At a university where American liberalism is too often the default orientation, the presence of a strong and organized conservative force is particularly important. Yet too often, that force is, at best, poorly organized and at worst, politically apathetic. Although indifference is endemic across much of campus, that lack of organization and advocacy is especially detrimental to conservatives, whose ideas are perpetually underrepresented.
The lack of political activity inflicts our classrooms, dinner tables, and public spaces. Largely due to the weak Republican presence at Stanford, Republican candidates often go unheard of on campus. Other than the annual Roe v. Wade protest, political demonstrations are rare and poorly attended. Political discussion is mostly limited to the occasional Stanford Political Union debate and meetings of the Objectivist’s Society.
It is then little wonder that the sound bites of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the only real insights many Stanford students have into conservative ideas.
While national issues may seem distant for some, the lack of activity surrounding campus issues is particularly baffling. Conservatives have too often neglected causes that need their action. And at a fundamentally liberal institution like Stanford, the laundry list of issues needing a conservative perspective is lengthy indeed. For example, the Study on Undergraduate Education has presented a unique opportunity to advocate for the greater inclusion of conservative thought in the humanities curriculum. Currently, the work of great conservative thinkers like Burke, Strauss, and Buckley is far too uncommon in humanities courses. Yet other than a couple of articles in this newspaper, the Stanford conservative community has failed to organize any effort around the issue.
The real travesty, however, may be the failure to rally behind the cause of ROTC, which for the first time in decades may be returning to Stanford. The campaign to bring back the important institution has been led by professors alone with little student involvement. Having well-known faculty members rally behind the issue has finally made success possible, but the lack of a substantial student movement may ultimately imperil these professors’ efforts. For whatever reason, the indifference surrounding national politics has extended even to those issues directly affecting conservatives here on campus.
What then is the way forward? How can campus conservatives overcome general political apathy and reestablish themselves at Stanford? This newspaper will certainly continue trying to do its part with intelligent conservative commentary in our opinion section and on our blog, Fiat Lux. It will also continue sponsoring and organizing events with conservative intellectuals from the Hoover Institution and elsewhere.
However, much more is needed. With an especially important set of midterm and gubernatorial elections just weeks away, this fall will be an important opportunity for conservatives to reassert themselves. Political rallies, candidate speaking events, phone banks, and public debates are some of the many ways to begin engaging campus in a more substantive way. Events like last spring’s meeting with California Secretary of State candidate Damon Dunn should be more common and advertised to a larger portion of campus. And above all else, conservatives must recommit themselves to advancing causes that have particular impact here on campus, such as the curriculum and ROTC.
Campus conservatives must begin viewing the liberal tilt of Stanford not as a reason to give up hope but rather as an opportunity to introduce intelligent conservatism to fellow students, many of whom have distorted views of conservative ideas. Our classmates may tune out national Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, but fellow students can have a significant impact on campus. At stake are students’ political and intellectual development and the fate of our political culture at Stanford and beyond. With so much on the line, limiting ourselves to hosting social functions simply won’t do.