Trying to find college Republicans in Boston is like looking for a flattering pair of jeans: they’re elusive — either too stiff or completely out of style. (One young politico I interviewed claimed that homosexuality will hasten the downfall of the Western world.) But this rare species does exist. In fact, once unearthed, many are quite vocal and eloquent. Given the liberal climate on most local campuses, they have to be.
NOT THANKS Brandeis’s Jordan Rothman finds liberals to be intolerant.
Exhibit A: Jordan Rothman, 21, executive director of the Brandeis Republican club and conservative columnist for Brandeis’s student newspaper. Despite his stature as a high-profile college conservative, Rothman once felt so marginalized that he considered transferring to The College of New Jersey. (Being banished to Jersey for your political beliefs — could it get any worse?)
“I started out on Facebook as a moderate,” he tells me, as though Facebook is a congressional subcommittee. “The liberal bias propaganda did a lot to turn me to the right. This blind pursuance of ideologies that don’t make sense — a lot of people seem to follow them aimlessly. That disgusted me and pushed me to the right. My experience at college was one of the fundamental reasons I became more conservative.”
It’s a thankless position, he says, not least because of frequent Bush-bashings on campus. Rothman calls party foul on his fellow students who claim to be liberal and open-minded, yet shun non-liberal viewpoints. “People stop me, taunt me about Sarah Palin. People Bush-bash and college professors present biased lectures. It’s hard to express opinions without being punished. People verbally assault us, take down our fliers — and we put out these really well-thought-out fliers — these are the same people who say they’re progressive and liberal.” He sighs good-naturedly.
Still, Rothman soldiers on, mainly because he understands why many students find liberalism so “sexy.”
“The educational system is extremely liberal,” he says. “Once you get to college, you’re assailed by professors who have a degree of socialism in their lives; they’re tenured. Of course they’re going to put forth that view. Also, college kids are extremely privileged, which leads them to liberal ideologies.”
He also points out that stances on which Republicans urge reform — things such as taxes and Social Security — are easily overshadowed by more glamorous Democratic talking points like Iraq and gay rights. “Students aren’t worried about Social Security right now,” he says. “They’re worrying about what they’re going to do this weekend.”
Which leads me to wonder: is it possible to even have a social life as a conservative student on campus?
Stephanie Brown, 21, a Tufts Republican from Florida who worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, admits that it’s tough. “If I were only friends with Republicans here, I’d have very few friends,” she laughs. “I find it hard to be conservative in a liberal city. I have to deal with my share of insults, arguments. But I find that in many ways, I thrive on it. It gives me the opportunity to embody my own principals and beliefs. As a minority voice, it carries a lot of weight. I take it with humor now. You can’t take it too seriously.”
Brown also says that, like Brandeis, Tufts isn’t as diverse as it claims. “Tufts has an international [student] population of something like 18 percent,” she says. “A survey was done a couple of years ago about Tufts’s political ideology, and they couldn’t find a single professor or anyone in the faculty who either identified with conservatives or would consider themselves Republicans. To have no professors or faculty who view themselves as remotely right, it just demonstrates the overwhelming liberal majority of this school. . . . I think there are professors who are smart enough to respect the other side, but you also get professors who are misinformed and inject that opinion into class.”
In this climate, it’s tough to “come out” as a conservative. Rothman is currently a resident assistant and says that “there are so many more conservatives at Brandeis than are publicly acknowledged. A lot of people in my hall are conservative, but they don’t want to come out — they know there will be bias against them.”
The more things change . . .
One person seeking to change all that is Ryan Boehm, the scion of a liberal Duxbury family who now works for the Massachusetts Family Institute (pro-abstinence, anti–gay marriage, etc.). The former vice-chair of the Massachusetts Young Republicans, Boehm, who’s “been in politics since age 10,” says that while Beacon Hill might be liberal, Massachusetts as a state is more conservative than people like to admit. “Massachusetts was a Republican state — my great grandfather was a Republican state rep in Somerville,” he says. “Massachusetts has a rich Republican history, and I truly believe we can get back to that.”