The Elephant Speaks

The online version of the Harvard Kennedy School‘s student newspaper, The Citizen, has been down, so I am re-posting my article here.


The Elephant Speaks

There’s an elephant in the Forum, and it’s no use ignoring it. This school prizes diversity, recruiting students from many countries and many backgrounds. It prides itself on welcoming a variety of minority groups to campus, and that is a good thing. Within the context of these walls, I am something of a minority, just not one the Kennedy School typically brags about. Rarer than a spotted zebra – I am a Harvard Republican.

About half of the country voted for the Republican candidate in each of the last three presidential cycles, but only a handful of us are here at HKS as students and faculty. Consequently, many students graduate lacking a basic understanding of what Republicans and conservatives believe in — such as free markets, limited but effective government, and strict constructionist judges — or why we hold those beliefs. That is ridiculous.

The Kennedy School does its students and the country a disservice when it trains future leaders by presenting just half of every story. A school that prides itself on respecting diversity should respect diversity across the ideological spectrum.

Republican principles might seem more familiar if HKS made a concerted effort to foster balance. The administration needs to recruit more conservative faculty. Liberal-leaning professors should encourage conservative students to participate in class discussions and include more conservative authors on their reading lists. As it does with other minority groups, the admissions committee should work to attract more conservative applicants – while never lowering admissions standards, since that would offend our own conservative principles.

Harvey Mansfield, the lone outspoken conservative on Harvard College’s faculty, is famous for saying that conservative students get the best education at the College because their every comment is challenged. As a College graduate, I can attest that is true; my undeclared minor was debate. So, after seven years in Republican-controlled Washington, I had to think hard about whether I wanted to come back to Cambridge. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the red dot in the sea of blue again. But here I am.

I often find myself in classes hearing my political party and its members caricatured. Last year, a professor informed one of my classes that Mike Huckabee would be my party’s nominee, because we all take marching orders from the Christian Right. I’m not sure he knew there was a Republican primary voter in the room, that I’m a practicing Jew, or that my brain likes exercise.

One thing I do know: you should always let facts get between you and a good stereotype. I am living proof that the Republican Party is kaleidoscopic, and there are many others like me. We are not the homogenous, over-simplified party the media often portrays.

Even more troubling, though, is something Republican pollster Frank Luntz has noted publicly. It is something I have sometimes seen here at the Kennedy School too: a sense that there can be no honest disagreement. A sense that not only are the Republicans out there wrong, but they are EVIL. The divide is visceral, and it’s personal. It benefits all of us if we can look beyond our classmates’ party labels and know the individuals beneath them.

For the record, we – Republicans – are right here at the Kennedy School, and we probably have more in common with you than you think.

I also believe in public service. I also want to make the world better. Every day I am inspired by a concept called Tikkun Olam, whereby Jews are called upon to repair the world. I do not, however, believe that government has all the answers. I champion the laboratory of the states. And I want a commander-in-chief who is perceived as tough so when he says “all options are on the table,” our enemies believe it.

But when you disagree with me  – about school vouchers, bringing ROTC back to Harvard’s campus, or free trade, all of which I support – please pause and consider. I might think some of your ideas are misguided, but I’ll assume you genuinely believe them. That you care passionately and deeply, that you have thought long and hard, that you have reasons. Shouldn’t you assume the same?After all, I may be an elephant, but I too, am part of HKS.

This article appeared in The Citizen on April 29, 2009.
3 Responses to “The Elephant Speaks”
  1. alimenty says:

    Very good article and I’m not ignoring it! 😉

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] I graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School in 2009, I launched a parting shot at faculty and administrators in our student newspaper. After two years of them making me feel […]

  2. […] nine years later, but I stand by what I wrote in this article, which originally appeared in the Kennedy School’s student newspaper. And I wish I could say it […]

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