Taking a comically unscientific survey of Harvard political attitudes last week—searching for each respective political preference on thefacebook.com—I obtained some very surprising results. The liberal Harvard of Rush Limbaugh’s dreams has gone the way of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.
At first, the numbers seemed to confirm the old myth: 13 percent of students identified themselves as “Very Liberal,” a full 47 percent said they were “Liberal,” 22 percent were “Moderate,” 11 percent were “Conservative,” 2 percent were “Very Conservative” and 6 percent were “Apathetic.” Ostensibly, it appeared that outright liberals outnumbered outright conservatives on a four to one margin. But the analysis does not end there. Why? Unlike most surveys, this one is not anonymous. Every “Very Conservative” student can be easily brought up onto my screen and carefully tabulated.
Looking through the ranks of the stylish uber-liberal (I’m a member!), the boring moderates, the frightening ultra-cons and the slacker apathetics, you begin to notice some people who really don’t belong. There are people I know who are certainly conservative, who have droned on about the genius of Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein ’61 and the glories of free trade and the many successes of President Bush’s War on Terror, labeling themselves as “Moderate” and including the ubiquitous beer bottle in their profile picture to assure us that they are students in college. Then there are political no-shows who can’t name three vice-presidents and think Afghanistan is a punk-rock band selecting “Liberal” as a political preference and showing off those ideological credentials by including a quote by that liberal icon Winston Churchill.
Going through these profiles, you begin to realize that people are playing politics with their political preferences. Let’s start with the “Very Liberal” people. Choosing extremities is always socially risky, so most of these people are genuinely very liberal. The ones who aren’t are liberal people whose liberal qualifications have been scorned or criticized in the past. For example, they may have supported Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., for president, or thought the war on Iraq was a good idea. To make up for their liberal insecurities they take the leap and contend that they are among the vanguard of the liberal elite. It’s a safe bet to say that at least half of those calling themselves “Very Liberal” are instead just plain “Liberal.”
In the “Liberal” camp, where nearly half of Harvard claims inclusion, are many genuine liberals of the College Democrats variety, with their John Kerry bumper stickers, their aging “Living Wage Now!” buttons, and their carefully cultivated subscriptions to the New Yorker. But most of the others are liberal pretenders; moderates by trade, they reside in political limbo, non-committal to either the paradise above them or the hell below them. But since it’s indisputably “cooler” to be a liberal in college, so many confused moderate souls fly up to liberal heaven. In other words, a lot of so-called liberals are really just socially ambitious moderates.
Most “Moderates,” meanwhile, are simply conservatives who are afraid to label themselves as such and scare off their liberal friends, who themselves of course are not that liberal. I offer one tangible example from thefacebook.com. In the interests of privacy and fairness, let us call her Margaret Thatcher. Ms. Thatcher, a member of the Harvard Republican Club, claims in her profile to be a “Moderate,” but has in the past told this very liberal writer that government should get off people’s backs, but should also ban gay marriages. Logically unsound, effectively intolerant and intentionally insensitive, Ms. Thatcher’s argument was classically conservative. Her social life will surely suffer, but Ms. Thatcher and her fellow conservatives donning the shameful cloak of the moderate must end the charade now and reveal themselves in all their American-flag-draped glory.
Say what you will about the explicitly “Conservative” and “Very Conservative” among us, but at least they are honest. Fair, balanced and unafraid, these brave souls who actually label themselves as Rightists in this liberal citadel are likely self-proclaimed “Hipublicans” who allegedly use their acerbic and edgy wit to poke fun whenever liberalism runs amok. Granted, there are some posers in this camp as well, but most of them are of the ironic liberal variety that thinks it’s funny to label themselves very conservative when in fact they are the opposite. The rest are flag-waving, Bible-thumping, altar-at-a-gay-wedding-smashing conservatives.
So in the end, we arrive at the unsettling reality that we, at ages 18-22, are not as liberal as we should be. And that is not according to my very liberal judgment, but according to Winston Churchill, who once famously declared, “If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not conservative at 40, you have no brain.” Heartless at 20, I can only hope that we are all brainless at 40.
Erol N. Gulay ’05, a Crimson editor, is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House.
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