G.K. Chesterton said that tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions. And what is the virtue of a campus political club without convictions?
The Columbia University College Republicans, true to form of the campus right across America, have resorted to provocation as their preferred method of campus outreach. The CUCR Executive Board is surely proud of their “Free Speech Month” showcase, a success in making the club relevant again—for ignoble reasons—but relevant nonetheless.
The campus left and their allies will spend the rest of the semester obsessing over the beliefs and statements of each speaker, though Mr. Cernovich’s pathetic stream-of-consciousness rant against mainstream media outlets should indicate that time and attention spent on folks of his kind is ultimately time and attention squandered. What should baffle and irritate us is that a partisan club, with the resources of New York City and the (first or second) most powerful political party in the US, would waste time and space hosting speakers that their own executive board was unwilling to endorse.
Former leaders have already taken steps to publicly distance themselves from the club they once ran, portraying the current crop of leaders as hostile takers of a once-principled vision, but you cannot take with hostility that which was unoccupied and unguarded. The current CUCR leadership took the reins with little pushback from these newly vocal alumni.
The CUCR website states that the organization is “dedicated to promoting Republican values” through hosting “a wide variety of speakers on the right side of the aisle.” That same mission statement also asserts that “CUCR doesn’t endorse any speaker and his/her views.” How could all of these statements be true at once? I grant that endorsing every view of a given speaker is an unfair request, even for a political group, but endorsing a speaker is a significantly lower bar. How can a club dedicated to promoting Republicanism invite speakers from the right in pursuit of that mission, yet categorically refuse to endorse any of them?
I began attending CUCR events more regularly in 2014, hoping to find a larger group of students interested in conservatism during the typically tumultuous fall semester at Columbia. What I found was a leadership more eager to fight each other over executive control of the club than to fight the progressive hold on campus culture.
Back then, the typical CUCR calendar of events was far from aspirational: discussions of upcoming elections; discussion of those same elections after they had passed; the Veteran’s Day panel; one debate with fellow Columbia Political Union members; the Reagan party; a couple YAF panelists (because it’s cool to seem Libertarian now); and discussion about whatever story was dominating the mainstream airwaves. In 2015, three members of the short-lived John Jay Society agreed to debate three CUCR members over the resolution “Conservatives have no party.” If there was any hope in my mind that the College Republicans had any interest in the ideological bloc most favorable to their own party, it quickly vanished over the course of that hour. CUCR failed to provide three speakers, which was previously agreed upon, and the general body in attendance had little appreciation for a party platform that extended beyond lower tax rates and distaste of liberal domination of campus. Speakers who suggested a more comprehensive agenda were met with jeers and boos. The club quickly returned to the regular slate of events.
Meanwhile, each crop of leaders continued to neglect every other possible ally of the campus right. In 2014, they rejected calls to collaborate with AEI (of which I was also a member) because they did not want to “share” the conservative speakers with another nascent group. No discussions about Obergefell, or Dr. Gosnell and Planned Parenthood. No discussion about Christian groups that were kicked off college campuses across the country for defending their convictions with more substance and class than the College Republicans have ever displayed. The irony is that for all the gimmicks and stunts this club has pulled, from Ahmadinejad-gate to Mr. Cernovich, being informed and engaged conservative activists was the only thing outside their bounds of acceptable tactics and behavior.
CUCR leaders have taken every opportunity in the lead-up for each of their recent events to remind us all of their non-endorsement, as if the community should commend them for either lacking a concrete political agenda or being too cowardly to tell about it. Conservatives who cling to free speech will find a fate similar to that of the “nice Christian” and “cool parent” who eschew conviction for respect but ultimately attain neither.
Kalu Ogbureke (CC ‘16) is a Consulting Analyst at Accenture PLC in New York City.