Tea Party in the Belly of the Liberal Beast
By Lyda Loudon, Tea Party Youth
TeaPartyUniversity at Gmail.Com
Courtesy of CampusTown.US © 2011 CampusTown.US & All Rights Reserved
Lucas Scanlon is the founder and president of the Harvard University Tea Party [a member of TeaPartyStudents.org]. Scanlon, who is pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recently sat down with CampusTown.US to discuss his motivations for starting a Tea Party at Harvard, his experiences with mostly liberal colleagues, and his hopes for the future of the student Tea Party movement.
Why did you pick Harvard?
Scanlon: I came to Harvard because I want to serve publicly some day. My dad was an Army Ranger, and although he proudly served between Korea and Vietnam, he didn’t want me to go to war. He and my mom couldn’t have children for almost 10 years, so when we finally came along, he did everything he could to keep me from harm’s way. He and my mom found a way to allow me to go to school and get my undergrad.
After I began working, I began a routine of going to work, coming home and taking care of my family. After a while, both my wife and I started to feel that we wanted to do more. I had a sense that just doing my job well and taking care of my family wasn’t enough. I felt like I should do something as a citizen.
The Tea Party came along, and we decided to go to a meeting. We voted straight ticket Republican, but when we saw the Tea Party people, they seemed conservative, and they understood what their issues were. We were curious, so we went to a meeting. It was at a bar-b-que restaurant, only about 22 people in the room. Those 22 people were common folk, but from all different backgrounds, races, and economic levels. The people were respectful, and they spoke about meaningful stuff. They told us they needed help, that there just so happened to be a chapter in our neighboring town of Cypress that needed a new president; the old president had to take a job out of town. I was comfortable with project management, so I went to the next Cypress meeting, and shortly thereafter, I was the new president.
I was willing to take on that role in part because of a quote from Benjamin Franklin. I’m paraphrasing, but I believe it was that because “If you had the capability to do something, then you had the responsibility to do it.” From the moment I read it, I knew my life had changed. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Part of why this resonated with me had to do with the practical responsibility of how I grew up. I grew up on a sail boat. On a boat, if you see something wrong, you fix it. You don’t ignore it, because someone could get hurt. That was bred into me at a very early age. You can’t walk by responsibility. Consequently, when I saw that I had an opportunity to help the local Tea Party, I did it.
After I led that Tea Party, I realized that I had an opportunity to do something even more. In my group, I focused on education. I actually got in a disagreement with a woman in my very first meeting. She didn’t care about education, the only thing she wanted the group to do was to get Republican votes. I wouldn’t back down, and she left. Good. A few months into my service, I realized I wasn’t interested in being a “politician” as a career. I decided I would like to serve for a time, and then go back to taking care of my family. My dad did his part in serving. I can’t do the military, but I can do my part in some way.
After I made the conclusion that I wanted to serve, then I realized that I didn’t know much about economics. I decided that if I was going to have an opportunity to make decisions about the economy, I had better learn something that would help me understand the issues. I knew Harvard had one of the top Government Schools in the world, and I knew with this program, I could also take finance from both Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan Business School. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to take coursework from all over Cambridge. I hope I can put it to good use.
Do you have many conservative friends there that you feel share your beliefs?
Scanlon: There are approximately 12 people whom would label themselves as conservative. I don’t know everyone in the other programs, so there may be more, but those twelve are the only twelve I know. That’s out of about 800 students.
What I find more surprising is that when I get down to discussing actual issues, more often than not, the person who thinks they are left because of one social issue, or maybe two issues, that person is actually conservative economically and in their view of government. I can think of a few people who will swear up and down that they are Democrats or liberal, but who are really conservative in 90 percent of the things they believe.
I think the common view it that it’s “cool” to be left. Obviously, this school is known as the capital of “intellectual left” thinking. Hence most people who think that view is important come here. Many colleagues come from areas that are politically left, or their families are part of unions that were left. Basically, they grew up and formed some world views. I, and other conservatives that are here, will tell you why we think a conservative view is good. My wife ran a little experiment: she would ask someone who was left or a Democrat why they were a Democrat. So far, not one person has been able to answer the question apart from their families were Democrat. I wish I was kidding. She really did that experiment, and we really did get those results repeatedly and consistently.
Were you raised with your political views? How did you gain the political footing you have today?
Scanlon: No, I wasn’t raised with a political view at all. Although I voted every election, I basically didn’t agree with the Democratic platform on a few issues, so I voted straight ticket Republican. My parents were very Democratic, and I didn’t know it until I was in my mid-thirties. We just never discussed it.
What is the best advice you could offer someone maybe a little younger than you in an environment similar to yours where most of his/her peers mostly have different views making it hard to be open out of fear of mockery?
Scanlon: It’s really hard to hate someone you know. Most people will form an opinion, and then as they grow up begin to form “reasonings” that reinforce that opinion. Then at some point, you get confronted with someone who thinks the polar opposite than you. What are you going to do? I am a Christian, and that is a part of my world view. God created all of us, even those with whom we disagree. I can’t “hate” someone or belittle them to make my platform stronger. At that point, I’m no longer relevant, and I’m not being a good neighbor or a productive citizen.
For example, the Occupy Movement. I agree that bankers have not been equitable with the American people. I agree that the government is not working in it’s current form. I agree it’s good for people to demonstrate. I do not agree with how their demonstration has physically and economically hurt others. I do not agree that it is the bankers that put our economy in it’s current situation – they had a hand for sure, but you have to start at the lawmakers who pushed issues like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce [loan] documentation to levels that created huge systemic risk. I do not agree with their tactic of shouting down anyone who doesn’t agree with them. I think it’s childish and it is not a form of power – it is repressive by it’s very nature. I do not agree that the government is somehow responsible for “bailing out” individuals of their school loan debt or all their debt.
I could not disagree with Occupy more ardently on these points, but I don’t hate them. It’s very easy to bash them. At the end of the day, they are people trying to make a better life for themselves. I can’t reject them for that.
Therefore, to those who are younger, when people hate you – it’s their issue, not yours. It’s better to walk away. If you can’t find common ground, then agree to disagree. If you can’t do that, then determine if this fight is something that will result in something good if you go the distance. If the result isn’t clearly valuable, then walk away.
Do you experience a lot of harassment or mockery when you speak your mind?
Scanlon: Only in jest from most. Actually, the people that have been the most hurtful have been the Republican groups. They don’t even want to speak with me, which makes no sense to me. I feel like I’m more Republican than they are. I don’t think “the old guard” understands why they are Republican, or they feel threatened by the Tea Party for their seat. We aren’t interested in politicians doing anything other than what they said they would do in the first place. If you’ve got a problem with that, then again, that’s your issue. It also comes to mind that some may be afraid of the “common people”. Yup, I’m common, hopefully with enough common sense to get in to the real issue, strip it of its political bias, solve it, and move on. Period.
Do you see your situation with your particular environment as an advantage or disadvantage as a Tea Party activist?
Scanlon: This may sound “high-minded”, but as a Tea Party person, we talk about the Federalist Papers. In those papers, Madison described something called a “faction”. He would call the Tea Party a faction, just like Occupy and any other political organization you can recognize. He essentially reasoned that factions, if there were just a few, would destroy a republic. His solution was to allow for many factions, and that the abundance of factions, all striving for the same scare resource (money, media attention, influence in communities), would eventually balance themselves out.
Harvard is a place in which a deeper conversation is supposed to be taking place. However, we are all still just people. People tend to “reason” according to their previous beliefs, not facts. The same is true here. So far this year, I’ve only had a few meetings. I’ve spent most of my time trying to get the student group official (which it now is). However, of the few meetings we have had, people who are very left and people who are conservative have come. The Tea Party is about having real discussion that will give people reason to reach new conclusions and take their place in serving their community. At each meeting, every person was glad they came, and even though they may have come in disagreeing with me or the Tea Party, they left with an understanding of how the core message of the Tea Party works in America. This is even from people who were almost in tears when they asked questions because the animosity they felt against the “Tea Party” was so real and personal. It was real, and it was personal to them. I understood that. I spoke to that pain.
In each of these situations, I was able to give my colleagues a broader view. That’s hard to do in an environment in which everyone thinks they are hot stuff. It’s very difficult to do this in an environment as left as this one. However, when people get to know me, then they are willing to listen. One of my colleagues actually said that when she heard there was a Tea Party group on campus she thought about who it might be. She actually picked people out of her various classes. Then she found out it was me. At that point, she said she didn’t know what to do because she liked me. I couldn’t imagine a higher compliment. I’m not trying to push an agenda. I’m trying to be a friend first, and then when the opportunity presents itself (usually when I’m asked), then I explain. If I’m presenting in a meeting, then I’m just going to stick to the reason why the Tea Party believes in constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility. The message takes care of itself. I think it makes sense. I think that message works in any environment.
What do you see as the future of the Harvard University Tea Party?
Scanlon: If we care more about votes than we do about truth, then we will lose the truth. If we allow ourselves to hate, then we are no better than those we accuse.
If the Tea Party takes time to understand that the Constitution is designed to wait for a change in public opinion that is expressed in decades, not years, then I think we can have more of an impact. Yelling doesn’t solve anything. Making it cool to understand what our liberties are and what infringement looks like – that is where we can really effect change. We need common people who are willing to serve in public office for the right reasons. Once they get there, we need them to be courageous enough to remember why.
There was a Frenchman [de Tocqueville] who came to the states to study America back in the early stages of our nation. His report back to his constituents was that every single one of our statesmen was the quality of the best of France. That’s a huge statement. We aren’t there today, not even close.
I hope someone reading this, both men and women, will plan ahead, study and prepare, and set some time in their lives aside to live for more than just their families or themselves. American hasn’t seen selfless service in a long time. Abraham Lincoln studied law in a cabin. He failed the bar numerous time. One of his life’s dreams was to rid the world of slavery. We need leaders. We need the youth of America to prepare, pick their mountains, and climb for the right reasons.
Abraham Lincoln guided the country through uniting after the war. He told his men that the people who fought today would be their brothers tomorrow. It’s easy to dismiss those we disagree with. It’s not easy to find common ground, to extend respect and, if need be, to agree to disagree. We are all Americans. We need to start acting like it again.