When an article I wrote for The Harvard Salient on Iranian President Mohammad Khatemi’s continuation of blatant human rights abuses against women and homosexuals was edited to refer to homosexuals as “sodomites,” I wondered, “What on earth are the copy editors thinking?” Other than demonstrating absolute animus toward a certain group of individuals, nothing else can be expressed by that loaded term. And indeed, as an associate editor for The Harvard Salient, I have seen this so-called journal of conservative repute devolve into a state where it no longer expounds mainstream conservative thinking, but instead represents the ideas shared by only a small fringe minority that manages to convince no one and gains the ire of students of all ideological stripes.
Most of all, The Salient has become known as the talking head of the conservative movement at Harvard, providing the perception that the campus right, whether it is the Republicans or other conservative groups are all maintained by “right-wing” ideologues. That perception is far from reality and the truth is the conservative movement is diverse – from the flag-waving Iowan to the Long Island libertarian to the Bible belt conservative. But from both an ideological standpoint and based on common sense ideas of intelligent political dialogue, The Salient expounds an agenda that neither resonates with this student body, nor is it representative of the conservative movement on campus.
First, on a political level, the conservative movement and The Salient diverge widely on our ideological views. The Republican Party, the vehicle for American conservatism, is a mainstream organization, built on a legacy of 200 years of American democracy; we believe in a vibrant American democracy, unalienable rights, and the non-establishment of religion by the state. Yet The Salient continues to provide the perception that the Harvard conservative community is stuck in the feudal past—questioning and even opposing basic appeals to human rights, gender equality, and the progress of democracy. Admittedly, as conservatives, we share support for many issues such as the sanctity of life, but 21st century conservatives also support issues that move beyond the 17th century concepts of ordered liberty. Its advertisement seeking writers who “curl up next to the fireplace with a glass of gin and tonic” shows the worlds of difference that lie between The Salient and the rest of the Harvard campus. Undeniably, intent on preserving this socio-economic tradition of the “upper class” and the “privileged,” The Salient has ultimately defaced and maligned the conservative message.
In the latest debacle in regards to Deval Patrick’s wasteful spending on a lavish new Cadillac, furniture worth $27,000, and a helicopter, not only did the editor-in-chief of the paper not join with the universal protests launched by fiscal conservatives statewide decrying the imprudent fiscal spending, but The Salient had the audacity to call the critics of the “lovely draperies” insensible, arguing that extravagant furnishings for an executive office is an example of “where superfluous spending is surely good for us all.” The message advanced is clear: fiscal responsibility, a fundamental tenet of Republicanism and conservatism, can be sidestepped in order to promote the warped idea that “To pamper your leader is in no way demeaning to those who are underneath him.”
When it comes to campus issues, the ideological divide is even starker. The March 12 edition of the fortnightly paper provides an account of why Harvard should ignore the genocide in Sudan, dubbing the campus divestment efforts a “sham.” Despite The Salient’s claim, conservatives do care about the killing in Sudan; in fact, the Harvard Republican Club has been a supporter and signatory to the Sudan Divestment initiative since last year.
On a pragmatic level, however, The Salient has digressed into a status at Harvard that garners little to no respect. The paper has replaced The Lampoon as the campus humor rag—mainly because the sensationalist social commentary printed neither represents conservatives nor our values. The latest issue features denunciations of modern ballet as “whimsical and weightless,” commentaries arguing for a “healthy and overflowing WASP culture” and calls for all men to buy stockings at the Andover Shop—“a delightful island of elegance in a sea of slovenliness.”
At the same time, the back page, the trademark section of the paper, has been downgraded to a perpetual [enter anti-queer here] page where intelligence and logic fall victim to an endless desire to prove that somehow, people of different sexualities simply deserve ridicule. Of the seven issues from this past year, six of the Salient back pages contain some sort of anti-queer joke unbefitting of political discourse. If Republicans learned anything this past month, it was that anti-gay demagoguery similar to that expounded by The Salient and political talking heads like Ann Coulter is not only despicable, but blatantly abuses all standards of decency. Such ignorance is responsible for dramatically setting back the image of the Republican Party and is why the conservative movement continues to be clouded by allegations of homophobia. As a leader of the conservative movement on campus, I want to say that our message is loud and clear: conservatism is no cover for homophobia.
The tone of the conservative movement must change if we are to attract new blood in preparation for 2008 and inspire hope for the future. The Salient, unfortunately, only contributes to this negative perception by publishing reactionary and fringe ideas that distract from the larger political discourse and embarrass the vast majority of campus conservatives.
Jeffrey Kwong ’09 is a government and East Asian languages and civilizations concentrator in Winthrop House. He is the president of the Harvard Republican Club, vice president of Harvard Right to Life, and an associate editor for The Harvard Salient.