Ronald Reagan Political Lectureship Series Attracts Local Conservatives, Few Students

John Light, Editor-In-Chief

This past week, the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians took to task the centuries- old adage, “Not to be a socialist at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.”

On Thursday, a crowd gathered in West Lecture Hall to hear an address by Mark Steyn, a free speech advocate known as a regular on Rush Limbaugh’s conservative talk radio show and an often-vocal critic of Islam. Those in attendance were predominantly Tea Partiers and Republicans from across Lorain County.

A few odd Oberlin students sat among them, as well as the members of the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians and their faculty adviser, Associate Professor of Philosophy Timothy Hall. The group invited Steyn as part of the Ronald Reagan Political Lectureship series.

Mark Steyn, a blocky, bearded man with a notable Canadian accent, cracked jokes for his fans, pointing out Oberlin’s UN flag (on the southeast corner of Tappan Square) as an absurdity that he had only before seen while visiting Iraq. Steyn had two theses: 1. “Fiercely bearded” Muslims wish to conquer the world, and they’re getting close to succeeding. 2. “If you’re not in favor of free speech for people you find loathsome and repellent, you’re not on the side of free speech at all.”

“The opinions presented at the Steyn talk may not be held by the majority of Oberlin students, but they are definitely worth hearing as they are held by a large number of the American populous,” College Junior Brad Hantler, president of the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians, said.

Earlier in the week, on Monday, a much smaller crowd, including some of the same local conservatives, attended a lecture by Matt Mayer, the president of Ohio’s Buckeye Institute, whom the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians also invited to speak as part of the Ronald Reagan Lectureship Series.

Mayer, a former official at the Department of Homeland Security and an adjunct professor at Ohio State, presented his point from the opposite end of the rhetorical spectrum. Mayer was not a fan of emotion, he admitted. Instead, he is a self-described “data man.” A bald, bespectacled policy analyst, Mayer stood at the podium and gave an academic talk chock full of figures on Ohio’s poor economic standing in comparison to other, non-union states.

Despite his role in the policy discussion, Mayer is not sure that data is enough to change policies.

“Emotions tend to win,” he said during the Q&A session. “S.B. 5 is a great example of that. Because you can say, ‘We’re going to take away teacher pensions and do all of this horrible stuff’ – that sounds really bad. My kids have teachers, they’re in the public school system. I really like my kids’ teachers. If I didn’t know what I did, I’d say, ‘Well, don’t do that to my teacher. I love my teacher…’

“So emotion works really effectively. For folks who want to keep S.B. 5 on the books, they’re going to figure out a way to use an emotional element. I would argue to you that the emotional element is: Without S.B. 5, your taxes will go up.”

Despite Mayer’s plug for the cause of calm, collected political data analysis, his talk tapped into emotions from both sides of the spectrum. An elderly woman accused public sector unions of treating taxpayers as a faceless pocketbook, while College senior Shannon Ikebe fired a salvo of long questions at Mayer concerning his views on S.B. 5.

Then, on Thursday, Steyn proved the antithesis of Mayer’s cool collectedness as he gave emotionally charged descriptions of Muslim society’s violent side.

Hantler and College sophomore Nick Miller, vice president of the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians, hoped their controversial speakers would draw enough students to spark discussion on Oberlin’s notoriously liberal campus.

“We’re not trying to change anyone’s minds or their opinions,” said Hantler. “Clearly, they may not agree with our opinion, but it’s good to hear the other side. We don’t think there’s a lot of that that goes on on this campus.”

He added, “How are you going to talk and argue without knowing the facts?”

“I argue with politics majors all the time,” said Miller. “They say, ‘Every politics major should argue with someone like you.’ Because they have no idea why they believe the way they believe. Not a clue.”