GOP Loses Young Conservatives on Foreign Policy

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 I’ll never forget Michele Bachmann’s speech at CPAC 2013, which unveiled her idea for a new type of conservatism, one that would boost the platform of “care and compassion.” Between criticizing the President for his lavish vacations, exposing the atrocity of employing a White House dog walker on the taxpayers’ dime, and preaching the message of conservative-love-for-all, I found myself clapping. I stood and enthusiastically cheered along with 200 other CPAC-ers. It wasn’t until Bachmann exited the stage and the clouds of group-think parted, that I realized she had said absolutely nothing of life-giving potential for the conservative movement. More recently, Republicans across the spectrum have taken a liking to compassionate conservatism, with high hopes of revitalizing the party’s image with a makeover. The GOP is worried about its appearance, and has good reason to be. Polls show the party performing poorly among women and young voters. Republicans have traditionally struggled with securing those demographics, but now the GOP faces a new obstacle–a stronger libertarian movement. Sweeping across college campuses and gaining momentum, libertarianism is cementing itself as a more attractive option for thousands of young conservatives. Caught between an admiration of tradition and a necessity for change, GOP leaders have misdiagnosed what’s killing conservatism in America. They continue to promote ideas of American exceptionalism and argue for hawkish military expansions, promising a revival of Reagan conservatism.

But that’s the GOP’s problem. Young conservatives don’t want another Reagan regime.

Since the 1980’s, conservatism has seemed conflicted in carrying out one of its most basic tenets: change can be a good thing, but should be approached prudently, not zealously. Conservatives have sought to preserve tradition at home, but have intervened in foreign affairs like fanatics hell-bent on spreading democracy. Last week, a group of GOP senators took the Senate floor and spoke for an hour about President Obama’s failures abroad. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham pointed to the current unrest in Iraq as evidence that the US should be doing more to secure peace in the Middle East, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell accused the President of weakening America’s national security by withdrawing troops from the country. In May, after his opening remarks at a dinner for Republican donors, Senator Rand Paul faced an onslaught of tough questions about his positions on foreign policy. Paul’s non-interventionist views make him an outlier on foreign policy, and although he connects well with younger voters, he risks losing the support of some powerful Republicans. Center-right Republicans seem receptive to Paul’s stance on foreign policy, but a large chunk of the GOP resists moving in a non-interventionist direction. Many Republicans are standing firm against pressure from the libertarian movement, hoping for a war hawk front-runner in 2016. GOP leaders are out of touch with twenty-somethings, preaching compassion but holding onto an offensive, uncompassionate take on foreign policy–an issue close to the heart of Generation Y.

Today’s young conservatives have a healthy distrust of government, and unlike earlier generations of conservatives, it doesn’t go away when the Republican guy is in power. Perhaps this is because we came of age watching the Bush administration fumble situation after situation, and expand the size of government to ensure more comprehensive screw-ups. Promises of lower taxes and a strong defense don’t satisfy us, because we know all too well that GOP governments can be very big governments. We grew up in the midst of a war based on lies, and have realized the devastating futility of our involvement. The Iraq war is a tragic mistake that continues to play out, and is a major reason for Generation Y’s fervent distrust of government intervention. We don’t want to expand the military budget, we don’t want to spread democracy or police the world, or claim anything that resembles the Bush Doctrine. Generation Y Conservatives don’t look favorably upon much of what the GOP aims to do abroad.

Republicans have a deep-rooted addiction to interventionism, leaving many young conservatives hungry for new options. The hype surrounding the “Ron Paul Revolution” was not taken seriously by the GOP, but Ron Paul’s refreshing stance on foreign policy lit a fire that’s not likely to simmer down anytime soon. With the recent announcement of turmoil in Iraq, young voters are reminded of the follies of imperialism. For decades, the United States has “spread democracy” by assisting in coups of other nations’ leaders, and then placing U.S.-approved dictators in power. In fact, the United States gave so much money and military support to Saddam Hussein, his leadership was practically handed to him on a red, white, and blue platter. By sticking its nose into other nations’ business, the United States forges powerful alliances in every corner of the world, gains access to more resources, and feels good by making the less enlightened world a little more American.

Center-right Republicans seem open to taking a new stance on foreign policy, but a large chunk of the GOP resists moving in a non-interventionist direction. Many Republicans are standing firm against pressure from the libertarian movement, hoping for a war hawk front-runner in 2016.The GOP declares that “a strong national defense is the pathway to peace.” America is exceptional, and has a responsibility to change the rest of the world whether they like it or not. Reform at home should be considered with caution, but reform abroad–go for it. What the GOP doesn’t realize is that to Generation Y, America’s interventionist policies just look like excuses for more power at the hands of careless politicians. Because at the end of the day, the Iraq war has cost about $1 trillion, the United States spends about $600 billion a year on the military, Guantanamo Bay is still going strong, and drone strikes have killed an estimated 273 innocent civilians. If the GOP wants to reclaim the hearts of libertarian converts and prove its compassion, what it needs is a foreign policy makeover.

Employee survey reveals irrationality of SLAP childcare campaign

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Two weeks ago, the Swarthmore Office of Human Resources released the results of a survey, conducted in conjunction with the Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP), of faculty and staff regarding the issue of dependent care. Along with protesting such colossal injustices as $30 proposed parking fees, SLAP has made childcare for Swarthmore College employees the subject of its latest paternalistic crusade. The survey results were discussed in this week’s Phoenix, in an article that unsurprisingly included not a single negative quote or criticism of the SLAP campaign.

To begin, the voluntary-response survey called forth responses from just 23% of all faculty and staff at the College – hardly a representative sample. If the well-known laws of statistics we were taught in Stat 11 are true, it’s likely that only employees most passionate about the issue of childcare would respond to the survey, biasing the results. Using the survey as evidence that there is widespread employee demand for childcare is akin to polling KFC patrons to gauge public opinion on vegetarianism.

The survey results proudly proclaim that 63% of respondents agree the “College should consider offering additional childcare benefits.” Putting aside the fact that this “63%” is actually 14% of all employees at the College, the wording of this question is itself geared to generate more positive responses. The inclusion of the word “consider” will naturally make respondents more eager to answer in the affirmative, since it does not imply a commitment to support the movement, just to consider it. As one respondent said: “My response is not an endorsement of a proposal to DO it [provide dependent care benefits], just to consider it.”

I agree that the College should consider adding childcare benefits, in the loosest sense of the word. We should always be looking for ways to more efficiently compensate our employees. But it’s ridiculous to extrapolate this result into a mandate to provide immediate and universal childcare benefits to College employees, as SLAP would have us do. And a close reading of the survey results suggests childcare is far from the best thing we could do for our employees.

Indeed, actually reading some of the open responses to the survey provided by College employees paint a much different picture. Among them:

“As much as I wish our resources were unlimited, I don’t see how it‘s possible to offer the full-time, quality, licensed, and insured care I would want for my child at a cost that makes it even remotely possible.”

“I feel it would be completely ridiculous for the College to pay for any kind of child care. The College could spend its money in other needed areas. YOUR children are not your employer’s responsibility.”

“Child care and adult dependent [care] are family issues that are personal matters. … I am aware of the pressures that are involved, but I do not feel it is an employer’s responsibility to cover the cost of child care or adult dependent care.”

Moreover, when the issue of funding is brought up (finding ways to pay for things does, after all, often vex leftist fantasies), the responses are even more suggestive of the idea that childcare issomething that is simply not in the best interests of the community at the present time. Cutting back on other employee benefits, reducing employee headcount, and raising tuition all garnered more than three-quarters negative replies from survey respondents. The only funding suggestion to win a positive majority was “fundraising to create an endowment for childcare” – a nice idea, if not realistic. Donors are interested in endowing a world-renowned college, not a preschool.

SLAP’s unyielding campaign for universal childcare is at best paternalistic and at worst downright arrogant. It is clear that this push is based more in the self-righteousness of campus activists than a real, critical examination of the needs of community members. Worse, the two professors who publicly support SLAP’s campaign in the Phoenix, Carol Nackenoff and Donna Jo Napoli, are both full professors who make significantly more than many families who are asked to pay full or near-full tuition. Why should families who have saved for decades to send their students to Swarthmore subsidize free childcare for professors’ children?

I have not heard any suggestions from SLAP or the Phoenix for how to pay for childcare benefits, and in all likelihood provision of universal childcare would entail a cut in other employee benefits—which would likely impact many staff workers who do not have the same clout as full professors or idealistic SLAP activists. What Swarthmore employees need is a campaign based around their actual preferences, not what a group of students thinks they ought to have.

Muslim students deserve an advisor

If Swarthmore is serious about genuine diversity, we have an obligation to support a permanent advisor position to benefit Muslim students. Unfortunately, without swift action from our administration, the current advisor to Swarthmore’s Muslim Student Association (MSA), Ailya Vajid, will see her post expire. By all accounts, Vajid has done a tremendous job as an advisor and interfaith leader, despite her brief experience at Swarthmore and the part-time nature of her position. As a practicing Protestant, I am committed to interfaith life at Swarthmore. Only after I began asking questions about MSA’s advisory problem did I learn how truly tenuous funding for campus religious organizations is.

The College’s unique Hicksite Quaker history, combined with its decision to secularize in the twentieth century, has made the school particularly wary of financially sponsoring religious staff. Though most of our peer institutions have at least one paid religious staff person, such as a Dean of Religious Life or college chaplain, Swarthmore has relied entirely on outside affiliates. For instance, Joyce Tompkins, our Protestant advisor, is paid by Partners in Ministry; Kelilah Miller, our Jewish advisor, is sponsored by Hillel; and Jaehwa Lee, our Catholic advisor, is paid by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

But while Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic groups can usually depend on religious alums or denominational support for funding, Swarthmore’s MSA is much newer and less institutionalized. During the College’s last capital campaign, Partners in Ministry and Hillel were able to begin building endowments to support Tompkins and Millers’ positions, yet Muslim students have no such leverage to draw upon.

When Swarthmore’s practicing Muslims brought attention to their lack of institutional support, the President’s Office provided a single semester seed grant to pay for Vajid’s position. But the spring semester is winding down, and the President’s Office says it cannot renew the grant. President Chopp is an ordained Methodist minister and came to college administration by way of Emory and Yale University’s divinity schools. It’s understandable that President Chopp does not wish to encourage any appearance that she is favoring religious groups; however, Swarthmore’s indirect funding apparatus actually makes things worse.

Right now, the College risks being beholden to outside religious organizations. This became a minor controversy last year when students debated InterVarsity’s position on homosexuality and questioned if Swarthmore MSA was affiliated with an American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (it definitely isn’t).

Generally, I have no problem with the principle of accepting external funding to supplement campus pluralism. As a classical-liberal, I have received books and other resources from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and as a Christian, I have benefited from subsidies for student events hosted by the Presbyterian Church (USA). But if external grants are the only way the College demonstrates a commitment to faith-based groups, students may find themselves forced to comply with outside donors they disagree with in order to practice their faith. Or worse, in the case of the MSA, students have found themselves without much of a donor base at all.

Swarthmore issues a great deal of self-congratulatory rhetoric celebrating its commitment to multiculturalism. Yet, to be sincere, such a commitment must provide religious students the basic resources to practice their culture. Being an unaffiliated and secular institution does not  preclude Swarthmore from helping students to cultivate and share their religious experiences.

Usually I’m a critic of administrative bloat and the excessive number of administrators walking the halls of Parrish. I still believe we should eliminate or consolidate numerous Dean’s Office positions to make our administration more cost-efficient and accountable. Nevertheless, the situation facing the MSA has convinced me that Swarthmore’s religious leaders need more permanence and visibility. Establishing something akin to Wellesley’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life or William’s Chaplains’ Office would help ensure that Swarthmore’s religious groups are reliably resourced.

Regardless of faith or religious background, I urge all students to lend their support to the MSA as they explore creative funding solutions in the name of true campus pluralism.

Journalism at its Finest: Groundbreaking Reporting in This Week’s Issue of the Phoenix

Here’s an excerpt from this week’s Phoenix on Stuco’s decision to elect Toby Levy as SBC chair:

SBC is not just about allocating money, its about changing the dynamics of groups across campus,” Mendoza said. “Its been said in the SBC that Hillel gets special privileges. It’s not unknown that Toby and Jacob are both Jewish. The BCC chose me as the candidate to support. They don’t see Toby as being qualified other than for racial reasons and the fact that he is Lanie’s boyfriend.

Jews in the SBC!?!? This hard hitting quote shows why the Phoenix is Swarthmore’s premier student publication.

Read more about Swarthmore’s Jewish conspiracy here.