In an effort to increase political awareness, conservative speaker Lanhee Chen spoke at a recent assembly. Photo courtesy of John Schafer.
By Brooke Hodge
Lanhee Chen, a conservative policy director and political commentator, spoke to the Menlo student body and faculty this Friday, Mar. 23. Chen was asked a variety of questions by a panel of five students about topics regarding immigration, health care, social security, economics, foreign policy and more. The questions were then opened up to the audience.
Chen is currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institute and the Director of Domestic Policy Studies and Lecturer at Stanford University. He has been a part of several presidential campaigns, most notably as the chief policy director of the Romney-Ryan campaign in 2012, as policy advisor in the Bush campaign in 2004, and most recently, as the senior advisory of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Although Menlo has had Republican policy makers, like former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, speak at assemblies, in the past few years, Menlo has hosted multiple democratic political speakers, and hasn’t recently hosted any conservative politicians. Upper School Director John Schafer says that it was lucky that Chen is local and could speak at menlo. “Students need to hear and ask questions of experts. He has thought deeply about a lot of important public policy and political issues; we can learn from him,” Schafer said.
Some students thought that Chen’s moderate political ideology disclosed the unbinary variety of political perspectives. “While our Congress is highly polarized, and it may appear that conservatives all have the same beliefs, in reality there is a wide range of diversity in opinion among the actual voter base,” junior and panelist Thomas Woodside said.
Sophomore Charlotte Acra agrees that Chen revealed the diversity of political perspectives.“In the especially divisive climate that we live in today, it's important for us to remember that one person does not stand for his/her whole group. In this case, Dr. Chen reminded us that a ‘conservative’ does not always resemble Donald Trump. It's nice to be reminded that political ideology is in effect a spectrum, not just two polar ends,” Acra said.
Other students thought that Chen’s speech was thoughtful, but lacked concrete solutions to the problems he identified. “He said we need to figure out a way to fix it and he didn’t give any of his options for fixing it,” sophomore Kyra Geshke said. “I think it would have been better if he gave potential solutions.”
Though Chen’s political perspective may differ from some Menlo student’s, the exposure to a different viewpoint was beneficial to many. “Almost everyone at Menlo is liberal, but the Republicans are in power. If we don't understand the people in power, or why they are in power, we will end up whining rather than winning,” Woodside said.
Acra explained how Menlo is a school committed to diversity and exposing students to a spectrum of political ideologies fulfills the school’s mission statement. “It allows us to then reassess why we stand for what we stand for,” Acra said. “We need to be aware of the various political identities, and bringing in conservative, as well as liberal speakers allows Menlo students to then judge firsthand which aspects of the speaker's philosophies we agree with, rather than basing our biases off of what we see in the media.”