Category: Reflection

Professor Jack Goldsmith on Executive Power and Current Concerns

On Monday, April 9th, Jack Goldsmith, the Henry L Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University, joined the Buckley program for a dinner seminar. There he discussed his most recent book, Power and Constraint: The Accountable President After 9/11, and how the growth the executive branch is more important to pay attention to than ever.

By: Aryssa Damron

At the time of our meeting, questions still hung in the air over what President Trump would do in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. Mark Zuckerberg was preparing to testify to Congress about the huge data breach associated with Cambridge Analytica. Questions about whether Trump could or would fire Robert Mueller were being lobbed at Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on a daily basis. The state of the union certainly gave Professor Goldsmith a lot to talk about.

On the topic of Syria, Professor Goldsmith started dinner by polling the room to see how people felt about air strikes. He then set forth his argument for why we should not act as such, citing historical precedents for the use of the war power by the president and how military action not backed up by action in Congress can be dangerous. Goldsmith also argues that it isn’t a conservative position to take in Syria, as war inevitably leads to bigger government which is antithetical to conservative goals.

On the topic of Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica, Professor Goldsmith chided people for not being aware of what social media was already doing with their data, long before Cambridge Analytica came along. But, he admits, especially in the United States we use it for free and reap the benefits with little care to what happens to our data. Nonetheless, he does see reform coming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Zuckerberg congressional testimony, possibly in the form of regulation that has been seen in Europe in relation to privacy and data protection, though Congress would find it hard to get involved with the censorship questions and questions of content because of the First Amendment.
At dinner with several Buckley fellows, Goldsmith was excited to answer their plentiful questions, which ranged from follow-up questions about what we can do in Syria (Goldsmith admits there is no clear solution) and how the revival of a national draft might be the only thing that would make citizens care about what their military is doing.

When talking about what led him to where he is today, Professor Goldsmith admits that he had no interest in national security in law school.  He studied foreign relation law, which touched on national security law, but he became an expert on national security law when he worked in the government in the early 2000s.

The Buckley Program was pleased to welcome Professor Goldsmith to Yale and delighted to have our fellows show out in force for what amounted to a great conversation about not only the state of politics but how the history of presidential power and restraint can help us better understand an often confusing administration.

Aryssa Damron is a senior in Saybrook College.


JEB: A Classical Conservative

On March 27th and 28th, Buckley Fellows had the pleasure of attending a wide range of events with former Florida Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Jeb Bush in New Haven. He spoke with Buckley Fellows over meals, visited classes, and gave a lecture, touching upon a wide range of political topics. The following is one fellow’s reflection on his overall experience. 

By: Declan Kunkel

John Ellis “Jeb” Bush is not a name that is often connected with Yale. Politicians and laymen alike often think of his brother and father, George W. Bush ‘68 and George H.W. Bush ‘48. But Jeb, a politician in his own right, was the one making waves during a recent campus visit.

Bush’s comment about going home to his children after his loss in the 2016 South Carolina Republican Primary went viral, sparking responses from conservative pundits and journalists, as well as Donald Trump Jr. But for Bush, it did not matter. He was, as he had been for much of his political career, above the fray. Bush is a self-proclaimed “old-time” Republican, more in the style of Ronald Reagan than Ted Cruz.

In the speech that started the media storm, Bush called for a coming together, a modern form of big-tent conservatism.

“Maybe not a 19th-century or a 20th-century version of conservatism but certainly a 21st-century version of that,” Bush said. And, as if foreseeing the coming outrage, he continued, “sadly the fracturing of the conservative movement could not come at a worse time.” Bush promoted a modern form of an older ideal, a technologically advanced conservatism rooted in the respect and family values that were apparent during Reagan’s time in office. While morals should hold firm, Bush reasoned, “the 21st century conservative agenda cannot be nostalgic about the past,” but rather should focus on practical politics: education reform, tax reform, and restoring power to the states.

Bush, who served as the 43rd Governor of Florida, was often credited with instituting education reforms, including the issuance of vouchers and promoting school choice. His A+ Plan heightened standards in education through the state, and required testing of all students and graded all schools. During his tenure as governor, readings scores increased 11 points, more than five times the national average according to the Maine Heritage Policy Center. “Children are the future,” Bush said at a post-lecture event at Mory’s Clubhouse in New Haven. “If we aren’t investing in them, we are doing it wrong.” For Bush, conservatism strives to create a future by learning from the lessons of the past. “If there was ever need for a Bill Buckley-like approach to transforming conservatism in this country, it is right now,” Bush noted, pointing to William F. Buckley, Jr.’s trademark brand of intellectual, no-nonsense debate. “When there is a breakdown of public discourse, everyone loses.”

Bush expressed his gratitude and admiration for the student fellows of the Buckley Program. “It’s time to turn the helm over to you,” he said at one Breakfast event. “My generation has done a pretty good job fowling it up. But I take solace in knowing that people like you are working to make the world a better place.” In between bites of bacon and early-morning coffee, Bush said that he felt hopeful.

“But it will be a fight,” Bush remarked. Bush is a seasoned fighter himself, who knows when to make compromises and when to fight to the end.  While serving as governor, Bush fought against assaults on gun rights and freedom of speech and supported bills that cut back the government’s size while retaining its core functions. Bush championed a successfully balanced budget amendment and helped transform the State of Florida into one of the most successful economies within the United States. At the same time, Bush reached across the aisle to restore the Everglades, increase land conservation, and increase diversity in the racial composition of state courts.

As Bush highlighted in his lecture, since his presidential run he has focused on education reform and furthering his connection with God. He continues to advocate for charitable causes, notably the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and champions education reform. “Education is the key,” he remarked at a post-lecture breakfast. “And you all are getting the best.” As Bush looked around the Mory’s clubhouse, he saw pictures of his father and brother taken while they were getting their own education. The walls feature inscriptions of his paternal Grandfather, Prescott Bush, and his maternal Grandfather, George Herbert Walker. They all have impressive legacies of public service and intellectual conservatism. Jeb hopes that we carry them on.

Declan Kunkel is a junior in Morse College. 

Engagement is not Agreement: Thoughts on Governor Bush and the Buckley Program

During his visit, former Florida Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Jeb Bush took the time to sit down with fellows for an informal chat over coffee in New Haven. The following is one student fellow’s reflection on the discussion, as well as assessment of campus culture surrounding engagement with conservative thought through the Buckley Program.

By: Eric Wallach

“You’re in the Buckley Program?” a friend asks, trying to restrain her face from its inevitable wince.

Through this question and many others, I’ve encountered a certain oddity on Yale’s campus—a presumption which is sly, seemingly innocuous, and yet fairly malignant: if you’re engaged with anything Conservative, then you must identify as a Conservative.

Simply put, this wince and its underlying assumption reflect the fallacious idea of ‘guilt by association.’ In other words, that because there are so-called ‘hateful’ Conservatives in the Buckley Program, anyone who associates with them must also identify as Conservative, or—at the very least—they must support a repulsive and regressive brand of conservativism.

But aren’t these hasty generalizations exactly what liberals detest? For example, that acts of terrorism and crime by select Islamic groups should not be associated with increased security against all observers of Islam?

“No,” they’ll point out, “most observers of Islam are peaceful—they’re not complicit in the extremist violence.”

But I, on the other hand, am supposedly complicit—either actively, passively, or by virtue of my silence, I am viewed as responsible for the ‘wrongdoing’ of the Buckley Program.

In my mind, this belief is fundamentally linked to the way in which Yale students receive and deploy a certain kind of social capital as liberals within a predominantly left-leaning institution. The largely uncritical use of terms like ‘intersectional’ is in vogue—and so too is shaming or delegitimizing people who are open to conservative ideas.

What more evidence is there that being liberal is a form of social capital? Consider this anecdote from my Psychology 110 class earlier today. Professor Bloom was lecturing on how people tend to value their ingroups—social groups with which a person psychologically identifies—even when that group is arbitrarily determined.

For instance, Professor Bloom showed a video which was set during the Q&A section of one of the Republican presidential debates. In the video, a somewhat older, white woman asked why the U.S. spends so much of its money on foreign aid despite the continued existence of so many domestic problems. In other words, her question espoused the view that the U.S. should prioritize its own citizens above those of other nations.

When Professor Bloom asked the class whether this woman’s question was a good one, less than ten students raised their hands. But what if, instead of Fox News’ logo hovering in the corner of the video, it was BBC’s logo? Or what if, instead of an older, white woman asking the question, it was a minority?

After all, the idea that nationality is a morally relevant feature of one’s identity is not a new idea; in fact, it’s quite common. In ancient Greece, for instance, a man would identify himself as a citizen of a particular polis, or city-state, and thereby signal to what and to whom he held his allegiance. The political culture idealized by Aristotle and Plato was—in fact—uncosmopolitan, much as the view of this woman.

Was the assumption behind her question correct? In my opinion, it was not. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported that in 2015, only 1.3-percent of the federal budget was devoted to foreign aid. It seems clear that the amount of foreign aid the U.S. provides is not in substantial conflict with any obligation the nation may have to its own citizens.

But Professor Bloom didn’t ask if her question was well-informed—he asked if her question was good. Based on the historical conflict over cosmopolitanism and the fact that most citizens are not well-informed on matters of the federal budget, it’s hard to say that her question wasn’t fair or at the very least important.

So the reluctance of my classmates to raise their hands seems to be ample evidence of the social capital in disassociating from conservative views—a fact that becomes even more evident by looking at the statistics. According to a 2016 campus survey, for instance, 75-percent of Yale’s student body believes that our campus is unwelcoming towards Conservative viewpoints, and only 12-percent of the student body self-identifies as Conservative.

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All of that said, Governor Bush’s coffee chat and following presentation were exactly why I—someone who leans liberal but also values independent thought—decided to join the Buckley Program and continue to celebrate its efforts. His discussion and presentation of a 21st century brand of conservativism showed conscientiousness and level-headedness. As Carol Liebau, President of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, remarked after the event: “To me, the talk wasn’t a matter of controversy. It was Governor Bush’s vision of where conservativism needed to make sure it was mindful in order to remain relevant.”

Bush added that “the 21st century conservative agenda cannot be nostalgic about the past,” urging his audience to consider the impact of job displacement from automation. He even went as far as to say that the Republican party must actively fight against those who condone sexual assault, adding that if Bill Clinton had worked in the private sector, he likely would have faced severe legal penalties for the way in which his personal conduct was an abuse of power. For many reasons, according to Governor Bush, Washington politics is inherently dysfunctional due to its sheltering from America—that is, the real problems, penalties, and people that comprise the United States.

There’s more to add, but my key takeaway was this: The Buckley Program is not a group of radical, ill-intentioned Conservatives trying to stay relevant through sensationalizing trivial news, but rather a group of conscientious and pragmatic thinkers who seek truth in a complex society—much as all Yalies are here to do. I came to the coffee chat with ten questions prepared, but ended up asking none. I felt that my questions would detract from the fruitful and largely impartial conversation spurred by the other students in the room—a true testament to the rigor of those in the Buckley Program.

As I’ve said to many of my friends, I was thoroughly impressed by how reasonable Governor Bush was at the coffee chat and his following lecture. That doesn’t mean I support Governor Bush, and that certainly doesn’t mean I think he’s a flawless person. However, it does mean that I found his perspective useful, and that I sincerely value the time I spent with him due to the hard work of the Buckley Program.

It still astounds me that walking out of Governor Bush’s event, I overheard someone remark that “it was actually a great event! But the Buckley Program is still repugnant,” as if they had to diminish Governor Bush and the Buckley Program in order to preserve their reputation. Yet I remain hopeful that politics can be disassociated from social capital, and that people on all sides of the political spectrum can learn to appreciate the phenomenal opportunities made possible by the Buckley Program.

Eric Wallach is a first year in Grace Hopper College.


Restoring Civility with Governor Jeb Bush

On March 27, 2018, Buckley Fellows had the pleasure of having lunch with former Florida Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Jeb Bush in New Haven. Here, he spoke with a group of a dozen Buckley Fellows, touching upon a wide range of political topics. The following is one fellow’s reflection on his experience.

By: Andreas Ravichandran

Governor Bush touched upon topics from education policy to gun control, but the issue that struck a chord with me was his discussion of civility in politics. He presented a bleak picture of American politics, one that I expect most Americans on both sides of the political spectrum sense. Politicians no longer talk about policy and it seems that Congress is more dysfunctional than ever before. Drama and maneuvering dominate the headlines; bipartisanship always seems dead on arrival. When he was asked to reflect upon the current state of our political culture, Bush was exceptionally pessimistic, citing the growth in personal attacks and the toxicity of the 2016 election. But his most interesting point came while attempting to explain the causes of this. Rather than pointing to the obvious figure of blame (whom Bush refused to mention), he instead highlighted that “our politics mirror culture.” In his eyes, insults took precedence in 2016 not just as a result of the actions of our politicians, but because the culture of America condoned and even endorsed them. One illustrative example that he pointed to was the unnecessary drama of reality television programs such as The Bachelor, which exemplify the public’s desire for this type of drama, which seeps its way into politics.

In the eyes of many, including Bush, the culture of America seems to be corroding. Social institutions such as churches and community organizations have seen declining membership, and Americans are less engaged in person with others than ever before. Citing Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam extensively, Bush lamented the decline of a social safety net and community ability to support those in need. I certainly felt the same, and the rise of social media seems to be an inadequate substitute for the type of religious and community organizations that can provide real, substantive aid to those in crisis. Instead, we see the rise of online communities that group us with those who think like us, which contributes further to a toxic culture of tribalism in politics.

As Governor Bush highlighted, groupthink caused by social media and a culture that tolerates abrasive politics further weakens the social safety net in real communities, increasing reliance on larger institutions like the government. One interesting observation by Bush has been the rise in the language of “positive rights,” such as the right to food and the right to health care as examples of the rising expectations for government intervention that come alongside fractured social networks.

Governor Bush’s lunch presented quite a pessimistic outlook on the future of American politics and the country’s broader culture, but I remain hopeful that a restoration of the American spirit can happen through an idealistic younger generation more centered on social engagement and experiences rather than material objects. I am thankful to the Buckley Program for giving me the opportunity to engage in such a thought-provoking meal, and hope to mull and read about these issues in the future.

Note: One book I began reading in the past week after this lunch was Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin. I would recommend it to someone interested in this topic, as it touches upon many of the same themes.

Andreas Ravichandran is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College.


Professor Samuel J. Abrams on Viewpoint Diversity and Faculty Activism

Samuel Abrams joined Buckley Fellows for dinner on Thursday, February 22nd in New Haven to discuss viewpoint diversity and faculty activism. A fellow spoke with him before the talk, and his thoughts are printed below. 

Samuel J. Abrams has previously worked as a Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution. He is a political scientist with interests in political behavior, socio-political culture, and research methods. He is a Professor of Politics and Social Sciences at Sarah Lawrence College, and a faculty fellow with NYU’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research. He received his B.A. from Stanford University, his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and he is an alumnus of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Program on Inequality and Social Policy.

By: Esteban Elizondo

28 to 1. That is the ratio of liberal professors to conservative professors on college campuses, according to research done by Professor Samuel J. Abrams. This raises the question of whether this majority is suppressing conservative ideas.

“They are,” Professor Abrams states, answering my question before I even get the chance to finish.

What are the consequences, though? Yale students and faculty, particularly in the humanities, have been complicit in the decline of intellectual diversity on campus for years. However, nothing for students, even conservative students, has really changed all that much. Students get Yale degrees and become employed (usually), so what is the risk?

“There is a huge risk,” the professor explains. “Truth emerges from debate and discourse. Grievances need to be aired. If you are going to drive certain people underground, then you are going to drive them away from the mainstream discourse.”

The issue here is now a question of what people believe the role of the university should be, which has seen a lot of change in recent years. University involvement, especially that of elite institutions, now goes far beyond its traditional role of simply educating students. Particularly at Yale, with the rise of the residential college system, the university often finds itself involved in all facets of everyday life. The consequences of residential colleges and consumer-based education has begun to influence education in a negative way. When pressed on the subject of professors intellectually “coddling” their students by not encouraging debate, which he believes is an extension of the consumer-based education, this was the professor’s response:

“First of all, we have shifted to a consumer based model of higher education. People demand things in a way they had not before. That is why we have seen the growth of residential life here at Yale and all over the country,” explains Professor Abrams.

“Coddling is part of that. People do not want to feel that their buttons are being pushed too hard. When we have a room where we command everyone in such a way that the narrow, liberal perspective is the only one, what happens? It is a lot easier. The class is a lot easier to teach when there is no dissent in the room. People are not angry.”

The problem that these environments create is that they undermine what should be any university’s primary mission—to seek out truth through liberal discourse and debate. As of this publication, Yale’s motto is still “Light and Truth.” Seeking out truth through liberal discourse and debate is, unfortunately, a lot easier said than done, especially in the modern classroom. It seems unwise to abandon our greatest tool in the age-old search for truth in favor of comfort, even if it would be easier.

“Learning is hard. Going back and forth is hard. And it’s painful,” the professor claimed, but he does not believe that should stop us from going through the process. In fact, it is our duty to do so.

“Universities in particular, as opposed to the rest of the world, are supposed to be ‘safe spaces’ where ideas can be vigorously debated. This is where that social progress occurs. This is where the civil rights movement occurred. If you think of all the work done in Alabama and Mississippi, it was students from elite liberal arts colleges primary heading down south to do something about it. By suppressing this here, we are stunting our social progress.”

This statement was particularly bold. It implies that the role of universities like Yale is larger than just educating their students within their walls and preparing them for life outside. It implies that Yale has a responsibility to the rest of the country to facilitate progress. Perhaps at our worst we would be carpetbaggers, but at our best we can be models for social progression.

Unfortunately, Professor Abrams is certainly in the minority. Professors who encourage their students to challenge their ideas and the ideas of other students are part of a depressing minority. Right up to the point where he walked straight from dinner at Union League Cafe down the street to Shake Shack to order cheesy fries and a black and white milkshake, he still took the time to address the questions of Buckley Fellows. He is by every definition a student’s professor. This is the type of person the Buckley Program brings to Yale, and this is why you should consider attending one of the Buckley Program talks. You will not be disappointed.

Erica Komisar on the Politicization of Motherhood

Erica Komisar joined Buckley Fellows for dinner on Thursday, February 8th in New Haven to discuss her new book about the importance of motherhood and early child care, and how this is tied to the lack of happiness in our current society. Two fellows spoke with her before talk, and their thoughts are printed below. 

Erica Komisar is a clinical social worker, psychoanalyst and parent guidance expert who has been in private practice in New York City for the last 30 years. Erica is a psychological consultant bringing parenting and work/life workshops to clinics, schools, corporations and childcare settings. She published a new book in 2017, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Using current research, statistical evidence, and material from her work as a therapist and social worker, Erica pulls together a cohesive argument about the importance of being physically and emotionally present during a child’s first three years.

We sat down with Erica before our seminar and interviewed her about her new book and the motivation behind the book. She told us that the initial motivation for this book came from her 30 years of practice and experience as a psychoanalyst, and her observation of mental illness in children who don’t receive parental care. “The lack of motherhood in our current society is a real problem, supported by neuroscientific researches, and I felt the need to let everyone know,” Erica said.

We then asked Erica about the reasons for the lack of motherhood in modern society. She stated that the pursuit of achievement is often what takes a mother away from their children, and that this is a harmful trend. “People focus too much on professional achievements that it becomes an obsession,” Erica said. “But achievements don’t bring sustainable happiness. On the other hand, healthy relationships breed happiness.” She raised the “deathbed question” and pointed out that it’s the relationships that we have with our children who will be around at the end of our lives that we will remember and treasure, not money or professional achievements.

We also asked Erica to describe the response to her book, Being There. She noted that the studies she cites throughout her book are not her own research. Rather, she collated findings from research in psychology, neuroscience, and epigenetics. She explained that the ideas of the book are based on scientific evidence, not her personal opinion. Still, Erica’s book elicited an inflamed political response. Though Erica considers herself a “social liberal,” liberals rejected her book, while conservatives have embraced it. In her book, she states that “women can do everything, just not all at once.” Erica considered this to be practical advice, but liberals considered the book “anti-feminist,” which both surprised and disturbed her. While Erica does not consider herself a conservative, conservatives have supported her book. In part, because the book aligns with a conservative outlook concerning the importance of motherhood.

Additionally, we asked whether the negative response to her book was due to a disagreement with her claims about children and motherhood, or whether critics agreed with her premise but did not like that she was discussing her findings. In short, was the disagreement about facts, or about values? Erica responded that when people do not want to hear a message, they do not hear it. One implication of her message is that society is not putting the needs of children first. Pointing this out makes some people uncomfortable. Another implication of her message, she says, is that gender neutrality is a myth.

She describes how her book details the differing brain chemistry between men and women, specifically regarding their experiences of nurturing children. Erica points out that while men and women are equal, they are not the same. She observed that the title of her book, Being There, alarmed feminists, though she considers herself to be a feminist. She believes women should be admired for their choices. But when Erica says mothers have a “moral obligation to prioritize their children over everything else,” critics interpreted this to mean that “society should revert back to the 1950s.” Erica ridicules this, noting that she returned to work when her children aged into toddlerhood.

Toward the end of the interview, we discussed the “happiness” course at Yale (Psychology and the Good Life), and how the course’s popularity reflects the young generation’s anxiety towards their happiness and well-being. Erica suggested that the nowadays students are so anxious about the results and achievements that they lose the point of life. A non-linear path can lead to happiness more often than a pre-planned route.

She noted that many readers have thanked her for writing the book, stating that they are grateful Erica is emphasizing the importance of motherhood. Lastly, she stated that equality is not based on sameness—we should understand people are equal without attempting to erase differences.


Rob Henderson is a senior in Grace Hopper College and U.S. Air Force veteran.

Barkley Dai is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College.

Penn Law Professor Amy Wax on Birth Control and Marriage

Amy Wax ’75, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, addressed Buckley Fellows and guests on October 26th on the topic of “What Is Happening to the Family and Why?”. The following is one Fellow’s reflection on her talk.

Birth control destroyed marriage, according to Amy Wax (who cites Cheap Sex by Mark Regnerus). The advent of the pill has been the most significant change in incentive structure that has propelled the crumbling of marriage norms. Birth control came as a technological shock. The secular trend of female emancipation accelerated with the vote and with increased access to education, but that couldn’t have happened without reliable contraception. Birth control, after all, is what allowed women to participate in the workforce by allowing them to control their fertility.

Women have traditionally held the position of “gatekeeper” to sex. Women could set the terms for sex, terms with which men had to comply in order to access physical pleasure. These terms typically required men to be well-socialized enough to be a desirable marriage prospect. Put bluntly, most men had to get married or engaged to procure a steady supply of sex. Continue reading “Penn Law Professor Amy Wax on Birth Control and Marriage”