As university students across America continue to rally in protest of the war in Iraq, one Portland State University minority group has faced pressure to remain silent. Conservative students have recently felt the need to keep quiet or face vehement opposition ever since controversy surrounding the war in Iraq began to occupy a great deal of both in-class and outside discussion.
With confrontations ranging from heated in-class debates to casual discriminatory comments, some PSU Republicans feel as though they are hiding a dirty secret, PSU student Justice McPherson said. He explained how, even when he meets someone on campus who shares his views, he often has the attitude that it’s best if his opinions remain secret.
“If you find someone who agrees with you, the attitude is still ‘Don’t let it get out, but …'” he said. “In general, I’ve noticed terms such as Republican and conservative being used as insults, and people seem to understand them as such. It’s frustrating, students also come into class and will make a comment about a piece of legislation that was generally a good thing to have passed, and say that they were amazed that it passed because we have a Republican majority.”
Dan Mikhno has had similar experiences with classmates.
“Last term in class it was just me and maybe one more person who had similar points of view,” he said. “It’s was difficult with all the people speaking up for great conspiracies and talking about how the war is a disaster.”
However, students aren’t the only opposition that Mikhno has faced, as he has had many professors challenge his views as well.
“It’s more difficult arguing with professors,” he said. “I’m positive that I haven’t changed their views, but it adds to my education.”
Mikhno’s conservative political views are strongly influenced by his background, he said. Born in the Ukraine, he moved to the United States when he was 10 years old.
Having lived in the Soviet Union during its collapse, he witnessed many events that he would rather not have, Mikhno said. He explained that those experiences remain his strongest political motivator.
“I came to recognize that conservatism has a strong base, strong determination and strong goals,” he said. “I tried to find something that I wanted to support wholeheartedly and conservative politics is it. I support free enterprise and a strong defense, which we can see has been needed.”
Consequently, Mikhno is a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, “for reasons stipulated by the (Bush) administration,” he explained.
“The conservative side has strong moral issue-based drive,” he said. “They hold the belief that if you are the single hegemonic superpower in the world, it’s your job to keep things going smoothly.”
Mikhno feels the Bush administration has been extremely successful since coming into office.
“Bush represents the average American,” he said. “He’s not a scholar, he’s not a charismat like Clinton, but he’s accomplished everything that he wanted to with taxes, the economy and the war, while facing incredible opposition.”
While he identifies as an internationalist, Mikhno admitted that despite his support for the United Nations he feels that Bush’s decision to go to war was the correct action.
“It could have gone smoother (with the U.N.),” he said. “It wasn’t the greatest interaction, but considering the facts, I still support the idea of having to go to war without the U.N.’s approval.”
McPherson was also of the opinion that war was necessary, though he held a slightly different view of the situation in Iraq.
“It was pretty horrible that we had to go to war,” he said. “But everything that I looked into about Iraq and Saddam seemed to show that the U.S. couldn’t have lived with itself if we didn’t do anything.”
Despite the fact that he refers to himself as a Republican, McPherson doesn’t fit the common stereotype. Having grown up in Alaska, where most people would classify themselves as conservative, he said he was considered fairly moderate at home.
“I don’t hate corporations and I don’t hate business, but I try to see both sides of issues,” he said. “It was a bit of a shock to come to Oregon.”
McPherson feels that, overall, the Bush administration has been successful in its recent endeavors.
“I have some doubts about Bush in general,” he said. “But specifically about the war I’ve been impressed. It’s turned out about as well as I could have hoped. I’m not going to say that Bush is my hero, but I wasn’t impressed with Gore, either.”
Though both McPherson and Mikhno feel strongly about the validity of war, they also support the rights of protesters to express their opposition.
“I admire that in this country you have the right to do that,” Mikhno said. “It’s a vital part of democracy. However, people who protest for the most part aren’t protesting the war, they’re protesting the U.S. government. It only becomes a problem when they become violent.”