It’s time for the truth, University of Michigan community. I, Rachel Van Gilder, The Michigan Daily’s editorial page editor, am a self-identified Republican. That’s right. You heard me. I don’t support affirmative action, abortion or stem cell research, and I felt a twinge of schadenfreude when Republican Scott Brown won the open Massachusetts Senate seat last week, placing a potential stumbling block in the way of Democrats’ costly health care bill. I’m a social and fiscal conservative.
I can imagine campus’s response to this news. Members of the College Republicans are high-fiving, imagining that the Daily will now endorse only red candidates and denounce President Barack Obama at every opportunity. The College Democrats, meanwhile, are throwing down the paper in a huff, outraged that a conservative could take the reins of the historically progressive Daily opinion page. But campus liberals and conservatives alike can be assured that in reality, nothing’s going to change. The Daily is still the paper it has always been, and its editorial stances aren’t going to suddenly take a one-eighty now that I’m the editorial page editor.
I always see eyebrows shoot up in surprise when I inform people that, yes, I work for the Daily’s opinion section and that, yes, I’m a conservative. The Daily’s editorial reputation precedes it, and I would classify the Daily as a liberal paper. I would also say that I disagree with about half of the Daily’s editorials. But I’m perfectly capable of upholding the Daily’s precedent without agreeing with it.
“How?” I can almost hear liberals and conservatives alike gasp in confusion. How can you write about things you don’t agree with? Isn’t that wrong? Doesn’t that feel dishonest? And these are valid concerns — ones I myself have had to resolve.
It helps that many Daily editorial stances are on issues that most students, regardless of party lines, can agree on. For example, most students agree that the Michigan Student Assembly isn’t living up to its potential to better students’ lives. They also agree that textbooks are too expensive, and that a quality education is important.
But though I’m not a far-right conservative, and I’m not conservative on every issue, I do disagree with the Daily on a lot of issues. I can usually reconcile the differences because of my outlook on party politics. You may label me naïve for thinking so, but I’m of the opinion that most people are, in general, good people. That means that, while I don’t agree with liberals on most things, I can respect that they’re coming from a good place.
I view party politics in terms of values. As a conservative, I value personal responsibility. Liberals place more value on social responsibility. This doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t care about other people, or that liberals have no sense of personal accountability. It simply means that each party has prioritized their values, and one has come out on top.
And one thing that I value above all — and that the Daily values — is discussion. And that’s what I really think the Daily’s opinion page is about. In reality, polarized thinking never makes for good law. Both sides serve a purpose in the lawmaking process: Liberals’ idealism pushes the status quo that conservatives often hold, and conservatives’ steadfast practicality grounds necessary change in realism. Talking about issues is the only way to find the middle ground that actually leads to the best policy. This belief is what makes doing this job possible — and worth it.
Honestly, though, sometimes it’s hard to edit and defend positions that I don’t agree with. When the Daily tackles issues that I have strong moral objections to, like stem cell research, I sometimes get an ashen taste in my mouth. I have to make a concerted effort to leave my feelings at the door. I shut those feelings out, and focus on my job: to make the Daily’s editorials as logical as possible.
I do it because I’ve realized something during my rise from Editorial Board member to editorial page editor: The Daily isn’t about me. It’s much, much bigger than simply me and my opinions. The Daily is its own entity that has developed its own opinions and thoughts over decades, and it’s not my place to reverse its legacy. I’m just one part of the institution, and my views don’t drown out 120 years of precedent. The Daily’s editorials are usually liberal. And they will remain liberal — even though I’m a conservative.
Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.