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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The penultimate

Ive been writing this column since April 2006. Looking back, sometimes I enjoyed being a columnist, but equally often, I did not. Depending on a given column and the response it received, I went back and forth from feeling that I was succeeding or failing. Either way, next week will be my last column for The California Aggie.

I remember that when my very first column ran, on the then-recent unemployment and rioting in France, I decided I would prefer to write anonymously. Not because I didnt stand by what I believed or what I argued, but because I was never comfortable with seeming so political to those I knew personally.

When I was a sophomore, a while before I began my column, I took a great Civil War film class in which semi-political discussions would come up, and I would always participate. At the end of the class, the professor, whom I liked very much and knew to be liberal, confided in me with a quiet tone that he was dismayed by a perceived rightward shift of the student body over the years.

When I was a senior, after I had been writing for a year, I took another great history class that touched on political topics a seminar this time. Without me ever mentioning the column and paying the same close attention to what I said in class, a number of people, including what I guessed to be a moderately liberal professor, knew what I wrote that week and would often bring it up with a grin.

In both classes, those I disagreed with far outnumbered those I agreed with, and I wanted to avoid getting into debates and assuming the stigma of conservatism at a college campus. In the first class, I was able to speak truthfully but carefully, and no one was the wiser. In the second, my cover was blown. I was a conservative. Not just a conservative. THE conservative.

Why did I care so much? Because I hate politics. Because, perhaps a shock to those of my readers who despise me, I hate being adversarial. Because most of my friends and professors are liberal. My coaches were hard to read, but Id wager they leaned more left than right.

I have no problems with liberals, but when my politics are known, I have to work harder to keep things the same. I wish it was not that way in this country and on this campus, but it is.

To avoid conflict and to be as fair as possible, I would try hard to put in genuine compliments toward liberalism and to qualify the talking points and generalizations that are so often made in political debates. Those who did not know me, those who hated me, never seemed to notice these concessions in the name of harmony. Their eyes zeroed in on the statements and arguments that they hated most, and with those in mind they talked to their friends and raged at my inbox.

So I will be glad to retire the column. I am tired of being called a racist when I want people to stop caring about race, an enemy of the poor when I worry about next months rent, a sexist bastard when I adore my girlfriend more than I ever thought possible before I met her.

It is hard to be despised, even if by only a portion of your audience. The Ann Coulters and Michael Moores of the world love to get in peoples faces, but I do not. With a handful of columns, maybe five or six, I did choose to target unchallenged radicals without the more moderate tone I normally aimed for. But each instance I could defend with the same carefully-planned reasons with which I wrote it.

I am glad I kept writing this column despite the stress it caused. I am content with the thought that I did not take the path of the politician to change what I believed for the sake of popularity with my constituents. I am happy that I have one more column to accomplish my goals, and then…

Im gone.


ROB OLSON has been a columnist long enough to know that columns like this one get hardly any e-mail, since they are dangerously objective and moderate. Prove him wrong at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.XXX


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