Monday, November 28, 2005

Letter to the Editor of the Columbia Spectator

Adam Pulver
Class of 2008

To the Editor:

I write in response to yesterday's "A Call to Debate." For the past thirty years, the American conservative movement has used college campuses to develop a corps of ideologues, using its wealth to fund speakers and programs. These students become the party faithful, spewing rhetoric, challenging "liberal bias," and raising money while claiming to be "nonpartisan."

It is for this purpose, not education, that John Ashcroft comes to campus. Ms. Klibaner says that his visit shows the "presence" of conservatives. Really, the visit is less connected to Columbia than it is to the national conservative student campaign. Online, Ashcroft's visit is advertised by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a partisan machine existing solely to develop this "movement," and the New York Young Republicans Club, encouraging its members to RSVP promptly to ensure preferred seating.

Conservatives are not stupid. They intentionally posted vague posters that merely referred to Ashcroft as "American Patriot," aware of the response it would provoke. The claims that those on the left are the ones trying to make a partisan stink out of an "intellectual debate" cannot be uttered seriously.

Yes, I believe Ashcroft's tenure as Attorney-General turned back years of progress towards civil rights and liberties. But the conservative movement knew that when they brought Ashcroft to Columbia; a polarizing figure isn't brought here to persuade nonbelievers. I won't try to "get" John Ashcroft tomorrow, because doing so would let the right claim another example of those uncouth liberals. However, I refuse to allow my interest in his appearance here to be claimed as a victory for the right.


At 4:46 PM, Blogger PG said...

FYI, the editorial Adam addresses is here.

While sympathizing with his dislike of Ashcroft's actions, I disagree with Adam that Ashcroft's visit does not signify the presence of conservatives, and also that no intellectual debate is possible.

The pre-screening of questions by the conservative groups who are sponsoring the event, as Mike Nadler notes, may have the effect of blocking not only obnoxious questions but also challenging ones. We'll only know if that's true, however, if a) submit worthwhile queries and b) attend and hear which questions were chosen and how Ashcroft answers them.

As to Ashcroft's appearance being "a victory for the right," the only way to claim otherwise is to say that it would have occurred without conservative effort. That is, would the College Democrats and ACS have invited Ashcroft?

ACS has a fine track record of co-sponsoring debates with the Federalist Society and thus being a co-host for such polarizing figures as John Yoo, but the degree of contempt directed toward Ashcroft and the assumption that he (unlike Yoo?) has nothing worthwhile to offer for his side of the issues indicates that Ashcroft may be considered beyond the pale for a non-conservative group to invite, particularly in light of Ashcroft's hefty speaker's fee, toward which the money raised by the dinner will be directed. (As likely would occur with President Clinton and other Big Names.)

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Helvidius said...

This is pretty silly Andy. If you're worried that allowing conservative students to hear from a speaker they agree with on their campus may be considered a "victory" for the right, then our campus is in worse shape than I thought.

At which schools is "the American conservative movement [using] college campuses to develop a corps of ideologues"? That certainly isn't the case at Columbia. I hope you're not making the empirical claim that the number of ideologues being graduated from Columbia are more conservative than liberal. I really really want to think that the education at this school is about exposing us, and teaching us to come to our own conclusions rather than the conclusions to which our professors and the administration have already come. But if that claim is not true, then it is not because those professors and administrators are brainwashing us to respect the liberty of local jurisdictions and the value choices made by people community by community, state by state. And I hope you're not saying that the occasional Federalist Society or College Republican speech is what is doing the work.

Perhaps, perhaps, the excitement you're seeing from ISI and the New York Republicans club is a result of exactly the opposite of what you claim--these people listen day in and day out to views that they disagree with, and finally get to hear from a "big ticket" speaker saying things that they like. If this is the case (and I am quite sure it is), then this is a symptom of exactly what Mike Nadler is decrying and the "liberal bias" at the core of so much of the conservative movement.

You are welcome to your views about Ashcroft, and I am also not a fan, but if you really value a "liberal" education, you should welcome Ashcroft's visit. I applaud the groups who have gotten together to hold the "prebuttal," and I think it is entirely appropriate to ask him hard questions, and would disagree with the exclusion of appropriate questions that challenged Ashcroft's views and actions. But I would hope that your motive for not "trying to 'get'" Ashcroft would be more than the political capital it would give your opponents. I would hope that you respect debate and free speech as a matter of principle, regardless of any ascribed motive, and apart from whether you think the speech is right.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Helvidius said...

Harvard, by the way, seems to be doing it right.


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