Friday, October 20, 2006

Young Republicans Swarm Liberals at UC Berkeley

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that UC Berkeley's College Republicans have become one of the largest organizations on campus, overtaking liberal groups like the campus Democratic club:

The growth of the Berkeley College Republicans at one of the nation's most liberal campuses echoes some broader political trends. At Berkeley, while leftist students still dominate and outnumber conservatives, the liberal groups have splintered and are now spread across factions from the Cal Democrats to the International Socialist Organization to groups formed to oppose the war in Iraq. At the same time, several faculty members say, there are more conservative-leaning students than in the past, propelled by swells of patriotic feeling after events like Sept. 11 and an increase in the number of religious student groups.

The modus operandi of the Berkeley Republicans over the past few years has been to be provocative. In 2003, its members opposed affirmative action with an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale," where students paid for pastries on a sliding scale: White students were charged more, while Hispanics and African-Americans paid less. UnderMr. [Josiah] Prendergast's presidency, the group this year protested the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, by giving away hot dogs and encouraging students to eat meat. Mr. Prendergast also held an "Anti Antiwar Rally" in nearby San Francisco, and staged a "Dunk a Republican" contest. The group gets several thousand dollars a year from the Berkeley student government. It also does its own fund raising and will sometimes get donations from local Republicans and others.

The splashy tactics have sometimes aroused the ire of campus liberals. Scott Lucas, president of the Cal Democrats through last May, says the Republican club cheats on membership numbers because it doesn't charge dues as other student groups do. But Mr. Lucas acknowledges that the Cal Dems are now "a hair" smaller than the Republican club.

For Republicans, the ascendant Berkeley group is a cause for celebration. Dan Schnur, communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential run and now a lecturer at Berkeley, often speaks to Republican groups around the state and talks about how the Berkeley Republican students have become a big student club on the liberal campus. "At first, the audiences are surprised, and then they're inspired," Mr. Schnur says. "It has a tremendous motivating effect" in mobilizing Republican voters.

The strength of the Berkeley Republican students is surprising given that the club barely existed in the late 1990s. A revival began in 2000, when several new students restructured the group to hold social activities as well as engage in political debates and attend Republican conventions. They also founded a conservative publication called the Patriot. To spread the conservative gospel, the club has set up a Web site, created an alumni database, regularly brings speakers to campus and holds weekly meetings.
I see the strength of a conservative Republican club at one of the country's most liberal campuses as a sign of the continued vitality of conservative principles in the United States. The difficulties of President Bush and the national GOP in both domestic and foreign policy -- which may result in Republican losses in November's elections -- are not of the magnitude to affect a partisan realignment toward the Democrats or toward a social democratic agenda -- and that's good news for Republicans heading into the 2008 presidential election.

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