April 26, 2007

Wingfield's Letter

Justin Katz

Inasmuch as it is difficult to discuss a document that is not readily available to the public, herewith is Ethan Wingfield's letter of resignation as Chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island (printed with permission):

To all,

I write this evening to announce my resignation as Chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island, effective at midnight, tonight. The petty in-fighting in this organization, led by arrogant and immature personalities, is beyond belief. Labeling vitriol, arrogance, and dogmatism as "getting work done" is quickly developing a dominant culture within this organization with which I will not associate. Over the past year, I have worked to change the organization into one that will invite interest among its members, command respect from the community, and promote dignified discourse on the college communities throughout this state. However, others involved in the organization have not contributed the maturity, hard work, and political will necessary to accomplish this much-needed transformation. Sadly, this is the second year in a row that a chairman has attempted to accomplish this, and also the second year in a row that culminated in the resignation of the chairman under similar circumstances.

Under my leadership, CRs from Brown, PC, and RWU logged hundreds of hours working on campaigns leading up to the November elections. We launched a comprehensive website. The Federation held a successful fundraiser, hosted by prominent Providence Republicans, drawing donors from all over the state. The Roger Williams University chapter has been reestablished and is among the strongest in the state, after only two semesters of activity. College Republican involvement and activity is at an all-time high in this state. I am proud of the work I have done, but fear for the future of this organization.

Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman, is esteemed by many to be the father of modern conservatism. In his book, "Reflections on the Revolution of France," Burke wrote, "But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."

As I leave this post, College Republicans around this state have created multiple controversies by exercising our liberty of free speech. We are conservatives, not liberals. Use wisdom, and be virtuous when you exercise free speech. Do not use your liberty to incite your campus against you: the purpose of this organization is to grow and support the Republican party, and that end will only be accomplished when our message is one that appeals to the ordinary sensibilities of every individual. Seek rapport with your campus so that you can win their hearts and minds.

As you seek rapport with your community, work tirelessly to put the culture and mission of this organization back on the right track. Seek guidance from the state party and esteemed Republicans throughout the state. Be sure to include and encourage; maintain a relentlessly positive message to leaders and members. If this does not happen, then the Federation will become irrelevant to the strong chapters in this state, and useless to the chapters that are weak.

All my best,


Observing, first of all, that the usages of "our liberty of free speech" that Wingfield finds objectionable appear to be associated in his mind with a more characteristic trend among his peers, I have to admit frankly that I — manifestly not a Chafee Republican — share his concern, more broadly among conservatives, that "vitriol, arrogance, and dogmatism" are finding free rein under the excuse of "getting work done."

Perhaps I differ from Wingfield in that I think using "liberty to incite your campus against you" is a valid strategy (metaphorically, for most of us, of course). However, I am less and less confident that it is being done out of deliberate strategy, as opposed to the sheer self-gratifying joy of subversion and recognition.

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If you had to make a list of the top-10 problems on American campuses today, I don’t think “too much free speech by conservatives” would crack the list. I find the letter's restrictive tone concerning free speech to reflect a strange choice of priorities.

Posted by: Andrew at April 26, 2007 1:19 PM

While I'm all for civil discourse, I'm not for it at the expense of adhering to one's principles or values. Sometimes you just have to take a stand on what you believe in, regardless of the consequences.

Posted by: Will at April 26, 2007 4:50 PM


I don't know enough about Wingfield's priorities to assess their strangeness. I will say this as a general proposition, though: Political speech and political organizations are more means than ends. If a member of a political organization believes that the methods of his peers are undermining the objectives that he takes to be the group's, that problem could easily top his personal list of priorities.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 26, 2007 4:59 PM
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