Political Hay

A Letter to Sarah Westwood

Advice from a former Lonely College Republican to the latest Lonely College Republican.

By 11.15.12

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Dear Sarah:

I saw your op-ed "Advice from a Lonely College Republican" in the Wall Street Journal the other day.

It deserves a respectful and, hopefully, thoughtful response.

In our family photo book there is a picture of my younger self. Standing at a podium, long hair cut shorter (but still decidedly not short), finger earnestly raised in the air mid-speech. I confess I was a little reluctant to send it in to my editor to accompany this piece. Time has… um… moved on. But there I am back there in… yikes!... 1972. The president of the Franklin and Marshall College Republicans. Franklin and Marshall being a wonderful liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, founded in 1787 and named for Founding Father Ben Franklin and later Chief Justice John Marshall.

Your article reminded me of that photo because as a College Republican in 1972 -- the year the Democrats nominated South Dakota Senator George McGovern to run against President Richard Nixon -- I too was a Lonely College Republican. I think there may have been all of five of us who were Nixon supporters on campus that fall. Everybody else…. my girlfriend included!… was out there passionately for McGovern.

Interestingly, the things I heard from my liberal classmates then was only an earlier variation of what you are hearing from your liberal classmates today. While gay rights had not yet emerged as an issue, abortion was in fact already on the radar. They were for it -- and the Nixon campaign was running commercials against it. Amnesty was another big issue -- but it didn't refer to immigration. Amnesty in 1972 referred to young Americans our age who fled to Canada to escape the draft. Amnesty, allowing them back in the country to resume their American citizenship, was extremely popular with my passionately anti-war classmates. 

They also snickered openly at a third "social issue" of the day that was driving the Nixon campaign -- drugs. The smell of marijuana floated through dorms, kids were taking LSD or "acid" as it was quaintly known for its hallucinogenic qualities. Mad about drugs? You bet they were, although not exactly the way the Nixon campaign was mad about drugs. My classmates were also big on McGovern's proposal to give a guaranteed $1,000 to every single American -- an early forerunner of Obama's redistribution.

The Nixon campaign summed all this up in television commercials by saying McGovern supported "Acid, amnesty and abortion."

Safe to say there was shock on campus at the election results. How in the world could America choose Nixon over McGovern -- and in a humiliating 49-state landslide to boot? Why, everybody they knew -- me and my four friends excepted -- was for McGovern!!! Talk about depression!

In other words, your experience at George Washington University is nothing new. You are a Republican at a liberal college in a sea of liberal classmates. You would find things quite different, I suspect -- as a matter of fact you would surely find the exact reverse -- if you were a student at Liberty University in Virginia or any number of private or public colleges and universities around America. But that's not the point here.

As a Reaganite let me stipulate that your thoughts on economics and the government are well taken. Ronald Reagan decidedly agreed with you that Republicans were, as you put it, "the true advocate of rebellion." He was decidedly a revolutionary within the GOP and did repeated fierce battle with the Republican Establishment. You are right on the money with your thoughts on this.

But there is another part of your argument that is, many conservatives would argue, wrong. So I will focus on where we disagree. 

You write: 

Another leg up that the left has is its claim to the moral high ground. The party of pro-choice, pro-gay has such a hold on young people because those are issues they can care about easily. Not many 20-year-olds can hold a coherent conversation about Social Security reform or double taxation, but all of them can argue passionately for gay rights.

As a member of this all-important demographic, I know that neither I nor (almost) anybody else coming of age today supports the Republican social agenda. That's the way the country is moving -- so just deal with it. Modernize and prioritize.

I'll start with what you call the "pro-gay" issue. 

What does this mean? Did the Republican Platform promote denying gays health care? No. The same pay as heterosexuals? No. The right to own or rent a house? The right to a job? No. No, no, no and no again. What it did do was say:

… the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage. We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity.

In other words, Republicans oppose gay marriage. They are not "anti-gay" -- they simply believe, to quote directly from the 2012 Platform (found here), that: 

The institution of marriage is the foundation of civil society. Its success as an institution will determine our success as a nation. It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children. Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, engage in crime, or get pregnant outside of marriage.

Yet you suggest that those who believe in gay rights have "the moral high ground." And you declare yourself in full agreement.

But do supporters of gay marriage really hold "the moral high ground"? Do they really? Do you?

Here's an experiment I'd like to suggest to you.

Approach any of your liberal classmates who are straight and dating each other. Sit them down -- and bring along a couple of conservative girlfriends (if they exist at liberal GW!). Tell the couple that you are all really attracted to the guy in the relationship. You like him a lot. You just think he's hot. So…you'd like in on the relationship. In fact, so would your girlfriends! As a matter of fact, you and your girlfriends wanted to suggest that all of you get married to the guy in question.

In other words, you want a polygamous relationship. And a marriage.

I'm guessing here (not really), but I suspect the girl in the couple will not take kindly to this. Particularly if her boyfriend thinks he's struck sexual gold! And I'm also guessing that if you yourself have a boyfriend and he showed up at your door with two other women and said he was involved with both as well as you and was sure you wouldn't mind, there might be… ahhhh… trouble.

But why is this? Why should this liberal oh-so-tolerant female classmate be upset? Why would you, the sophisticated and oh-so-tolerant College Republican woman, be upset with your boyfriend if he showed up at your door thus attached? Why are there news reports out there that Holly Petraeus, aka Mrs. David Petraeus, is "beyond furious" at her husband's behavior with his sexy biographer Paula Broadwell? After 37 years of marriage. What's the big deal?

According to your own beliefs as expressed, you, Sarah, would have the high moral ground in the first case -- where you and your girlfriends want in on another girl's relationship. You are tolerant! Your boyfriend would have the moral high ground in the second case, where he wants to share himself with you and two other women. He and they would be the tolerant ones. And surely you must believe Holly Petraeus is just another "social bigot," as you say. Mrs. Petraeus being extremely intolerant of her General husband's other woman.

You, Sarah, obviously believe you have the high moral ground on gay rights and gay marriage. So what's the big deal about polygamy? So your guy sleeps with a couple other girls and wants them in your relationship -- or your marriage. What's the big deal?

For an answer to that question you are, lucky Sarah, in exactly the right university to get an answer to that question.

Somewhere on your campus is George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley, who is a big advocate for legalizing polygamy. As he wrote right here in the New York Times. In fact, Professor Turley is the lead counsel for one such polygamy case in Utah. That of a man named Kody Brown and Mr. Brown's four wives and 16 kids. Mr. Turley believes passionately (to use a word you used about those like yourself who believe in gay marriage) that society has no business interfering in the private relations of Kody Brown and his four wives (who, by the way, are the stars of the TLC channel show Sister Wives, as seen here in People). Professor Turley explicitly is using the very reasoning you and your liberal classmates are using about gay marriage to defend polygamy. Writes Turley: "Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults."

In fact, Sarah, it is fair to say that if you actually were confronted by your boyfriend, or at a later date your husband -- as was Holly Petraeus -- with the demand to include another woman or multiples of other women in your marriage -- and you resisted -- you would be the one who quickly gains for yourself the reputation of being -- your phrase -- a "social bigot."

But don't worry. You won't be alone. Strangely, there are a couple of prominent women -- both liberal icons in their individual worlds -- who will be in the "social bigots" club with you. One of them is world famous and works just a few blocks from you in Washington.

That would be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton, as she was in her White House days, was famously manifesting all those telltale signs of social bigotry when she was confronted with her husband Bill's friendship with Monica Lewinsky. Ms. Lewinsky, as noted here, is still in love with Bill Clinton right today. What is Hillary's problem? Why play the Wicked Witch when she could be the graceful, warm Sister Wife Number One as goes in the world a law professor at your very own university is legally advocating? Using gay marriage as his model? Why is Hillary Clinton a social bigot?

One Clinton biography after another describes Hillary Clinton as a wife who was repeatedly furious about her husband's attachment to various other women. What is this woman's hang up? What is yours? What are the hang-ups of all your liberal female classmates? Why are women like Hillary so harsh toward their Sister Wives?

Maria Shriver -- a prominent television journalist and of course a member of the liberal Kennedy clan -- simply and quickly filed for divorce from husband Arnold Schwarzenegger a while back. Shriver, it seems, filed for her divorce when Arnold confessed that, well, yes, he had slept with the family housekeeper and fathered a child with her. Wow. Talk about "social bigots"!!! Here you have yet another famous liberal woman who turned out, when the rubber hit the road, to be wildly intolerant as a woman of the idea of Sister Wives. Again, a concept represented by a GW law professor near you.

That's right, Sarah. You and your liberal female classmates who just said "Hell, no!" to a polygamous relationship will -- in a blink -- be seen as "social bigots." Just like Hillary Clinton and Maria Shriver. Intolerant, mean and cruel. The very living and breathing embodiment of the social bigot.

It may be, as you say, "harsh" to be called a "social bigot" because you refuse to share your boyfriend or your future marriage. But you could rectify the situation if you just went along with the crowd. You know -- just as you say in your Wall Street Journal article -- change everything about the way you present yourself in such a situation. Maybe then you wouldn't be viewed so harshly by all those Sister Wives around America, a group Professor Turley calls "not a small population."

What I'm suggesting here Sara, and I say and mean it respectfully, is if Professor Turley's point of view carries the day, using as he is exactly the same arguments being used to promote gay marriage, you personally and all those liberal heterosexual women -- not to mention the guys who will not take swimmingly to the idea that their wives are having affairs with other men (do we call them "Brother Husbands"?) -- on your campus are going to come face-to-face with the fact that you and they are -- yes indeed -- hypocrites.

Say again: Hypocrites. Hypocrites on social issues. And big ones at that.

Like Hillary Clinton and Maria Shriver (and, I suspect, Mrs. Holly Petraeus), I'm guessing you will not be the least bit tolerant of your Significant Other justifying his Other Women by citing Professor Turley.

Yet there are many of us who believe that lowering the traditional gold standard for relationships will inevitably lead to exactly the world Professor Turley is busily trying to create. A world in which the man-woman marriage has shown itself to be the anchor of a stable society will be changed to a world where marriage simply ceases, for all practical purposes, to exist. With the resulting negative effect on families and particularly children, just as that "harsh" Republican platform says. With studies aplenty to back them up.

The evidence at hand suggests that once gay marriage is recognized, the pressure from Professor Turley and others to drop the bar against polygamy will eventually succeed legally. And so too the push to legalize other relationships like polyamory -- group marriages. As seen here.

As for abortion, the Gallup poll in May of this year confirmed the obvious. Democrats and liberals are out of step with the majority of Americans on abortion. The May 2012 poll showed Americans opposing the pro-abortion view by 50%-41%. Across the country since 2010, reports National Review, some "32 states have enacted over 100 pro-life laws." As of the 2012 election Republicans control 30 of the 50 state governorships -- and there are young people aplenty in those 30 states voting for pro-life governors. The pro-life belief in my own state of Pennsylvania is so strong that it has elected not only a Republican pro-life U.S. Senator (Pat Toomey) -- but a pro-life Democrat -- Bob Casey, Jr.

The real issue over abortion (and interestingly both science and technology have lent a hand to the pro-life cause, recording very live babies in the womb), well aside from the issue itself, is the fact that Roe v. Wade short-circuited the emerging abortion debate. The historical fact -- not to mention the common sense fact -- is that controversial issues, whatever they may be, need extensive public debate to sell themselves to the American public. From civil rights to gay marriage, from entering World War II to taking on Saddam Hussein, the only way to reach consensus is to let the American people discuss, debate, and vote.

Roe v. Wade, like the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 that tried to write slavery permanently into the Constitution, is an infamous example of judicial activism gone wild. And Americans have paid heavily for it ever since. The fact that abortion is still a subject of hot debate almost 40 years after the Court handed down its decision is a testament to what happens when judges try to shut people up. The very fact that so many states are out there successfully enacting pro-life laws gives the lie to the notion that abortion is somehow wildly and overwhelmingly popular. In fact, it is anything but.

Let's use the gay marriage issue as an example. How favorably would your liberal classmates be toward the Supreme Court if it summarily ruled gay marriage was illegal forever? Instead of letting your classmates make the choice in voting for gay marriage in their individual states? Again, one suspects the feelings on abortion are situational. Through a roll of the judicial dice the Supreme Court ruled in abortion's favor. But if it rules against gay marriage? Then what? My guess is that the pro-gay marriage folks will insist -- exactly like the pro-lifers have -- on having the right to vote on the issue. As well they should.

Lastly, your view of the Religious Right is, if I may, political suicide. The GOP was hardly "hijacked" by the "evangelical set." They were invited in -- by Ronald Reagan. They fled the Democrats whom they had supported historically and it was Reagan personally who saw to it that they came and broadened the conservative coalition. They did.

What you are proposing when you say "Republicans don't have a future unless they break up with the Religious Right" flies in the face of facts. Republican victories have come about in part precisely because "the Religious Right" has been there. One does not build an inclusive conservative "Big Tent" by immediately reading evangelicals out of the tent.

And finally, as to Rush Limbaugh.

You say: 

Thawing the icy attitude of our most vocal, radical voices -- including the raucous right (a la Limbaugh) -- could let a fatally fractured party put the pieces together again. 

Icy attitude? Radical voice? Raucous? Rush Limbaugh?

I can't think of a conservative with a more optimistic, welcoming attitude than Rush. You must be listening to the hyper-racial, anti-gay MSNBC. You know, the MSNBC that employs a host who calls gays "faggots" and blacks the n-word.

Yes, Sarah, that's right. MSNBC employs a host whose gay bashing and race baiting has been caught on camera or on live mics, as documented right here.

How many of your liberal classmates watch and regurgitate this swill under the guise of "tolerance"?

Rush, on the other hand, is the guy whose famous gay friend Elton John sang at his wedding, a wedding presided over by a black minister. Rush, like Ronald Reagan before him, believes in a color-blind, gender-blind America that promotes the idea that we all should do well, regardless of color, gender, or sexual preference. He promotes these ideas relentlessly and yes entertainingly. He makes no bones about being on the radio to go after liberalism -- the nation's premiere racist (supporter over the centuries for slavery, segregation, lynching, the Klan and now racial quotas), gender and class warfare political philosophy. A philosophy which you ask, inexplicably, that conservatives imitate.

Sorry. No thanks.

Lastly, Sarah, I would refer you to someone who agreed with you. That would be Thomas E. Dewey, the liberal Republican Governor of New York from 1942-1954 and twice the losing Republican presidential nominee in 1944 (against FDR) and 1948 (against Truman).

Governor Dewey agreed with you. In fact, after twice losing the White House as an advocate of liberal Republicanism he went to Princeton University in 1950 to deliver a lecture on the subject.

The lecture was written up in a Dewey biography by the distinguished historian Richard Norton Smith decades later. Wrote Smith of Dewey channeling the still unborn Sarah:

He railed against the "vociferous few" who demanded neatly divided parties, "impractical theorists" who wished to drive all moderates and liberals into Democratic arms, in return for a purely conservative GOP. Everything would be neatly arranged, said Dewey. "The results would be neatly arranged, too. The Republicans would lose every election and the Democrats would win."

This is your argument circa 62 years ago, Sarah. And, quite notably with 62 years of hindsight, Governor Dewey turned out to be wrong, wrong, and wrong again. In fact, since 1932, Republicans have bought into what I will call here the Thomas Dewey-Sarah Westwood argument ten times with moderate nominees named Hoover, Landon, Willkie, Dewey (twice), Nixon (in 1960 but not 1968), Ford, Bush (in 1992 but not 1988), Dole, McCain and Romney.

Wow. Ten Dewey-Westwood style nominees and ten losses. Not a great track record.

Why is this?

Let's end where we began. With you and I having experienced the heartache of the Lonely College Republican.

Eventually, Sarah, college ends. I had to leave the wonderful cocoon that was Franklin and Marshall just as you will eventually have to leave GW. So too was it for all my liberal classmates and indeed so it will be for all of yours. Everyone sallies forth to make their way in the world. Along the way they will be seeking things like jobs and houses. They will have mortgages and kids. In short -- they will come face to face with the realities of making a living and having relationships of all kinds -- romantic, business, and social.

Over time something interesting happened to my generation. The kids who were so passionate about George McGovern became adults who voted for Ronald Reagan and listened to Rush Limbaugh. Why? Because reality had set in on their lives. They needed jobs and wanted to be able to afford houses. They had to pay the mortgage, and their responsibilities as husbands and wives and parents and, eventually as a care-giver to their own senior parents made them… yes… conservatives.

While you may not yet realize it, some of the most conservative members of America's future are today walking around the campus of George Washington University disguised as liberals.

Thanks for taking the time to make your case, Sarah. Please know I'm not writing this to discourage you but just the opposite -- to encourage you. There will come a time in your political life, I assure you, when you will be Lonely No More.

Best wishes,

Jeff Lord
A Once Upon a Time Lonely College Republican Who Is Lonely No More

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.