“I would rather be right than President.”
–Senator Ted Cruz
Just kidding. That quote is actually by Senator Henry Clay, one of my favorite political figures. But this quote definitely looks like it could have been said by Ted Cruz right now, whose senior thesis I parodied for this title. This brings me to my main point: politics at Princeton.
Princeton has a looooooooong history with government and politics. In fact, this topic has its own Wikipedia page. Two of Princeton’s earliest students included James Madison and Aaron Burr, with the latter being a forgotten figure until interest in him was revived through the Hamilton musical. The University’s political alumni also includes: Woodrow Wilson (first president of the university before becoming President of the United States), John F. Kennedy (did not earn a degree), John Foster Dulles, Samuel Alito, Elena Kegan, Sonia Sotomayor, Michelle Obama, Ted Cruz, and Delaware’s own Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV. There are still so many more alumni who served in Congress that even this topic has its own Wikipedia page. Princeton is definitely a political powerhouse that has given this country a plethora of leaders from all across the spectrum. As someone who has enjoys reading about politics, I left my primary interest, science, to my academics and plan to explore this second interest through extracurricular activities.
Two institutions at Princeton have churned-out these politicians: the Woodrow Wilson School and the American Whig-Cliosophic Society. I cannot comment too much on the first, as I am not majoring in it, but I can explain the second. The Whig-Clio, its abbreviated name, has existed for centuries at Princeton. It was originally created by James Madison and Aaron Burr as two separate debating clubs, and then they merged in 1928. Today, it holds general debates that are open to all as well as intra-party debates where only party members debate a singular ideological issue. These occur in Whig Hall’s Senate chambers. The Whig Party consists of left-leaning liberal students while the Clio claims the conservative right.
I joined the Whig-Clio, though I have yet to select a party, and attended their first debate of the year today. The motion on the floor was, “this House believes Republicans should maintain control of Congress after the 2016 elections.”
Before I begin on the debate, here is a quick note about the student body at Princeton. Many universities have strongly liberal student bodies, as would be expected with any group of young people. One might think of the Ivy League as the last bastion of liberalism due to its geographic location in the northeast or the influence of old-money families, but Princeton is rather different. Although the student body leans left, there is certainly a sizeable conservative group that I would argue is larger than those of other universities. Princeton is known as “the conservative Ivy.” After all, I remind readers that Ted Cruz graduated from here and Professor Robert George, one of the most influential conservative Christians in the country, is on the faculty. Another noteworthy conservative person to mention is Sherif Girgis. He graduated from Dover High School (yes, as in Dover, Delaware), earned a bachelor’s in philosophy at Princeton, and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He is currently working on a Ph.D. from Princeton and a Yale law degree at the same time. Oh, and he matters here because he is now one of the leading conservative advocates for traditional marriage. One of his essays was even cited by Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissenting opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges. Though I do not agree with his beliefs, it is a very well written essay that I suggest everyone should read.
Back to the Whig-Clio debate. When I walked in, I immediately noticed that the chairs where arranged in a manner similar to that of the British Parliament with a large table in the centre. Whigs sat on the left and Clios on the right. There was about an equal number of people sitting on both sides of the room.
As a centrist, I sat in the middle on the left-leaning side. I went into this debate with an open mind, voting based upon whichever side delivered the most persuasive argument. The Clios began with an opening statement, followed by the Whigs. Whenever someone said something agreeable, the audience banged the specially-designed arm rests on the chairs. Whenever someone said something unpopular, the audience hissed. A few polarizing statements led to a split in the room between pounding and hissing. The debate was quite a spectacle. I thought that the Clio’s opening was lacking. After the opening statements, the floor was open to speeches from the floor. Yours Truly made a remark near the end, at 40 min. 30 sec. on the full debate recording linked below. Both of the closing statements were remarkable. Throughout the debate, I was leaning towards the Whig side, but the Clio’s closing won me over. I ultimately voted on the side of the Clios. When we voted, we signed our names in a book under the side that we voted on. This book has signatures that include, once again, Ted Cruz, among others. I guess my official political career has begun. I will keep a public spreadsheet of my Whig-Clio voting record on my Google Drive for all to see.
All in all, this was a very fun activity. It is also nice to know that we can still discuss politics in a cordial manner. The Whig-Clio holds a number of other events, such as parties to watch the presidential debates (only at a place like Princeton can the words “debate” and “party” go together). I plan to attend those. After watching and participating in this initial debate, it is clear how Princeton serves as a training ground for many future political leaders. Who knows? The next President of the United States could have been sitting in that room.
On a separate note, I went to the Whitman social tonight where they gave out free Rita’s water ice. I also received my complementary Party with Meg tank top. Expect me to wear this a lot.