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"You're a Republican?" Jon asked as he backed away from me. Clouds of disbelief now hung in our mutual air space. It is amazing what one little admission can do to a conversation that had been so affable. Jon's apparent disgust didn't phase me, though, because I've become accustomed to negative reactions. In an attempt to salvage this conversation during my first week, I assured Jon that he need not fear me, in spite of my being a Republican. "I don't bite," I informed him. From the look on his face, I couldn't tell whether or not he believed me. Republicans have a bad reputation in many circles, particularly ones that include Harvard students. The media reinforces this negative image. The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times--the news sources for many Harvard students and other educated Americans--all of these bastions of news reporting are liberal. All of them are biased against Republican candidates and the Republican agenda. So it is not entirely surprising that I have spent many hours defending myself and the Republican party, or hiding in the closet.
"Being in the closet" is most often used to describe the lifestyle of many homosexuals who do not disclose their sexual orientation for fear of being harassed. In my high school and at Harvard no differently, the closet is Republican territory. Those students who were then and are now openly homosexuals certainly have a place in the school community. I haven't found people similarly welcoming to Republicans.
In seventh grade, I decided that I was a Republican. When my social studies teacher asked the class with which political party each of us identified, I was the lone Republican in that private school classroom of twenty-five wealthy students. Despite my northeastern address, my female gender and my marked lack of family fortune, I knew that the Republican party was my home.
Members of my Harvard Hebrew class are perfectly representative of this larger liberal phenomenon. During a weekly discussion session in the fall, the issue of the presidential election arose. There was a general assumption that all present would vote for Clinton. I interjected that I was a registered Republican. Nobody paid much attention since national polls indicated that many Republicans, particularly women, were planning to vote for Clinton. The discussion prepared to move forward. I interrupted to explain that I planned to cast my vote for Dole. Shock froze several people. A minute before I had seemed so normal; I had been one of them. Now I was different. The incident quickly faded, but for me, it has been a piece of the puzzle of my Republican experience.
In spite of a recent survey by UCLA researchers claiming that this year's first-years are more conservative, the Harvard campus has proven to be awash with liberal sentiment. Fortunately, Harvard has two Republican clubs and two conservative newspapers. By joining The Harvard Salient and becoming freshman-member-at-large for the Harvard Republican Club, I have found shelter from the storm.
This comfortable space is a recently new phenomenon. For many years, especially in high school, I pretended to be politically neutral and denied my Republicanism. I refrained from defending my partymen in the interest of self-preservation; I knew I would be derided were I to admit my true political leanings. It truly enraged me though to see what a beating Republicans took, but I kept silent. When political opinions were necessary, I responded with the liberal party line--and was rewarded. I always worried that if I had given a different response, my grade would have been lower or my integrity and intelligence challenged.
It is commonly believed that those who disagree with liberal truisms must somehow be ignorant or boorish. It is incredible that the image of the Republicans as the party without ideas persists to this day. There has been an incredible increase in recent years of conservative think tanks and intellectual publications, such as The Weekly Standard, which is edited by Bill Kristol '73. However, this thoughtful, non-liberal voice is virtually ignored. Meanwhile, the American intelligentsia is so wedded to liberalism that it cannot understand anyone's choosing the elephant over the donkey, even though a majority of people (particularly in lower-level elections of late) often does.
With the advent of multiculturalism, it has become unfashionable to insult or discriminate against homosexuals or ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities. Minorities are praised, championed, the veritable toast of the community. There are efforts at all levels to integrate minorities into society and make minorities feel more comfortable--with the marked exclusion of Republicans, who are the one unprotected minority group at Harvard. On this campus, vocal conservatives are among the most minority of minorities, yet we are the most frequently derided. Isn't it ironic?
Melissa R. Langsam '00 is a first-year living in Hurlbut.
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