College Political Clubs: Activity, For a Change

Presidential Elections Never Fail To Arouse Apathetic Community

It happens every four years. Wars, depressions, heart attacks--none of these can prevent presidential elections from taking place. Present intense speculation about Eisenhower's future plans, the number of accusations and counter-accusations, the New Hampshire primary less than three weeks away--all these are reminders that this November about 60 million voters will go to the polls to elect a President of the United States.

Politicians throughout the country have already started making plans for the big push ahead, organizing booster clubs and trying to attract more people to take active part in the political parties. Their efforts will almost certainly meet with some success, because traditionally the American people, often apathetic in off-year elections, suddenly become very concerned with politics when it becomes a question of electing a chief executive.

The situation at the University promises to be no different from elsewhere. Already three clubs have formed with the sole purpose of pushing the candidacy of a Presidential contender. Most of the current interest seems directed toward Adlai Stevenson. The Students for Stevenson Club already has 328 members, a figure far ahead of the other groups. Eisenhower for President supporters number slightly over 100, while the Kefauver booster club so far has only 25 supporters. Furthermore, if Eisenhower decides not to run for reelection, it is a safe bet that many new clubs will form to back the candidacies of various Republican aspirants.

Large-Scale Conventions

But these new clubs, with ambitious hopes and plans for the future, have not completely stolen the initiative from the three permanent organizations at the University primarily interested in practical politics--the Young Republicans, the Young Democrats, and the Liberal Union. Their tentative spring plans include discussions of topics and candidates for 1956 and, more important, two largescale conventions. The Republicans are still uncertain about their convention which, President John R. Thompson '57 says, will be converted into a mock congress if Eisenhower decides to run. The Democrats, however, have proceeded rapidly with plans for a large intercollegiate gathering to include representatives from about 70 colleges in May.

As a general rule memberships of political clubs go through four-year cycles. In 1952, for instance, the HYRC had 200 more members than it does today. The HLU's membership has also fallen drastically since that election year. The one club to go against the trend has been the HYDC.

Republicans Were Popular

At present the Young Democrats have about 260 members, not including the Law School Democratic organization with another 100. This is twice their 1952 figure. The Young Republicans still have the most members with 385, but this is nothing like the predominant role they once enjoyed at the University. Two weeks after the Club was founded in 1888, it already had 817 members. In those days the Republicans had to rent a building in Boston to hold all the people who wished to attend their massive rallies. One meeting, in Tremont Temple, attracted 4500 people. In fact, the nearly even division of the University in 1952 between Eisenhower and Stevenson marked the first time in history, except for the freak 1912 split, that the Republicans did not overwhelmingly carry the school in the CRIMSON straw poll.

Although the Democrats seem to contradict the general political scene with their rise in membership during non-election years, the HYDC has had the usual problem of a student apathy to overcome. Membership figures give little indication of the number of participants. Last Wednesday, for instance, less than one-fifth of the members attended an important HYDC election meeting.

A variety of reasons are advanced for this generally weak show of political interest. Christopher Niebuhr 56, former President of the HLU, suggests that perhaps students who were interested in hometown politics do not become equally engrossed in Cambridge and Massachusetts affairs. The new HLU President, Joseph E. Frank '56, gives another reason. "Students are more concerned with studies and social life than with extra-curricular activities and political organizations," he says.

The most highly regarded way of keeping up interest in non-election years--and the best way to keep an organization in the public limelight--is a good speaker program. Even in 1892 this fact was realized.

In that year, the Republicans had a gala public meeting in Boston, with reserved seats in Tremont Temple. The Rev. Edward Everett Hale presided over a collection of notables which included Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, and Elihu Root.

Sucess or Failure

The organization of most of the clubs depends upon the executive boards, the real focal point of all activity. They are the groups which determine the success or failure of a club. "Every organization is run by a small group of students who are willing to work." Frank concedes.

Since positions on the executive boards determine the direction and power of an organization, elections for these offices often result in bitter contests. Last year there were repeated charges after a HYRC election of "corruption," "bribes," and "ugly threats." The HYDC was almost ruined before it began, in the 1952 campaign, when a pair of Southern Democrats tried to split the club after they had lost an election, despite buying votes. The rival Democratic Club, however, was not recognized by Dean Watson.