The Cornell Republicans received a rare treat Monday evening: a conservative law professor! And one from Harvard at that! Yes, you read that correctly. Professor William Jacobson from the Cornell Law School spoke for the group of young racist tea-baggers and covered the gamut of topics from how he became a conservative (more on this) to life as a conservative law professor in general to his career outside of academia. When addressing how he became a conservative, he expressed his disdain for the concept as it assumes that one was a prior liberal. It is based on the idea that one is a liberal by default in our society and that conservatism requires a transformation process. He explained that this is not really the case by offering a quick anecdote of how young children do not like to have their toys stolen or used without permission. This, the professor explained, shows that we start out conservative, but end up becoming liberal by the institutional forces of society (public school, university, media, and just about everything outside of Fox News and talk radio). He hit upon three points when explaining his conservatizing process.
The most important one was that when he was at Hamilton College, he had travelled to the Soviet Union with his Russian language professor on the last plane out of the United States when Soviet diplomats were leaving for good. He witnessed the diplomats bringing back with them televisions, radios, and a myriad of items that could not be found in the USSR. Also, while in the Soviet Union, he befriended a family that had an ancestor who was murdered by Stalin for purportedly being a traitor. He was cleared from the annals of the Evil Empire and his family had to continue existence under a new name. When returning, Professor Jacobson embarked upon a research project of the Soviet economic system. It was here that he not only learned the obvious practical limitations of central planning, but also the political oppression that tended to accompany it. As one could guess, this discovery was a large conservative influence.
The professor pointed to less grave issues such as living through the Carter years and having to start paying taxes as other reasons why he eventually became a Reaganite by the 1984 election (though he was unable to vote due a registration snafu). Oddly enough, the Prof had supported John Anderson in the 1980 race, and even George McGovern in 1972! You might say he came a long way in twelve years.
2008 was the first election in which Professor Jacobson became actively involved in the political process, mainly due his witnessing of Jimmy Carter II garnering cult-like support. The question was posed at the end whether or not the professor would have been hired in 2007 at Cornell if he were politically active at that point. He says he does not know, and claims that Cornell Law School is actually somewhat tolerant of dissent. However, I think I know, and you probably do too.
Regardless he is here now, and we should simply be thankful for that. If anyone is interested, he maintains a personal blog regarding current events here. He started in 2008 during the campaign. Needless to say, it does not win him friends in the legal community.
Professor Jacobson also works outside of academia in the realm of investment law, where he works to recoup damages for defrauded investors.