excellent targets thanks to preexisting feelings about “ivory tower” professors, issues relating to class and the anti-intellectual currents that run through most of the country. The message is this: College students and professors are so out of touch with real Americans (the oppressed majority), are so damn stuck up and close minded and lacking in understanding or compassion, that we need to organize a day just to let our conservative sons and daughters speak their minds! That’s how bad things are!

It’s hard to believe that the GOP is concerned with fair, healthy dialogue. Not when their top leaders and officials have such a habit of making ridiculous, divisive statements. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), the third-ranking Republican senator, had this to say about Boston’s Catholic priest sex abuse scandal: “While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.” (Good point, Rick.) And Rove opined that “Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers” – a particularly galling comment given that Manhattan, the epicenter of Sept. 11, is one of the most liberal places in the country. It’s not as though I’m pulling ridiculous Ann Coulter quotes and unfairly applying them to the whole GOP; rather, I’m letting the party speak for itself.

So let’s not lose ourselves in all this smoke and noise. Intellectuals aren’t threatening this country. Nor are Darwinists, gays or journalists. It’s in the GOP’s interest that simmering anger toward such groups exists, and colleges are particularly apt targets. Do we have some work to do when it comes to listening to each other respectfully? Of course. But we can acknowledge this fact and at the same time understand that Conservative Coming Out Day does not reflect a genuine desire for open, thoughtful dialogue on the part of the GOP. It’s simply another element of their sophisticated, effective political agenda – an agenda light years ahead of anything the Democrats have come up with.

 

Singal can be reached at jsingal@umich.edu.

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