April 26, 2007

RE: Wingfield's Letter

Marc Comtois

I share Justin's concern that some of what has gone on may not be "out of deliberate strategy" and instead may be for the sake of "the sheer self-gratifying joy of subversion and recognition." It is this line between publicity-for-its-own-sake and polemic that is sometimes hard to toe. (Ann Coulter comes to mind). So, perhaps I was a bit too hard on Wingfield, but there is certainly a place for using free speech--including tough language--to shake up the campus conventional wisdom. Keeping in mind that most College Republicans are essentially apprentices in field of polemics, some line-crossing is to be expected.

If nothing else, Wingfield's resignation--which, by the way, is largely symbolic as he's graduating in a couple weeks by which time his replacement will have been elected--has brought to the fore a debate that is going on in the wider world of conservative and Republican politics. It's encapsulated well in this post from National Review's Jonah Goldberg in which one of his emailers observes:

The vast right wing conspiracy at some point seems to have decided that we'll command, if not dominate, the following:

- Think tanks
- Talk radio
- Blogs

This strategy seems to depend on persuading opinion leaders of the merits of our case, preferably using 10,000+ words to do so. The opinion leaders then hold court at family barbecues, dazzling friends and family with facts and logic and slowly converting them to our side.

That's a perfectly legitimate approach, but it has three problems that make it less than sufficient as a marketing strategy: (1) political junkies aren't necessarily opinion leaders; (2) the arguments are usually too complex to be easily distilled into something that could lead to opinion leadership; and, (3) it assumes that people's views are shaped by facts and logic, when things like the aforementioned group identity are at least as important among many people.

In other words, we need counterparts to MoveOn and its ilk that can succinctly and persuasively communicate meaningful information to largely disinterested voters, and do so using the tools and tones appropriate for our target audiences.

Young and motivated College Republicans are the GOPs counterpart to the liberal foot soldiers of MoveOn. Wingfield is correct to caution them about stepping over the line. But we also have to realize that there is a difference between the language used in discussions held at a suburban, backyard barbecue and the jawing that goes on at a kegger.

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There is quite a lot of "back story" in regard to Ethan's conveniently timed "resignation" that I am unwilling to share publicly until after Saturday's elections are held.

However, it is all too fitting that Ethan has "symbolically" resigned (less than 3 days before his term ends), considering that his brief tenure as College Republican state chair was also largely symbolic. Perhaps if he had put more time and effort into building the state organization based on Republican values, instead of working behind the backs of others of those whom he disagrees with on matters of style, or holding it against several CR individuals whom they may have supported in a certain recent US Senate campaign, then perhaps the individual college chapters wouldn't have been so apt to "do their own thing."

This all comes down to leadership. There was obviously a vacuum in leadership at the top, which ultimately resulted in the individual chapters having a more significant role than the state organization. If there have been any failures regarding the influence of the state organization, I might politely suggest looking in a mirror before one tries to demagogue others.

I am confident that the new state leadership team will work to correct those shortcomings.

Posted by: Will at April 26, 2007 4:46 PM

I thought the Chafee-Laffey campaign was over. I wish the College Republicans would focus instead on generating some decent General Assembly candidates to knock some of the current deadwood (Murphy, Montalbano, Singleton, the North Providence and West Warwick crews, etc.) out of there. But fighting over the spilled milk of the '06 Senate primary accomplishes nothing.

Posted by: Rhody at April 27, 2007 12:54 AM

I don't know much about the College Republicans or even know a single College Republican for that matter.

But it's obvious that Wingfield thought the recent comments made by some URI and RWU College Republicans were over the top.

As kids graduate from college and enter the real world, they sometimes realize that things thought to be "funny" in college aren't always viewed that way outside of the ivory tower.

Steve Laffey's college writings on homosexuals is a prime example. At the time Laffey was writing that article, do you think he ever thought that he'd be explaining it to the press as part of a US Senate race? Probably not.

Some employers are now savvy enough to check MySpace pages as part of the interview process. A person's college history now follows them like never before.

Perhaps Wingfield didn't want to be put in the position of being made responsible for the words of some CR's when he is running for office 20 years from now. Maybe he just felt that the point using more intellectual and less incendiary words.

It does not appear that Wingfield questions the right of the other CR's to say what they did, only the wisdom of saying it. That's his perogative and if he feels that way, he did the honorable thing by stepping down.

From my perspective, that's not weakness, it's a sign of maturity.

Posted by: Anthony at April 27, 2007 9:40 AM

The role of recruiting good candidates should not be that of the college republicans as most of them will only be living in the area while at school and will move on shortly thereafter as one can see from all of the data of the brain drain that is currently happening in RI in particular. Fourtunatly, these young men are doing exactly what they need to be doing while in college. They are thinking for themselves, acting on their convictions, and not backing down to the pressure of people that don't share their beliefs. If only the current republican leadership in Washington were willing to be that strong willed and say I don't give a shit about what the other side thinks we would all be better off right now.

Enough of the "I have information but am not willing to share it." Either have the balls to discuss and debate the issue fully or refrain from discussing the issue.

Posted by: David Davis at April 27, 2007 9:42 AM

David brings up a good point on the candidate recruitment topic. There is no group of Republicans less qualified to recruit candidates in RI than College Republicans.

Many students are from out of state without ties to the community. They're in the worst position to recruit candidates, but should exist to help support candidates who are running and to promote the principles of the Republican Party.

Taking Marc's point one step further, the GOP does need a counter to the MoveOn types and while most adults would not use the words that the CR's used, it is important to remember that the words of the CR's are still far less offensive than what left-leaning academia has not only protected as 'free speech', but also funded.

See: a University of Colorado professor equating the victims of 9/11 to Nazis; William & Mary allowing an on campus 'sex worker show', Columbia funding a student bondage club or the publication of a softcore porn magazine at Harvard.

I don't fault Wingfield for his actions. But I don't fault the CR's for their actions either.

The CR's activities do serve to highlight the hypocrisy of colleges and universities that somehow feel a duty to 'protect' obscene speech (which possesses the lowest degree of constitutional protection), while at the same time seeking to restrict politically incorrect discourse (which is after all, political speech possessing the highest level of 1st Amendment protection).

Posted by: Anthony at April 27, 2007 2:02 PM


My statement was not ambiguous. You seemed to have conveniently forgotten the qualifier "until after Saturday's elections are held." Check back on Sunday.

As for the other point, I agree with Anthony that it is not the CR's "job" to be in the business of candidate recruitment. They are best used to spread the conservative message on college campuses and acting as a counterpoint to the dominant liberal/left culture. Basically, they serve an "anti-establishment" function. They are good for motivating the base, and then acting as footsoldiers for primary and general elections (as sign holders, door-to-door canvassers, phone bank workers, etc. Just remember, they are still college students, so you should not expect them to act in exactly the same way as one might expect a 50 year old Republican to act.

Posted by: Will at April 27, 2007 5:12 PM

Former Chairman Ethan Wingfield was always an ineffective and apathetic chairman. The truth is that he only called two meetings over the course of the entire year, and was largely M.I.A. His resignation ultimately is a result of his frustrations over not being able to orchestrate a victory for his hand-picked successor after unsuccessfully attempting to de-recognize chapters not supporting her and after unsuccessfully attempting to perform a coupe of the chapter whose Chairman was running for state chair against his hand-picked successor. Ethan leaves the organization in the same way that he entered it - under the veil of a "culture of attack" and a "culture of corruption," only this time he was the one causing and participating in both.

Posted by: CR Alum at April 27, 2007 5:50 PM

Republicans, young and old need to stop appologizing and stand up strong for what we believe.

The insanity of the liberal point of view and the danger it presents to all is reason enough for us to critique it, parody it, bash it, dis it, mock it...

No one does it better than Ann Coulter. Conservatives should emulate her, not appologize for her.

Posted by: Perry Ellis at April 28, 2007 10:09 PM

I'm 19, a Rhode Islander, College student and conservative. The appeal of conservatism to me lies in the intellectual side of the ideology and doctrine that drive policy rather than in the histrionics of college politicking. Seeing these kids pulling these stunts hurts the name of what should be an intellectual movement (in my mind at least). I'd rather see college GOPers working on something like tax reform education, talking about the Social Security pyramid scheme (that's scheduled to bankrupt my generation, by the way), and advocating for *real change* instead of running publicity stunts like the White Straight Male scholarship or affirmative action bakesales. These stunts serve only to give the Republican alliance the impression of self-serving bigotry, while in practice the GOP and its conservative intelligentsia would never honestly and practically back stunts like these.

Adolescent rage is a powerful tool - but these are supposed to be *college students* in institutions of higher learning. A good macroeconomics class and political ideologies class can be found at CCRI for almost nothing per credit. But these kids go to a full time school, live on campus, and these stunts are the best they can do?

I'm disappointed is all.

Posted by: Nick C at April 30, 2007 2:01 AM

Are you even involved in your CR club, Nick? If not, then you really have no right to speak.

Posted by: CR Alum at May 2, 2007 3:06 PM

If Wingfield did anything, really anything positive or constructive during the last year, we wouldn't be having this debate at all. The fact that we're even here discussing it speaks volumes. As for candidate recruitment, why should CRs have to do that when our "fully-adult" counterparts can't even do it? Hell, maybe we should try it out. And what moron called the most powerful people in Rhode Island "dead wood." They are far from "dead wood," junge. They are powerful, well-connected men, and much better politicians than any in the whole RIGOP. You would be well-served to emulate their every move if you actually want to see Republicans in office. They are a very worthy, very strong enemy, not washed-up losers. Take care in issuing your false generalizations...they won't get you far.

Posted by: Justin Catalano at May 2, 2007 3:59 PM
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