Conservative Robert Charles, a Dartmouth College alumnus, was invited to participate in a debate at his old stomping ground. He appeared opposite another alumnus, who was a Democratic National Convention Committee “political operative.”
Charles’ served in both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and as Assistant Secretary of State under George W. Bush. He has also worked for Newt Gingrich and spent many years in naval intelligence. Add to that his time as a Fox News’ contributor and suffice it to say, he is your quintessential conservative.
As we all know, college campus’ have become battlegrounds for conservative speakers as students have placed socialist principles and political correctness above free speech. In fact, Charles’ old alma mater was rated very poorly last year by the Foundation for Rights in Education, a non-profit defending rights at universities. The group downgraded Dartmouth “to a “red light rating” for “restricting protected speech.””
So, Charles’ apprehension ahead of his visit was warranted. Here’s what he had to say about the actual event:
Nevertheless, I rolled out conservative themes such as an emphasis on strong defense, smaller government and lower taxes. I expressed pro-life views and a commitment to free speech – noting the importance of placing nation above party, history and law above emotion.
Challenged to name areas for cooperation, I started with the national drug crisis, then immigration and border security, infrastructure, and free speech on college campuses.
I cited both Ronald Reagan and Colin Powell, neither of whom ever took anything personally, as saying that rejecting an argument is not rejecting the person who is making it, and that productive conversations start with respect.
The result was surprising. My opposite number and those in attendance were not hostile or dismissive. A conversation occurred. After the event, one student found me. “I looked around when you said you were pro-life,” he said, “no one says that here.” Then he added, “But I am.”
The comment struck me. Non-violent opinions deserve to be heard – everywhere. Intellectual diversity is vital on college campuses. Offering opinions or ideas that offend or validate is how we all get to the truth.
It’s how they did it at the Constitutional Convention – which is how they settled on the First Amendment in the first place, assuring us freedom of speech. Wherever you may be.
Though the day turned out pleasantly for Charles, I wouldn’t read too much into this experience. It likely had more to do with the format of the event and the fact that he was an alumnus of the college than a new tolerance for free speech.
Dartmouth College students, as the Foundation for Rights in Education rating downgrade implies, are not known for their open-mindedness. Politics are serious business for them – even when it comes to whom they would date. Campus Reform cites a survey last year which found that “Democrat students at Dartmouth College are much less likely to date, befriend, or even study with someone who has differing political beliefs, according to a recent survey.” According to The Dartmouth:
82 percent of Democrat respondents said they would be less likely date someone with opposing political beliefs, and 55 percent would even be reluctant to befriend such a person. Among Republican students, conversely, only 42 percent said they would let politics impact their dating choices, and a mere 12 percent indicated that it would impact their friendships.
Several months ago, when conservative speaker Dinesh D’Souza, an alum, spoke at Dartmouth,
Students and community members protested the speech through song, chants and signs.
On the day of the event, posters circulated around Dartmouth, publicizing past quotes from D’Souza such as “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well,” and calling for community members to “tell [the Hanover Inn] to stop hosting visitors who use hate speech.”
That sounds more like the students we’re familiar with.
It’s great that Robert Charles’ initiation into the wild waters of campus politics was an agreeable one, but his experience seems to be more an aberration than business as usual.