On Nov. 4, a fraction of Americans headed to the polls. Republicans took eight seats in the Senate, they expanded their majority in the House, and they won a slew of gubernatorial races.
For Seattle U’s passive Democrats—those, for example, who haven’t been following polling data—the midterm election results undoubtedly came as a shock. But even the mightily informed did not anticipate a red wave as forceful as this one. What, and who, exactly is to blame for the Democratic disaster are large questions, but experts suggest that the answers may lie with specific legislative and campaign messaging failures by the
For the first time since 2006, Republicans now control both chambers of Congress. Seattle University conservatives probably feel a tinge of vindication—but how would we know?
This week I sat down with members of the Seattle U community, some of whom identify at least in part with Republican values. I hoped to get a sense of what this seldom-heard voice on campus had to say about all of this. The responses were refreshing. There was no malice, no indignation. But one unsettling theme stood out, and it has nothing to do with conservative ideology.
Conner McQueen, a senior mechanical engineering major and a registered Republican, is less concerned with why the Democrats lost than he is with what he sees to be the most pressing issues facing our country, and what to do about them. He cares about the economy and the uneven nature of its recovery. He puts faith in the business world to get things done and wouldn’t mind seeing Romney 2016 bumper stickers. He also recognizes that immigration demands attention.
Undocumented immigrants, he said, do the jobs many Americans are too lazy to do, but they need a way to come to the U.S. legally. He suggested a temporary worker’s card.
For McQueen, it’s not always easy holding these beliefs on Seattle U’s campus.
“It’s hard sometimes to voice your opinion,” he said. “It’s difficult to get your idea across.”
The way we interpret facts may largely depend on our personal schema, and McQueen feels that oftentimes we are too quick to reject other perspectives, especially at Seattle U. He said that it’s most difficult to talk about these views around his friends, and tends to avoid political conversations when possible.
McQueen, it turns out, is not alone.
Seattle U alumna and former Student Body President Katie Wieliczkiewicz is from Wasilla, AK—Sarah Palin’s hometown. That coincidence didn’t always bode well for the 2011 grad. During her freshman year in 2008, Wieliczkiewicz was the subject of erroneous and sometimes hurtful assumptions about her allegiance to the former candidate for vice president of the United States.
She said her freshman experience contradicted what’s assumed to be the inclusive, tolerant underpinnings of liberal ideology.
“I wasn’t getting that,” she said. “It wasn’t a very welcoming time.”
Wieliczkiewicz doesn’t align strongly with one party or the other. She is pro-military, ascribes to small government principles, and is a fiscal conservative. But, in good Jesuit fashion, she is a fervent advocate for social justice. Her post-grad life working in student affairs at a Minnesota liberal arts college has, in large part, been dedicated to social justice work and teaching.
She said it was hard to be “taken seriously” as a moderate when she was at Seattle U. Then she caught herself.
“Maybe ‘seriously’ isn’t the right word,” she said. “It was very hard to identify or be accepted as a moderate without having to explain my political stance.”
Wieliczkiewicz felt alienated by both sides, and she quickly learned how to “mask” her views.
“I always had to be aware [of] who I was with and what was safe to say,” she said.
When I met Junior Danicole Ramos in the Byte, he seemed eager to talk. It’s been awhile since he discussed politics with someone on campus. He’s a business management major from Hawaii, the nation’s most Democratic state in the country. And the most expensive one to live in.
Ramos, who is a Filipino-American, recently finished campaign work for Republican State Representative Lauren Matsumoto, a 27-year-old and former Miss Hawaii. Given his family’s close ties to the Filipino community in Oahu’s north shore, Ramos was responsible for organizing a Filipino voting coalition. His work helped Matsumoto win her district with 73 percent of the vote.
Ramos and Matsumoto do not fit the stereotypical Republican mold (think Mitch McConnell, who will soon become the Senate majority leader). Indeed, their particular brand of conservatism doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical Republican mold either. Matsumoto’s district is rural, but it’s also a popular surfing destination.
“The republican strategy in Hawaii is [figuring out] how to focus on issues that really matter to people in Hawaii,” Ramos said.
One example is the high cost of living. According to Ramos, Republicans in his state have argued that for the last 30 years Democratic policies have kept tax rates high and regulated small businesses, both of which increase the cost of living.
He mentioned too that Hawaiian Republicans shy away from social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.
“[That is] only because they don’t want to be associated with the Tea Party or other extreme conservative groups,” Ramos said.
The Republican Party is not considered the party for minorities. Their recent midterm election success can be largely attributed to winning the the votes of white men. For that reason Ramos said that people are shocked when they find out he supports his state’s historically unpopular party.
He remembers one person saying to him: “Look at you, look at your color. Do you think they represent you?”
“At first, I thought about it, [and] it hurts you in a way,” Ramos said. “This is what you believe in. And for someone to say that, it’s just like, no way.”
These alienating responses have been challenging for Ramos, but he said that it hasn’t affected his working relationships. He is a Sullivan Scholar and involved with the Seattle U Hawaii club, Hui ‘O Nani Hawai‘i, and although he sometimes disagrees with his peers, he always tries to seek out common ground.
As for his fellow Hawaiians on campus, who are mostly Democrats, he said, “I’ve learned to work with them. We love our home, we want to make a difference in our hometown, and we want to share the culture—that’s something we can agree on.”
Liberalism flows through the veins of most Seattle U students and many of its professors. That’s certainly a source of pride across this campus. But some students say that it’s also important—especially at an institution of higher learning—to actively create spaces for counter-ideologies to emerge, to be heard and to be considered.
Not having those opportunities, according to senior political science major Kate Baumgartner, can stymie intellectual development. In many of her politics classes, it’s not unusual to have zero conservative voices. And to her, that’s problematic.
“I don’t think you learn by having 20 people agree with you,” said Baumgartner, who recently interned in Washington D.C. with a Democratic senator.
She added that the sheer number of liberals on this campus lends itself to constant confirmation bias. That can be harmful, she said, because it leads students to believe that they can disrespect other people’s opinions.
While talking to students outside the mainstream of Seattle U politics, I discovered not an air of righteousness, but a vague sense of self-defeat and self-deprecation. It’s as if these conservatives are saying, “yes, we feel strongly about this, but it’s probably best to just stay quiet.” They say it, at least, with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Perhaps conservatives at Seattle U accept a degree of having to self-censor certain aspects of their political identity by choosing to come to a Jesuit university in the Pacific Northwest.
But should Seattle U liberals be concerned with that?
Many of these conservatives spoke thoughtfully about American politics and with a sensibility that runs counter to the ignorant conservative stereotype lampooned by the likes of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher—and many Seattle U students. Ramos, for example, mentioned how hopeful he was to see women like Joni Ernst from Iowa and black Republican candidates like Mia Love from Utah and Tim Scott from South Carolina recently elected to Congress. Their leadership, Ramos said, will be important for the Republican party and for a nation facing huge demographic shifts.
Everyone agreed that working together and listening empathetically to one another is fundamental. After all, Congressional gridlock has disillusioned lots of Americans. How that is overcome is a multifaceted process, one that may involve structural changes like reforming the Senate filibuster, mandating in-state bipartisan redistricting, and establishing a longer work week for Congress members, among countless other potential changes.
Dr. Neil Chaturvedi, a Seattle U political science professor who studies Congress, the presidency and elections, said that members of Congress simply aren’t building ties like they used to, which he argues is not conducive to bipartisanship. Today, Congress is in session Tuesdays through Thursdays and only certain months. And families of Congress members no longer move out to Washington DC.
“What happens as a result of that is when you’re in DC, you’re on the clock and you’re on the job,” Chaturvedi said. “That means you’re not hanging out with your colleagues, you’re not getting to know them. You don’t build friendships, and because you don’t build friendships you can’t talk to people across the aisle because you’re just not comfortable with it.”
Ramos feels strongly about working together across ideological lines. As a Republican on a predominantly liberal campus, he cares deeply about moving past differences in the name of productivity and action.
“Knowing that you can be open about who you are as a person and what you believe in, but at the same time finding something that you can work on I think is super important,” he said.
The new Republican majority in Congress is troubling for many Seattle U liberals, including me. But also troubling is that conservative members of this community sometimes feel reluctant to speak up about their values in a milieu that espouses inclusion and tolerance.
Seattle U conservatives aren’t necessarily doused in liberal vitriol, and they aren’t occupying a completely different ideological world than the political status quo on this campus.
But their silence is telling.
Mason may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org