Washington University's Student Life newspaper published an op-ed last week headlined, "It's OK that conservatives don't feel welcome." The item has received national attention, possibly for all the wrong reasons. Such intolerance is never OK.
The article reflects a persistent debate on campuses across the country about freedom of speech and overbearing political correctness. Many conservative students feel so ostracized that the Student Life editor, Sam Seekings, felt compelled to write about it at length in a November column. Many conservative students "often feel like they need to hide their political views or risk social isolation on a predominantly liberal campus," he wrote.
In response last week, student columnist Sean Lundergan argued that not all political ideas are fit for public forum. "Conservative ideas do not deserve equal consideration to that afforded liberal and left ideas, because conservative ideas are not equal to liberal and left ideas. There is no legitimate argument for supporting Donald Trump and his allies. ... Advocating nativism, sexism, government by oligarchic graft and anything else the president represents is not productive in a space meant to contribute ideas to the world."
Vice Chancellor of Students Lori White responded in an open letter that "the notion that politically conservative beliefs and/or politically conservative students are not welcome on our campus is entirely inconsistent with our community values."
Fox News took notice. The president of the university's College Republicans, Drew McPike, appeared on "Fox & Friends" Sunday to voice his disappointment with Lundergan's piece.
Conservatism, like all political ideologies, encompasses a wide range of ideas, policies and people, including both supporters and critics of Trump. Lundergan's op-ed paints them with such a dangerously broad brush that even the most moderate members of the GOP would feel alienated.
Washington University's student body probably does lean overwhelmingly liberal. That's no excuse. Shutting out conservatives can only exacerbate misunderstanding and stifle debate.
That's what the op-ed got wrong. What Lundergan got right is that an equal voice should not be assigned at the academic or political table to those who advocate racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia.
Not all conservatives agree with Trump's use of a "border crisis" to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria or with second lady Karen Pence's being employed at a school that explicitly bars LGBTQ students. In Congress, conservatives joined liberals in condemning Rep. Steve King's defense of white supremacy.
What conservatives should worry about is why, for many Americans, such unacceptable ideas are starting to become synonymous with the word "Republican."
But stereotypes are unfair regardless of which group is being targeted. Conservatives absolutely deserve a seat at the political table because, the last time we checked, Democrats certainly didn't have a lock on wisdom and perfect solutions for what ails this nation. Neither side should tolerate those who use political self-righteousness to foment hate, fear or intolerance.
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