True Confessions

I have a confession to make. I voted for Bill Clinton. Twice. Actually, to be accurate I supported and voted for Paul Tsongas in the primary in 1992, but when he was defeated, I stepped onto the Clinton bandwagon and helped to defeat George Bush. (Again, let’s be accurate, I was voting in Utah, and so my actual vote was translated into Republican electoral votes, so I did not technically help to defeat George Bush, but, my friends, it was a psychic victory, so I claim a part in it.) This is somewhat of a sore point for my conservative family. My dad growls that I’m cancelling his votes, my mom tries not to think about it too much. My extended family thinks I’m a little bit crazy…probably because I’ve been single for just too darn long.

But I digress, here’s the point. Let me tell you what happened on election night 1992. I was sitting in the basement of T-Hall in Deseret Towers–BYU freshman dorms–full of zeal and excitement at the democratic process leading to a Democratic victory. Incidentally, I was the only one in the room that was feeling particularly excited. Doomsday predictions were coming at me from every corner, and being younger and more salty, I was ‘fessing up to my political beliefs and answering with support for the Democratic platform. I’d like to think I was being polite and calm, but frankly I can’t remember. I went back up to my dorm room when the election had been called, and found a picture of steaming dog crap on my door.

That pretty much sums up my impression of being a Democrat at BYU. Taking a lot of crap. What is it about politics that makes people resort to “discourse” that they would never otherwise engage in? What is it about being a part of an overwhelming political majority that makes it seem okay to rudely invalidate someone else’s minority-political opinion? (And I know this happens the other way around on other campuses. Some of my conservative friends really took a lot of hypocritical abuse from liberals on the Harvard Law School campus. That intolerance angers me just as much as my treatment at BYU.) Why, when we are celebrating the learning potential that free speech fosters, do we feel that silencing others is an appropriate response? Finally, someone please tell me that things are changing at BYU….


  1. Actually Nate, I think that turning off the vending machines on Fast Sunday was even more annoying (the principle as much as the inconvenience).

    I really wasn’t politically vocal–at least not as my BYU career progressed. I would answer honestly though, if people asked if I were a Democrat, and that was enough…word got around. :o) From what I remember, Aaron really isn’t that politically vocal either. Now perhaps we are both oversensitive, I’m totally willing to debate that…

  2. Aw, come on Steve. Just try the new Al Franken and the Sister with the non-pronounceable name. It’s great. And the new David Brock “anti-Conservative Bias” in the Media NGO. or how the Bush & Kerry campaigns copy-cat each other.

    So much for a middle ground…in radio or anywhere.

  3. Great thoughts, Karen. Bill Maher said there’s more free speech in the White House right now than there is at Berkeley – his point is that many college campuses have their own kind of orthodoxy.

    You should’ve seen the look on my mother’s face when I told her I voted for Bill Clinton – by absentee ballot – on my mission! Oh, the horror.

    I do think there’s a handful of people in the Church who seem to get so caught up in the “one true church” that they start thinking there’s a “one true” everything – political party, newspaper (here in Utah you need to subscribe to the Deseret News, these people say), even a “one true” school. These same people are the ones that drive me nuts in Gospel Doctrine. They raise their hands and start speaking so authoritatively about politics, as if they can finally let loose and tell everyone how they feel since they think they’re surrounded by people who will agree with them. They don’t seem to get that there are different viewpoints in an LDS congregation. They talk about how they can’t believe there’s no school prayer and how that’s evidence of the second coming, completely unaware that there might be some of us who don’t think prayer in school is such a great idea.

  4. I am sorry Aaron and Karen, but political homogeneity is NOT the most annoying thing about BYU. The most annoying thing about BYU is that you can’t get regular Diet Coke from the campus vending machines…

  5. Interesting post. As others have pointed out, the most important thing is to “listen” to others. If you can’t listen to others…and at least be “willing” to be influenced…what point is their in discussion?

    However, what point is there in BYU bashing? Why does it need to change? Why assume that “everyone else there” except for “I(we), the enlightened one(s)” are mindless drones? Either BYU or at Harvard, etc? Whether liberal or conservative?

  6. It’s not just BYU, of course.

    This morning, I turned on just a minute or two of Rush Limbaugh. I wanted to get a conservative take on the “photos” taken in the Iraqi prison.

    I frantically took notes on the first minute of talking.

    Limbaugh: There are so many things in the news this morning. Of course, I want to talk first about the photo story.

    England is blaming the whole thing on the US. Saying they were US soldiers.

    The most interesting thing to me is that the torturers are the BABES! Ha!~ Ha! Laugh, laugh. They are BABES. Can you believe that.

    I do not believe that women could do such a thing! I was taught since I was five that women couldn’t do this. I have a tough time believing all this. Some of these photos have been doctored. They are not legitimate.

    There are about as many soldiers involved as plagerist reporters working for the New York Times. It doesn’t mean that the entire institution is all bad any more than plagerism makes the whole media bad.

    We need to have an expert get to the bottom of this.

    It’s KERRY. HE’s THE ONE! What Kerry said he did was much more atrocious than anything you see in these photos. He didn’t go to his superiors. Ha! Ha!

    These photos are rather tame—not too objectionable, compared to what Kerry did! “

    I couldn’t stomach any more. After rushing to the toilet to throw up, I ran back to turn off the radio.

  7. just to clarify — it was a picture of dog crap, not the actual item?

    How exactly did we determine it to be dog crap?

    That is an awesome story!

    I think things are changing at BYU. Today the crap would be in a flaming paper bag outside your door.

  8. Since I’m not a student at BYU (though I am a Democrat, as are a sizable number of the faculty–sizable by Mormon standards, that is), I don’t know whether things are getting better. But my suspicion is that Steve has a point: most students are relatively apolitical. Those who aren’t tend to be Republicans and sometimes self-righteous Republicans.

    However, I happened to be in the University Mall on the day that Clinton won his second term and saw people sobbing when the results were announced. Several people also told me that his election was one of the “signs of the times.” So, there’s no question that this is a pretty conservative county. Overall BYU is considerably more liberal than most of the rest of the county (Sundance excepted, of course).

    As for the vending machines: in the 60s BYU used to chain large pieces of plywood across the front of them on Fast Sundays, but after the Ernest Wilkinson era, I never had any trouble buying things from them on Fast Sundays. As a result, I don’t know what to make of Karen’s story. Perhaps an overzealous someone in a particular area was shutting down the machines on Fast Sundays, but it hasn’t been a campus-wide thing for a very long time.

    If while at BYU you want a Diet Coke, you may be in trouble. But if youi want Diet Pepsi (or regular, for that matter), just knock on two or three faculty doors. You are almost certainly to find one with a frig full of something cold, brown, and caffeinated after a few knocks.

  9. Sounds like both sides have a lot to learn about tolerance. I recently met Kenneth Starr and got my picture taken with him. Some of my classmates at Michigan could not believe that I would “stoop so low” as to shake hands with the man who “practically ruined America”. I was ridiculed and mocked to no end! And I’m not even a Republican- I just thought it would be neat to shake his hand and get a photo.

    Of course, since Harvard is such a better school than Michigan, I guess we would actually expect better from them, right? I don’t hold out much hope for BYU students though. Nice as they are, they have a lot to learn about tolerating dissent.

  10. Steve, the artist wasn’t exactly shy about claiming her work, or explaining it. It was a picture of steaming dog crap. So pleasant.

    The inability to listen to the political arguments of someone who disagrees with you completely limits your own ability to form complete and rational opinions. That’s what bothers me so much about the suppression of free speech on college campuses. I expect better of both Harvard and BYU. They are both excellent schools (in their own ways–of course) and owe their students a better education, despite the current prevailing culture.

  11. The absence of Diet Coke is counterbalanced by the nirvana of the Navajo Taco.

    I’ve been thinking about what Aaron and Karen have said, and I can’t say that my BYU experience was similar. For the most part, the people I knew and liked didn’t talk politics at all – we talked about ethics and public policy in general, nonpartisan terms. Maybe I was lucky — but at the same time, I remember that the people who really seemed to care about politics were the super-conservatives gunning for some type of BYU office (they were freaks, for the most part, so my apologies to any lurkers that ran for BYUSA or other offices). The only political people I met that were vocal were republican.

    That’s a long-winded way of saying that perhaps BYU was so awful for you guys because you are politically vocal, not because BYU is homogenous.

  12. The one thing that probably bothered me about BYU more than anything else (actually, let me think about this for a minute … there were just so many things…) was the political orthodoxy posing as a religious obligation. And I say that as someone that is probably more conservative politically than either Karen or John. I think that political homogeneity in a student body, whether at Brigham Young or Harvard Law, breeds lazy thinking. It leads many to assume that since certain assumptions go largely unquestioned within a self-selecting group, that one must be crazy to question those assumptions. It is worse at Harvard, in some ways, because Harvard holds itself up as a bastion of free inquiry. It is worse at BYU, in some ways, because BYU doesn’t hold itself up as a bastion of free inquiry, and so many students openly believe that the boundaries of acceptable dissent from the majority are narrower than they really are.

    Aaron B

  13. They really turned off the vending machines on fast sunday? Really? Honestly? No foolin’? You’re not pulling my leg?


    Moving on, I do wonder Karen if there isn’t something to Steve’s theory that so many people don’t care much about politics, that in a relatively conservative environment like BYU, the majority that do care will tend to be pretty far to the right. After all, you were in a room with a group willing to watch election results. Perhaps if you’d been elsewhere on campus, say the bowling alley, you wouldn’t have found the same kind of attitude. And perhaps the same kind of environment, only reversed, exists at other campuses. If you’re at Harvard or Berkeley, if you’re involved in or interested in politics, chances are you’ll be pretty liberal, right?

    Having said that, I don’t see any bit of hypersensitivity on your part. I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect to be able to show up to your dorm without having to stare at a picture of dung. Again, I think your negative feelings (feelings that I share) come more from the kind of discourse that exists within Mormonism instead of the fact that people disagree with you politically. Like everything else in the Church, politics are married to Mormonism. Mormonism is the one true Church, ergo, there must be truth to be found in politics. Some people cannot distinguish between truth and opinion. So when someone has a discussion about politics, they aren’t talking about ideas and opinions, they are talk about hard facts and truth. Especially when some aspects of politics involve moral issues – gay marriage, abortion, war, etc. So to these people, you as a Democrat don’t just represent another way of thinking, you represent a wrong way of thinking. It seems so very clear to them that it should be obvious that a good Mormon is conservative. They don’t comprehend that there might be another way to negotiate through life. Fortunately, I do think these kinds of folks are in the minority, but I think it’s what you ran into at BYU.

    So I certainly don’t see you as someone intolerant of different opinions or political thought. Rather, I object to the need on the part of some to categorize everything in the world as “right” and “wrong”.

  14. Wow… now I know why I don’t listen to talk radio.