During the past few months, I have attended a plethora of club events, but the prize for the most goes to the Whig-Cliosophic Society. I have already described the history and impact of this club on Princeton’s history. Today, I will focus more on its less tangible aspects: the human element. I am writing only about the club’s general membership, not its subsidiaries — debate, mock trial, model U.N., foreign relations council, model Congress — because I do not belong to one yet.
To put it simply, everyone in Whig-Clio is a political nerd, myself included. They all closely watch the news, unlike most students. They are invested in learning about both the philosophies of politics in addition to its practical aspects. Most people have a general understanding of federal government, but everyone also seems to have a certain area of expertise, ranging from the applications of Game Theory to the moral quandaries of abortion. I have never met a group that is so interested in learning about government. While the club’s nerdiness may not be as outwardly apparent as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, it certainly is present and shines through on such occasions as election night. All of this knowledge creates unique atmosphere at events.
The club is divided into two groups: Whigs and Clios. Technically, the Whigs are supposed to be the left-of-center students while the Clios should be those who are right-of-center. From my own interactions with students thus far, this is not fully true.
Since college students in general are more liberal than the general populous, the Whigs are consistently more leftist than your average Democrat in Delaware. Although just about all of them supported Clinton for president, most of the Whigs that I know were originally Sanders fans. Whigs span from Communists to the liberal centrist.
On the other side, the Clios occupy a larger portion of the political spectrum than the Whigs. The best way in which I can describe this conglomeration of students is by calling it a miniature model of the Reagan Coalition. It contains everyone from leftist libertarians to centrists to the Religious Right to paleoconservatives and everyone in between. As a result of this wide range, the Clios probably outnumber Whigs, though you would never know it by looking at their attendance at recent club events.
Despite their ideological differences, the club members all have one thing in common: ambition. These are the people who will probably be running the country in 20 or 30 years. It is difficult to imagine right now that someone(s) in the club will probably become a Congressperson, Senator, judge, Cabinet official, state legislator, and/or governor. Wikipedia even has its own page that is devoted solely to Princeton alumni in government. Statistically speaking, there is a student in this group who will be elected or appointed to a major office in the future. Students know this too. Their ambition creates a lively, competitive atmosphere at some events, like debates. This is indeed the training ground for the next generation of politicians.
Once every month, members from both parties gather in the Whig Hall senate chambers in order to debate a relevant political subject. Whigs sit on the left side of the room and Clios sit on the right. Although these debates will not actually change the course of U.S. public policy, they can become rather intense. These debates are very realistic; students constantly fire back and forth as they analyze each other’s arguments. After each debate we continue our conversations on the topic as we eat pizza. This is what I enjoy about the club: we can respectfully discuss provocative subjects with diametrically opposed people. There are few other places on campus where this can occur outside of class.
In general, the members of Whig-Clio are friendly; however, I would have to say that there is an unusually high concentration of Type A personalities in it. Everyone cares about their extracurricular activities both within and outside of Whig-Clio a lot. On an aside, a large portion of the upperclassmen that I have met are in the Princeton Tower Club, one of the eleven eating clubs.
Another trait that is common among members is their vision to plan for their futures. Many of them already know what they want to do after graduation: going to law school, working in finance, directing political campaigns, etc. This is an uncommon trait among students outside of the club, in my opinion. While Princeton students overall have a general idea of what they want to do with their lives following college, few seem to know as well as the Whig-Clio members. This demonstrates just how passionate they are about politics.
I will end on this closing thought. Insider politicians have been vehemently bashed by people on the national stage for the past seven years. For a while, I believed this rhetoric, thinking that the few political mavericks in D.C. were trying to rig the system to benefit themselves. While there certainly are people who do this, it is not all of them. Since coming to Princeton, I have realized that the future political insiders have been sitting next to me at Whig-Clio events. They are students who truly care about all of the minutia of public policy that affects millions of Americans. Do a few of them want to enter politics to garner fame and prestige? Maybe. But not all of them. Some want to fix a problem that matters to them. Others are brilliant and like solving problems. They just happened to fall into politics instead of mathematics or science. A few feel compelled to give back to their local communities. All will pursue a career that serves the public’s interests. You can love or hate them; either way they will make it to the top. Ted Cruz is proof of that.