A student team battles misconceptions of conservatives.
The Harvard Independent interviews Lisa Peng ’18, who has played a leading role in organizing the national conference, Prospectus, which is scheduled to take place this coming weekend. Through our conversation, we ask Lisa what she thinks is the objective that this conference aims to achieve, and why she would encourage Harvard undergraduates to attend.
Indy: Could you explain for our readers what Prospectus is about, and why you would encourage undergraduates to attend the event?
Lisa: Prospectus is more than just a national conference; it is in fact a national movement. It is an attempt at bringing students together to talk about issues that matter in 2016, and how conservatism offers a unique perspective on them. The true motive behind this conference, however, is nothing political. We would encourage as many students as possible to attend this event, not because we want them to support the conservative ideology, but for them to understand what it is. We want people to shed this caricature that they have of conservatives in their minds, that we don’t care, or that we lack compassion and concern for Human Rights issues, poverty and inequality. We want them to see that liberals do not hold a monopoly on compassion, and that conservatives care just as much for minorities, the poor and the oppressed as they do. They do not hold a higher moral standing than conservatives, and hence the national discourse must be considered at a level-playing field, not viewed through a warped and predetermined lens.
Indy: The conference is going to be attended by Paul Ryan’s Chief of Staff, Steve Forbes, among many other notable speakers. Could you tell us why it is that you chose these speakers, and how you think their presence is going to enrich the conference?
Lisa: What makes this conference so distinctive is that it is not a PoliSci or Economics conference that would have several Congressmen and Congresswomen, Senators, Government officials, speaking on why their policies are superior. Our speakers are here to spread a message that there should be a level-playing field in the national political discourse. They are going to champion the enormous amount of work that conservatives have done for the rights, liberties and freedoms of millions of Americans. Thus, the idea is to have notable speakers who can convince people to at least consider conservative ideas, in their right perspective. We have such a good record on human rights, at home and overseas, which is often not recognized by the electorate, and is oftentimes misrepresented in the media. That myth is what these speakers are here to debunk, and we are confident that they will do a great job of it!
Indy: Conservatism has faced widespread criticism across college campuses, for being an anachronism. How do you see conservatism in the 21st century, and do you think it is compatible with modern liberties?
Lisa: I think there are a couple of issues that conservatism is facing in America today, most of which relate to misrepresentation and mischaracterization. The national discourse around modern liberties is more concerned with qualities of debaters on national television, and less about the merits of their arguments. Conservatives have constantly been attacked for lacking compassion, and being concerned about the benefits of the 1%; whereas what our ideology is really about is poverty, preservation of the American family and human rights. Conservatives have such a great record on exposing brutal dictatorships around the world, helping put pressure on repressive regimes such as North Korea and China, that have arrested thousands of political dissidents. They played a great role in abolishing slavery at home, and promoting higher education by lobbying against high tuition costs. These are the definitions of modern liberties. However unfortunate it might be, many Americans out there are not even aware of this great contribution that conservatives have played in shaping the values of our nation. And our goal is to take a small step towards changing that very misconception.
Indy: At Harvard in particular, what challenges do you think conservatives face given the controversy surrounding the place mats in dining halls, and the Currier Housing Day video? Is conservatism being misunderstood, in your opinion?
Lisa: I think many of those controversies are ideal examples of how conservatism has been misunderstood in our politics. People are somehow predisposed to relating ugly racism with conservative principles, which is actually exactly what we oppose. We want to open the conversation to people from either side of the aisle, which is why we are proud that so many of our attendees are students involved with the IOP, many of them liberals. They are simply curious, and want to know what real, honest conservatism is about. This is why at a place like Harvard in particular, that has a minority among students that are self-proclaimed conservatives, it is all the more important that students make the effort to attend this conference, and recognize the true face of the conservative ideology.
Indy: Since you mention the “true face” of conservatism, I would like to ask you how do you think the conference and its core ideas are reflected in today’s Republican Party?
Lisa: I think it is pretty clear to all true conservatives that the Republican frontrunners fail to represent true conservative ideals. They are neither champions of human rights, and nor do they prioritize principles such as federalism, freedoms, liberties and rights from the persecuted, oppressed and ignored. Their dialogue is preoccupied with people yelling on stage, hurling personal diatribes at each other, and ignoring problems such as the political prisoners in China, the 3 million oppressed women in Africa, and the people who live without internet in Iran. This is why our conference in called Prospectus, because what we are actually bringing before the people who are attending from as far as Florida and California, is a proposal. A proposal to consider conservatism in the national dialogue, without misrepresenting the idea as it is proclaimed by the Republican frontrunners. This is precisely why the conference is so important!
Indy: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Lisa. We wish you the best of luck for the conference!
Lisa: Thanks, it was great speaking with you!
Pulkit Agarwal ‘19 ([email protected]), an avowed liberal, is attending the conference to understand conservatism in its right perspective. He encourages that you do as well!