Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Sullivan draws mixed reactions

Conservative speaker Andrew Sullivan received a standing ovation from a portion of the audience at the conclusion of his Jan. 13 lecture, while still others remained seated.

Sullivan’s lecture on “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It and How to Get It Back and the Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” received such mixed reactions across campus.

“The response has been really interesting,” said ASWC Public Speakers Chair, Rachel Stein, who helped bring Sullivan to campus. “I’ve heard everything from ‘I loved it’ to ‘I didn’t agree with a word he said.’ It’s hard to know what to expect with the Whitman crowd; people have walked out in protest at other lectures. But that didn’t happen at all; people stayed and asked questions.”

Sullivan is a noted conservative speaker and writer who recently endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

He is an editor at The Atlantic, a writer for The Sunday Times of London and former editor-in-chief of The New Republic.

“I want to make a case tonight for a kind of conservatism that might not be that well known anymore, that may have been eclipsed in the current Republican party and may be unknown to many of you and your generation,” Sullivan said to the crowd at Cordiner.

“Conservatism, properly understood, deeply pondered and examined, is actually about a tradition that emphasizes doubt over faith, restraint over action, less rather than more. It is a minimalist political philosophy based on the core conviction that the human mind is fallible.”

Sullivan went on to articulate how this mindset of doubt shapes the conservative conception of issues like fiscal responsibility, gay marriage and Islamic fundamentalism.

“I would argue there is nothing more conservative than embracing gay marriage,” he said.

“He feels that his party has left him. I can sympathize with that. As a Democrat, I sometimes feel the Democratic party has betrayed me,” senior Gabrielle Arrowood said. Though unable to attend the talk, Arrowood regularly reads Sullivan’s popular blog, The Daily Dish, viewable at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com.

“It was thought-provoking,” said senior Liz Oberhausen of the lecture. “He’s framing things so carefully that I’m hesitant to agree. But whether or not I end up agreeing with him, it was interesting.”

Introducing Sullivan were junior Roman Goerss of Campus Conservatives and sophomore Jeremy Balch of GLBTQ. “Let’s take the political liberal out of a liberal arts education,” Balch said, “and focus on its broader and more important meaning: one of understanding something from a different point of view.”

“My goal for the year was to create more balance and diversity. Having a conservative speaker was high on the list,” Stein said of ASWC’s decision to bring Sullivan to campus. “Andrew Sullivan appealed to me because he was conservative but pro-gay marriage. I felt like people would be more open to listening to him rather than immediately shutting down.”

Goerss echoed this characterization of Sullivan in his introduction.

“Campus Conservatives requested that Dr. Sullivan be here because we admire his ability to bridge divides,” he said. “To believe in something passionately while respecting those who believe differently. We want to bring political dialogue back to Whitman in just that spirit of respect.”

“This campus is still lacking in one of the most prominent voices of our time: that of conservatism,” Balch added.
Indeed, in conjunction with Sullivan’s visit, discussions of the campus’s political atmosphere resurfaced.

“It’s terrible how closed-minded I think the majority of students here are when they come across a viewpoint in opposition to their own,” Arrowood said. “The dynamic on campus is very anti-conservative. Being in ASWC, I’ve seen what the Campus Conservatives have to go through when getting funding.”

Even before Sullivan arrived, one of the signs advertising his lecture: paid for with student money: was stolen. “I don’t know what happened,” Stein said. “Someone could have taken it without any intent. If someone did because they disagreed with what it said, that’s disappointing. I hope people are willing to listen to others even if they disagree.”

Regardless, Stein said, “After the first sign was stolen, I put up two more for good measure.”

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