It’s Election Day, and no one knows it better than Mark Alan Isaacson. Two years after the people of the United States voted for “hope,” the President of the Harvard Republican Club notices that America is still dealing with the financial meltdown, high unemployment rates, and an unpopular administration. For the past months, the passionate and eloquent senior majoring in government studies has been campaigning for Republican candidates and constantly justifying his political convictions due to Harvard University’s Democratic majority. Isaacson spoke to Daily BR!NK about the failures of the Obama administration, social issues, the Tea Party, and why you should make the Right vote (pun intended).
How does it feel to be the head of a Republican organization in a primarily Democratic school?
Being a Republican at Harvard University has affirmed and reinforced my affiliation with the Republican Party. There’s no better place to be a Republican. Back in January 2010, when Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown, only 15% of the vote went to him in Cambridge (where Harvard University is located).
I’m not sure I understand. How does that make Harvard the best place to be a Republican?
That’s because Harvard offers something to Republican students that it doesn’t offer others: a thorough and frequent challenge to our political beliefs. A Harvard Republican is constantly evaluating his or her own political views and justifying and explaining them to a friend across a dining hall table, to a roommate, or to him- or herself. After four years here, a Republican can better articulate his views and can be sure that his political views inform his party affiliation, when for so many party affiliation informs political views.
There seems to be a national disillusionment and overall disappointment with the Obama administration. Why do you think that is?
There are two main reasons for that. First, I think that Democrats misread what the election in 2008 meant: it was mostly a referendum on the economy and the way that the business of government was run. But Democrats governed in the same way. Secondly, I think that it is the result of a number of broken promises. Democrats promised that the stimulus plan would keep unemployment below 8%, which did not happen. Obama has now admitted: there is no such thing as a “shovel-ready job,” and unemployment is now much higher. There was also the promise that the new health care bill would cut costs; however, according to the Congressional Budget Office, per person spending on health care in the United States will continue to go up.
On the other hand, wouldn’t you argue that more American citizens will gain health benefits?
Not necessarily. The CBO also reported that by 2019, there would be twenty million people without health care. That is hardly the “universal coverage” we were promised.
How has that general decrease in popularity for the Democratic Party affected the HRC?
We’ve definitely been gaining momentum in the past few months. Membership has increased and we’ve had the most active semester I can remember in my time here. And here’s something else that I’ve learned by talking with classmates: there are more students whose political views lean to the right than people often realize. So many people have told me, “I agree with you on most issues, but I don’t like the Republican Party.” But they really can’t explain why. It’s an image problem that the Republican Party has to address. Our message resonates with young voters when conveyed in the right way.
What is the issue that you are the most emphatic about and that the Republican Party stands behind?
Economics. I consider myself a fiscal conservative and a believer in free market systems. I support a limited, yet effective government involvement in the economy. Over the past two years, Republicans have really come home to this basic idea, recognizing that this is particularly why voters will put their trust in them on Election Day.
Which issue are you the least supportive of?
Listen, the Republican Party needs to change its course on social issues. It’s a generational thing and the Republicans will become more and more irrelevant if they aren’t willing to be pragmatic and open-minded. People want fresh ideas, and moderate voters will be drawn away if the Republican Party goes back to a dogmatic approach on wedge issues.
Are there any type of social issues that you’re thinking of?
Issues like gay rights and gay marriage. The Republican Party has to become less divisive on these issues and present a message of open-mindedness and respect. Calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage certainly does not offer a message of inclusion. Personally, I support marriage benefits for same-sex couples, as do the majority of Americans and so many prominent Republicans and conservatives such as Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, Meghan McCain, Ken Mehlmann, Steve Schmidt, Charlie Baker, and Glenn Beck to name a few. The kind of language you sometimes hear from the Right on the subject can be harmful in so many ways…
While the Republican Party has been gaining momentum in the past months, there has been a giant controversy caused by the Tea Party. What is your take on that movement?
I think that there is a big misconception about the Tea Party that comes from its name: it really is not a party. If you remove the “party” label, it allows one to really appreciate the diversity and dynamism among those individuals. To describe it as a monolithic movement with a very narrow purpose or ideology is misunderstanding what it is about.
What is the Tea Party about, then?
You’re seeing a movement of people disaffected with the way government is run, not just Democrats and the Obama administration. Millions of Americans identify with it because it is a new way for them to engage with their government and to express their dissatisfaction through rallies and tours.
What about the controversy regarding the racist aspect of the Tea Party?
There is some extremism, and the TV cameras catch some ridiculous and inappropriate signs at rallies. Of course, when you have millions of people across the nation engaged, you’ll find a few extremist elements. And yes, some “Tea Party” candidates have out-of-the-maintsream views. But I don’t think people are voting for them because of that; they’re voting for them in spite of that.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
I would want people to get engaged with what the Republican Club is doing – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, our blog, or our website. And anyone that would like to support our work financially can find a donations link on the website. We always appreciate the help. As for me, I would love to have the opportunity to work on a political race with a candidate that I can wholeheartedly support. I would also love to work at a news or media organization where I can work to raise voter and citizen awareness on pressing national issues.
Check out Mark Alan Isaacson’s article on being a Republican at Harvard University.
Read his articles in the Harvard Crimson.