The Conservative Contingent: Rise of the Oberlin Conservative

Andrew Lipian, Columnist

A silent but sizable demographic has grown in recent years: the Oberlin Conservative. Many on campus resent and perhaps refuse to acknowledge it, but the snarling reverberations from this formidable beast’s call for liberty on campus grow louder with time, and drive its message deeper into the kennels of dogmatic, neutered liberalism on campus. Yes, I say neutered, because the moniker of “fearless” cannot be ascribed to the handful of students at the John Bolton lecture who lobbed rhetorical grenades at the speaker like a Taliban suicide bomber.

Like launching a human missile at an opponent you wouldn’t dare face head-on, barking at others with whom you disagree takes zero fortitude and courage. Akin to shutting up debate by blowing it up, Oberlin radicals undermine their credibility when they, probably a minority here, substitute chaos for reason. The real loser here is modern liberalism, which seems to be becoming irrelevant in our society — as evidenced by John Bolton’s lecture last week.

As Ambassador Bolton spoke, he pulled no punches. Some in the audience didn’t like what he had to say, including disavowing President Obama’s foreign policy as “dangerous.” Predictably, Oberlin was embarrassed by a handful of yapping protesters sputtering such baseless claims as “FALSE!” and other nearly inscrutable howls which the crowd would not tolerate. The entire audience shushed them, but the poodle didn’t heel: At one point, a student tried to mic check Ambassador Bolton. Raising her hands, she shouted, “We are the 99 percent; come on, guys, let’s go,” but was awkwardly ushered out by campus authorities and muzzled by unfriendly silence.

When Karl Rove spoke last year, he could barely be heard over the rabble-rousing. This time, the protesters were unceremoniously jettisoned to boos. This entire fiasco appears symptomatic of the Occupy movement’s final decay and that of modern liberalism ex infra.

Liberalism may fail partly because it is extremely marginalizing toward individual rights. The recent overreach of the government into forcing Catholic Church employers to provide insurance that covers contraception against their moral doctrine is like Oberlin being required to submit funding to an evangelical church. The argument for women’s health is not compelling, since sex is voluntary, while protecting the Church’s rights to moral practice, as distinct from endorsing them, is a Constitutional imperative.

These encroaching foibles breed pestilence the likes of which are indicated by Obama’s Rasmussen Presidential Approval Index rating of a shameful -15 as of March 6, 2012. Also, the consternation of Occupy Wall Street demonizes corporations even while Oberlin’s wealthy corporate donors provide much of the College’s financial aid money. This ingratitude and hypocrisy would be laughable if not for its massive appeal; the movement to socialize Wall Street, thankfully, has melted with March’s snow.

History has a funny way of indicating when an ideal is going extinct by manifesting in a significant unified condemnation. The overthrow of Russia’s provisional government by Lenin eventually led to the failed experiment that was the USSR. With its assault on private liberties through Obamacare, progressivism consequently seems to the John Bolton lecture as McCarthyism seemed to the Watkins Committee in the mid ’50s: dead and decaying. Traditionally, liberals have accepted diversity, but today’s brand is castrated from sapience, and was on the wrong side of history when Oberlin’s support of the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians provided a protected forum for conservatism last week.

Neutered liberalism finds no love from Oberlin’s administration because fearlessness is not about shouting down others. Such cowardice is like reacting to someone checking your king by overturning the chessboard. When ignominiously faced with intellectual alphas, liberals such as the Bolton protesters take a Pavlovian response of lying down and whimpering until their opponent takes notice. Real intellectual courage is considering one’s opponents by taking their views as one’s own momentarily, then objectively observing one’s own opinions through the looking glass and seeing them for their naked weaknesses and virtues. After this brave endeavor, risking long-held beliefs, one builds character and respect.

Knowledge, the goal of respectful discourse, lies in understanding, while to understand is to apprehend meaning and critically evaluate. The liberal arts education imparts this, but feckless liberals only listen if their rosy ideals are not threatened by rational arguments. Notably, there were Oberlin students voicing disagreements through thoughtful questions, and I tip my hat to them all. The OCRL events are better attended, funded, respected and growing — and we’re not going anywhere. As for progressivism, that dog has seen its day and could fast go the way of the dinosaur.