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Conservative action: not an oxymoron

Jonathan Klinger | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The football season and the Britney Spears/K-Fed breakup loom large as we near year’s end and begin to assess the events of 2006, but it is also important to consider the progress that Notre Dame students have made toward overcoming the common view that we are part of an apathetic student body. Over the past 12 months, the Notre Dame community saw the formation of many new student group initiatives which have been noteworthy. Some of these initiatives sprang from existing student clubs, like Amnesty International’s fair trade campaign or the Progressive Student Alliance’s “iRock for iRaq” concert to benefit Iraqi civilians. Others, like NDASK and CLAP, are the work of new organizations devoted to a single issue. Though I strongly disagree with some of these groups’ positions, I do applaud them for heightening the level of dialogue on campus and for their commitment to improving our university.

In a previous column, I wrote about the necessity of enacting change on an individual basis, and these groups are doing just that. For example, on my way through the Huddle on Monday morning I saw a member of Amnesty International speaking to another student about the AIDS crisis. The student ultimately signed a petition in support of increased action to address the epidemic. One-on-one discussions are necessary for any attempt at social change to reach a critical mass of support, and individual transformation is essential for enacted changes to gain social acceptance. However, it is extremely difficult for such a critical mass to be achieved without focus and organization.

Unfortunately, no student group at Notre Dame provides the focus and organization to conservatives that the PSA and others give to progressives. Each of the student organizations that are widely considered conservative lack the characteristics needed to organize conservative campaigns for grassroots change on campus. Right to Life is one of Notre Dame’s largest clubs, and is effective in organizing students and presenting its ideas, but its focus is limited to life issues. The Irish Rover would be another candidate, and has been successful over the past few years in presenting a reasoned conservative viewpoint on a broad range of issues, but as a publication, student mobilization does not fall within its mandate. Finally, the College Republicans, while effective in mobilizing students for election activities, is only able to argue for the Republican position, and not a general conservative platform. What is needed at Notre Dame is a new student group which can develop classically liberal and/or socially conservative initiatives to address the problems our campus faces and win support for those initiatives on a one-to-one basis.

Though Notre Dame is widely believed to be a conservative campus, the progressives here have done far more to push for change in the community. As I said earlier, they should be commended for their effort and commitment. To the detriment of the University, however, this creates student initiatives for change that are built solely on progressive ideas and presuppositions. A conservative student organization is necessary to argue persistently and tirelessly for alternative solutions which take a different approach. By strongly challenging progressive initiatives, the resulting market of ideas will shape better policies and more efficient solutions which are better than anything one group could develop on its own.

Similarly, conservatives on campus must do more to highlight problems which go unnoticed by existing progressive student groups and to take the lead on efforts to bring greater freedom and justice to Notre Dame and the surrounding community. A conservative student organization is needed to mobilize support for more equitable treatment of married students, a strong food bank auxiliary organization on campus and an end to the de facto ban on student businesses, among other things. Any action that a conservative organization would take could and should be challenged by campus progressive organizations and vice versa.

John Henry Newman, in his essay “The Idea of a University,” eloquently describes a university as “the place to which a thousand schools make contributions; in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth.” If we are to achieve Newman’s ideal, we need both a progressive and a conservative student organization to take the ideas articulated by the movements on campus and mobilize students for change, one person at a time. The Notre Dame family deserves better than the current lopsided system.

Jonathan Klinger is a senior management consulting major and the President Emeritus of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He currently resides in Keenan Hall and enjoys Tolstoy and Matlock. He can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.