“Affirmative Action Bake Sale”
These are only three examples of the many controversial events I hosted during my years as a College Republican.
At the time, I was proud of these events. Looking back, however, I realize they were merely embarrassments, inching me closer to rock bottom and my current journey as a Recovering College Republican.
The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) is the largest and longest-running political youth organization in the United States. It has produced many prominent Republicans such as Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Rick Santorum, Jack Abramoff, and − believe it or not− Hillary Clinton, who was president of her College Republican chapter at Wellesley College.
To the outside observer, College Republicans may simply seem like a group of nerdy fuddy-duddies in polos and pearl necklaces. Yet, for those of us who participated in the CRNC, it provided a setting that nurtured our dreams of becoming future governors, senators, or political consultants. While most college kids were out drinking alcohol and making bad decisions, we were refilling our coffee cups and finishing those last few crucial hours of “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV).
It was spring 2006 when I first sighted the online advertisement: “Now accepting applications for fall 2006 College Republican National Committee (CRNC) Field Representatives. Click here for more information.” Without hesitating, I clicked the ad.
From this day forward, I was a self-proclaimed, dyed-in-the-wool Republican; a bona fide gun-toting, flag-waving, God-fearing Conservative who wanted nothing more than for the government to stay out of my business and my pocketbook (and I still do!). I truly believed this Field Representative position would be the perfect opportunity for me to, as the CRNC slogan urges, “make a difference.”
It was only a matter of days after I submitted my application that I was contacted by the CRNC National Field Director. She asked me a couple generic questions, such as, “How do you feel about taxes?” and “What do you think about Saddam Hussein?” I assured her that I wasn’t fond of either and, without further ado, I was hired.
That August, I boarded a plane to Washington, DC, to embark on my training as a CRNC Field Representative. I spent weeks learning how to create a “mass base youth effort,” as Chairman Paul Gourley described it. By the end of my training, I was pumped up and raring to go.
I was deployed to the state of Michigan to spend the fall semester winning the hearts and minds of Michigan 20-somethings over to the Republican cause. During 2006, Michigan was particularly politically vivacious. In addition to the national federal elections, Michigan also had a highly contested gubernatorial race taking place.
I wasted no time getting to work.
While working for The Leadership Institute in Washington, DC, I received valuable training from the country’s top conservative activists such as Grover Norquist and Morton Blackwell. I even got to spend several weekends at Russell Kirk’s, the Father of Conservatism, home in Michigan.
Yet, on several occasions, I found myself catering to groups I’m not proud of and saying things I regret. I even secured my spot as Keith Olberman’s “Worst Person in the World.”
The deeper I journeyed into the College Republican world, I found myself losing touch with reality. Upon returning home from my travels, I was appointed Executive Director of Kentucky Federation of College Republicans. I started surrounding myself with people and organizations that only enabled and encouraged my rash behavior. Instead of articulating my conservative beliefs in an intelligent, thoughtful manner, I sought cheap thrills and would say or do things for shock value’s sake – and it worked. I always had a crowd cheering me on. I had a problem, but had not yet reached the first step to recovery: admitting the problem.
I joined the Army in 2007, and my six months in boot camp gave me a chance to clear my head and examine my beliefs. However, upon returning home, I reverted back to the same old crowd and same old habits. After graduating from Indiana University Southeast last spring, I was accepted into the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. My visions of being the next Anne Coulter or Michelle Malkin only became more vivid with that acceptance letter in hand.
Feeling invincible, I upped my game. My political rhetoric became more hateful, more disrespectful, and more off-color and, all the while, my “followers” cheered me on. My discourse concerning illegal immigration, affirmative action, and gay rights turned from rational and thoughtful to mocking, sarcastic, and racist. I was losing sight of why I had become involved in public policy and law in the first place. I was working to gain attention for myself instead of making a positive difference.
I did not realize how bad things had gotten until some old friends intervened. They told me that they love me, and because of that, wanted me to be aware that I was headed down the wrong path, both personally and politically. They told me that my words were hurtful, callous, and consequently, ineffective. They urged me to look deep inside myself and examine the motive behind these words and actions. So I did.
Upon examination, I discovered that I’d become a sensationalist who had replaced true conservative convictions with clichés and hateful sarcasm. This shameful reality was embarrassing. I knew that I had started on this journey with good intentions, but now realized that somewhere along the road, I had lost my way.
Since that intervention and introspection, I now ask myself before I speak: Do I really believe these words? Will they help? Will they make a positive difference? Or is this simply another attempt to gain 50 Facebook “Likes”?
Today, my reasons for being a conservative are well-researched, well-thought-out, and genuine. Thus, I am disheartened when the media, liberals, and uninformed citizens reduce conservatism to greed, racism, and religious fascism. I am even more disheartened to think that I was personally feeding into those stereotypes.
Most Americans are ignorant to what true conservatism is because today’s GOP leaders and pundits have distorted its meaning with their hypocrisy, hateful rhetoric, and the desire to make a point rather than make a difference. True conservatism is rooted in the love and respect of individuality, opportunity, responsibility, and most of all, freedom.
As a law student, mother, wife, and recovering College Republican, I am excited about my future. As I make the transition from College Republican to grown-up Republican, I am determined to stay honest, respectful, thoughtful, and mature. Old habits may be hard to break, but as an alcoholic overcomes alcoholism, I’ll recover from College Republicanism one day at a time.
I have realized that societal change begins with me, the individual. If I hope to see more civility in political discourse today, I must be more civil myself — keeping in mind that respecting others’ opinions doesn’t mean being untrue to my own. I must apply a rigid standard of morality to my life; and if, periodically, I fail, as I surely will, adjust my life, not the standards.