The people have spoken, and the House of Representatives of the 112th Congress belongs to Republicans. But what is a conservative, and what are conservatives trying to conserve? Christopher N. Malagisi, a director of political training at The Leadership Institute, visited Stony Brook’s Student Union on Monday, Nov. 15 to discuss these questions and more.
Malagisi teaches courses in the modern conservative movement and in campaigning and political activism at American University. He is also the president of the Young Conservatives Coalition. The coalition describes itself on its website as a “young professional conservative organization dedicated to initiating and fostering valuable working relationships in the conservative movement.” The Leadership Institute, a registered non-profit organization, declares on its website that its mission is to “increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists and leaders in the public policy process.”
Malagisi began his presentation by explaining that though conservatives can fall into different places on a conservative spectrum, common themes emerge among them. Conservatism means “conserving individual freedom, small government and American exceptionalism,” which is the belief that the USA has certain qualities originating from the founders of the Constitution that make it globally unique, such as its standing as the oldest democratic republic.
“Conservatism is not univocal,” Malagisi said.
Malagisi shows the conservative movement to be a complex, often fractured picture of conservatism’s different groups and strands. According to Malagisi, the conservative stereotype of old white men resistant to change is an inaccurate one.
According to Malagisi, there are different kinds of conservatives, and rarely do they come to a consensus. “Classical liberals,” one of the three major conservative groups Malagisi discussed, include libertarians and fiscal conservatives. This group champions less government spending and less government intervention in the choices of the American individual.
“Traditionalists,” Malagisi continued, are social conservatives, people who believe in definite moral truths and encourage having these truths incorporated into law and society.
“Anticommunists,” Malagisi’s last major category of conservatives, believe in a strong national defense and a thorough, domestically-oriented foreign policy. Though Malagisi’s name for the group dates back to the Cold War, he alleges that its beliefs have remained similar since then. There are many conservative factions, such as the religious right, in addition to these three main groups.
A student who attended the presentation asked Malagisi about the difference between Republicans and conservatives.
“Conservatism is a philosophy,” Malagisi said. “The Republican Party is a vehicle for enacting policy change.”
The two often coincide, as with Republican-conservative Speaker-elect John Boehner, but they don’t always have to.
“It’s phenomenal that we can have such a speaker here,” said Douglas M. Smith, the president of Nassau and Suffolk Counties’ Conservative Society for Action: The Next Generation. “It breaks the stereotype of liberal college students.”
Kevin Sabella, a political science major and founder of Stony Brook University’s Tea Party club, agreed.
Sabella said he felt “marginalized by progressives,” and found the presentation refreshing. Literature for the Stony Brook Tea Party club was distributed to those who attended the event, though not by Malagisi.
Malagisi set aside some time after the presentation to offer opinions about recent news developments such as National Public Radio’s handling of Juan Williams, who was fired after he admitted on FOX that when on a plane, people in “Muslim garb” made him “nervous.”
“What happened to Juan Williams is a tragedy,” Malagisi said. “The idea that NPR is nonpartisan is a farce. Williams was put to a different standard… Why do we fund NPR publicly?”
NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government, but receives grants from federally funded organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts.
When asked about Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and his bid for Mayor of Chicago, Malagisi smiled.
“He’s entering a fine, great tradition of corrupt Democrats.”