Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Friday afternoon, Samantha Porter ‘15 was overheard explaining to a group of students seated with her at Essie Mae’s that while she had long tried to live as a Democrat, she had recently become aware of a deeper allegiance to Republican Party principles. Pointing to a number of vague ideological talking points including “tradition” and “individual responsibility,” she convinced her lunchmates that she is indeed, and always has been, a conservative.
“In my high school, I thought I was one of the most liberal kids,” Porter was overheard saying. “But comparing myself to everyone at Swat, it’s like, you know, I’m really just a conservative. It took me a long time to realize that.”
Porter explained that the process of discovering her own personal identity had taken place over a number of years. Though in 2008 she canvassed for Barack Obama “a couple of times,” she began reading The Economist during the Great Recession and started to believe in what she called “free enterprise,” an ideology she claimed Democrats do not support. “I used to think that demand was the problem,” Porter told her lunchmates, “but then I realized that supply has always been important as well.”
In her spare time as a high school senior, Porter said, she watched YouTube videos of speeches by President Ronald Reagan for her AP American Government and Politics class, and said that while she “doesn’t totally agree with all of his ideas, he was pretty convincing.” At Swarthmore, she quietly made friends with a student widely known to keep a large cardboard cutout of Reagan hanging above his bed.
“People thought he was crazy for having that poster,” Porter said. “But he was a smart kid and he really knew a lot about politics.”
Porter said her new friend showed her some famous quotes by Enlightenment philosophe Edmund Burke. In particular, Porter was swayed by persuasive quotes like “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny,” and “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward toward their ancestors.”
Inspired by these quotes, Porter began reading opinion columns by Danielle Charette in The Daily Gazette “just to see what they were all about,” she said. Wandering through a Barnes and Noble over the summer, she scanned the dust jacket of Marco Rubio’s memoir, “An American Son,” when she noticed it on the “New Arrivals” table.
Porter seemed anxious to dispel concerns that being conservative made her a bigot. “I know I didn’t change my profile picture this week for the Supreme Court hearings, but I really didn’t go on Facebook much this week anyway. Honest.”
On the issue of the economy, she said the most important factor for economic recovery would be supporting small business. When one of her lunchmates asked if that implied higher tax rates on corporations, Porter seemed uncertain. “On one hand, we should all be sympathetic to the poor,” she said, “but on the other hand, if people don’t work hard, what will happen to America? I don’t want this country to turn into North Korea.”
Porter also said that being Republican doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the way she votes. In fact, she identified herself as one of the Pennsylvania swing voters who helped give the keystone state to Barack Obama. “I may be conservative,” she said, “but my first time voting I wanted to show my support for the environment,” an issue she called “really important right now.”
Looking ahead to 2016, Porter indicated she wasn’t sure who she would support for president, but indicated that Chris Christie had captured her attention. “I don’t agree with all of Christie’s positions on the issues, but when it comes to what matters,” she said, “his heart is in the right place.”