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Conservative commentator, Princeton Professor converse at assembly

Betsey Bennett

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Conservative political commentator Margaret Hoover and Princeton Professor of History and Public Affairs Julian Zelizer conversed on the Gross Theater stage concerning the past, present, and future of conservatism in the United States. Tuesday’s assembly led to mixed reactions from students and faculty.

“Based on the discussions that I had in my classes, I thought that the assembly did have the desired effect in the sense that it sparked more discussion around political ideas,” History Department Chair Dr. Daniel Link said.

Director of Student Activities Caroline Bartels organized the assembly with the intention to address concerns of conservative students who felt unrepresented, she said. Specifically, this assembly was partly a response to last year’s assembly on the 2016 presidential race, which Zelizer and New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Leonhardt spoke at, Bartels said.

“Leonhardt tried really hard to avoid an explicit endorsement of Hillary, but it was of course really liberal,” Richard He (11) said.

For some students, the assembly this Tuesday was enlightening and helped them understand conservatism.

“The Republicans portrayed in the media represent extreme conservatism,” Amrita Acharya (12) said.

“Hoover’s presence made it clear that there is actually a spectrum of conservatism, in addition to the fact that someone can have mixed socially liberal and fiscally conservative views on politics.”

“It was good to bring in a conservative,” Hannah Long (11), a Democrat, said. “It’s not helpful to always hear from people who agree with you because it just reaffirms your beliefs without challenging you to see new ones.”

Jack Sendek (9) shared a similar perspective.

“However unaccepting the HM community can be, everyone must realize that just because you don’t agree with an opinion does not mean it’s flawed, and you still must respect and include it,” Sendek said.

Many other students and teachers, though, took issue with the way that Hoover answered questions and how she described the conservative party.

Deveraux Mackey (11), appreciated the effort to open up dialogue to incorporate both sides of the political spectrum. However, she did not feel that Hoover answered students’ questions effectively.

“She kind of evaded the questions and used a lot of historical references, but the questions were focused on the present and how we can use the past to influence the present,” Mackey said. “I feel like she just focused on what happened in the past.”

English Department Chair Vernon Wilson felt that although some of the information that Hoover provided was enlightening, the overall trajectory of conservatism that she provided was over simplified.

“The conservative that she sees herself as is one who is pro-choice and espouses views that are supportive of LGBTQ rights, and I think it’s great that we were able to see someone who has those views and still calls herself conservative, because they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive,” Wilson said.

“However, so often in the public discourse, they are, and the history that she provided didn’t clarify those contradictions; it kind of left them untouched.”

Josh Doolan (12) was disappointed that Hoover did not provide any solutions for people with her viewpoint to express their nuanced perspectives.

“As a student, it can often be encouraging to hear ways that we can get involved and make a difference, and I don’t feel like this assembly necessarily provided that,” Doolan said
Some students, such as He, found the historical content of the assembly to be somewhat inaccessible.

She didn’t elaborate on most of the historical terms and events that she mentioned,” He said. “Given that half the student body hasn’t reached that point in US History and that not all of the US History courses actually cover all of those historical events, it left many students, including me, confused as to what specifically she was talking about.”

According to Zelizer, the goal of the assembly was to give students a flavor for the history of conservatism.

“I wanted them to get a feel of how it has evolved, what it used to be, and what it means today,” Zelizer said. “I wanted them at the same time to get a good sense of what conservatism means to Margaret, even in a moment where there is a lot of tension over the ideology.”

During the first thirty minutes of the assembly, Zelizer facilitated a dialogue with Hoover, tracing conservatism in America from its origins in the 1950s up until the present day.

“Today, there are as many definitions of what it means to be ‘conservative’ as there are people who call themselves ‘conservative’, but at its origins, the movement was a coalition of intellectuals all dissenting against modern liberalism, for various reasons,” Hoover said.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions towards the end of the assembly as well as during a Q&A session during D and E periods in the Recital Hall.

Zelizer and Hoover also visited several classes throughout the day, including two US History classes, a World History class, and Comparative Race and Ethnicity.

“I thought that the presentation part of the assembly was done very well, but afterwards, I was still unsure of what the definition of Conservatism is,” Reina McNutt (10) said. “We discussed that more in my history class where Mr. Zelizer led the class, and we talked more about what it means to be a conservative in today’s society, which I feel was not extensively discussed in the assembly.”

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Conservative commentator, Princeton Professor converse at assembly