DI Voices | The conscience of a collegiate conservative

By Matthew Krauter, Senior Columnist

Three years ago I attended a guest speaker event hosted by Illini Republicans at Lincoln Hall. The meeting was besieged by students banging on the windows and covert hecklers in the audience periodically interrupting to the cue of phone timers. 

When I left the building, hecklers grabbed me and tried to steal my phone for taking a photo of their mob. They threatened to follow me home until I got the police involved.

As blood pumping as this experience was, it was one of the most disappointing nights of college. It shattered my innocent freshman hopes that all my peers also hoped to engage in good faith political discussions.

I grew up in a fairly apolitical family — never really grasping the difference between Democrats and Republicans until high school. My interest in politics began amidst a U.S. history course. The curriculum skipped over purportedly antiquated details like names, dates and wars so that we could discuss modern American political issues.

Through lacking any partisan or ideological allegiance, something inside me disagreed with the perspective being taught in the course. My instincts gravitated towards order, self-reliance and respect for the American founding. I plunged headfirst into the rabbit hole that is politics to better understand how my primal attitudes translated into policy; I was hooked.

When deciding where to attend college, my newfound conservative identity played a crucial role.

Illinois won the day not because it was close to home, but because, as an ideological minor, I sought an education where my untempered approach to politics would be constantly challenged by professors and peers.

Every fresh political science student is convinced they have it all figured out since they were voted most likely to be president in their senior accolades. It doesn’t take long though until they’re berated by great minds such as John Stuart Mills, Robert Nozick and John Locke to shake their undeserved confidence. 

My views have certainly matured as I’ve hoped, but the most bizarre concept I’ve come to grips with is my newfound distaste for politics. It’s a strange attitude to possess as a student of political science, but I’ve seen the dark sides of politics firsthand. Its tendency to consume people’s identities, drive wedges in relationships and dilate anger.

Yet, politics is important in the sense Charles Krauthammer understood. If gotten right, it may protect all the things in life that truly do matter. Ideas are worth fighting in their own right.

The belief in the power of ideas is what drove me to write for The Daily Illini. My introductory column warned against the harm to come from political polarization, a staple topic amidst the countless political perspectives that would re-emerge in “Polarization of everything bears a cost” and “Common ground is a choice.”

I continuously participated in Illini Republicans even as its membership dwindled into life-support due to the same belief in the value of ideas. I take great pride that it has had a resurgence under my time as president, continuing to develop into a place for all likes of conservatives to tactfully engage with campus politics.

The purpose of college politics is not just supporting candidates or parties, but building communities that believe in the consequence of ideas. These communities must be capable of respectfully engaging not only with those cut from the same political cloth but also with their political rivals.

Beyond all else, I hope the conservatism I’ve fostered on campus takes root and perseveres for years beyond my tenure. If it successfully yields a bipartisan community that values ideas, then no freshman will have to face the grim disappointment I felt ever again.

Matthew is a senior in LAS.

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