Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2008

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Getting Political

Getting Political

Eight members of the Connecticut College community reflect on what shaped their political character.

by Stan DeCoster


When traveling in Chile, Allison Zelman ´07 lived with a woman who had been tortured for two years and seen friends and family members physically abused and killed before her eyes. 

“That was a defining moment,” Zelman says. “I knew then that I wanted to become involved in human rights.”

The woman was tortured and the others killed during the rule of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He headed a military junta that ruthlessly ruled that country from 1973 to 1990.

Zelman had majored in international relations, and she worked with the Connecticut College Democrats, all the time pushing the issue of human rights abuses, especially in Third World countries. She had traveled several times to South America and was disappointed by the way people there looked upon the United States. She believed that most South Americans feel that United States citizens care little, if at all, about what happens in the continent to the south.

 Today, she is working long hours for Democrat Barack Obama, saying she believes that, as president, he can be a transformational figure in American politics.

“There are some who make comparisons to JFK,” she says, “and I think they are very similar. I believe (Obama) can empower people to become involved.”

Zelman comes from a family of Democrats, and there is agreement on most national and international issues. The closest they came to an argument over the last year resulted from several family members´ support of Hillary Clinton over Obama for the Democratic nomination.

 Zelman calls her car her home, and has been involved in Obama campaign activities in California, Nevada, Texas and Oregon. Recently, she helped organize precincts in New Mexico, serving as regional field director in northern Albuquerque. 

If Obama becomes president, Zelman hopes to be hired to work on human rights issues in the new administration.?



Dorcas Hardy ´68 remembers when she was 6 years old repeating a not-so-catchy line that went something like, “Eisenhower has the power, Stevenson is a jerk.” 

She was the daughter of moderate Republicans, but moved to their political right after working with Ronald Reagan when he was California governor and later when he was elected president. It was Reagan who engrained deeply within her the philosophy that more government doesn´t mean better government. 

“I´m 100 percent a Reaganite,” she says.

Hardy practiced what she preached when she was commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 1986-89. She managed to shrink the administration from 85,000 employees to about 65,000.
“I shook up the place and proved you can run a very good organization and it can be small,” she says. “I believe that you can do more with less.”

She has campaigned for a number of Republicans over the years — starting with Richard Nixon in 1968 — and remains involved in politics today. In July, Hardy learned she would be traveling the campaign trail as a surrogate for John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate. She is optimistic that McCain, if elected president, will fight for a smaller government and tighter federal budgets.

As far as President George W. Bush is concerned, she harnesses her criticism even though the size of government has grown dramatically during his tenure. She says only that she is “disappointed” with the way he has handled the challenge of down-sizing government.

Hardy was a pioneer in advocating that individual-funded private accounts should complement Social Security benefits. “Individual responsibility to the best of everyone´s ability is important,” she says. “I think we´ve wandered too far away from that in too many parts of our lives.”

She acknowledges that her views are controversial. 

“I´ve been hung in effigy more than once but I get through it,” she says. “I´m still trying to change the world.” 
Today, she is president of Dorcas R. Hardy & Associates, a government relations and public policy firm based in Washington, D.C.



If there is such a thing, Sarah Scully ´99 is a partisan independent.

She was a Democrat when she entered Connecticut College and, as a freshman, even became involved in an unsuccessful effort to get a Democratic club launched on the New London campus.

“Then I went through my own metamorphosis,” she says. “I figured that what Democrats were doing was hypocritical, and it was the same with Republicans.”

What transformed Scully was the ugly and highly partisan impeachment fight that centered around President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. 

The whole sordid mess, and the way partisan Washington reacted to it, disgusted Scully.

She eventually changed political direction and registered as an unaffiliated voter. “It became so partisan and so nasty,” she says. “I just walked away from it.” 

Today, she is involved with the Independent Film Channel, an Internet site (IFC.com) that promotes itself as a voice for “independent culture.” It has developed a strong political wing, with Scully one of its prime movers. She hosts a weekly political talk show, delves into political issues on a blog and produces documentaries. 

She calls the creation of the Web site´s political arm “the marrying of film and politics.” 

“I´m a political junkie at heart,” she says. “And now, as an independent, I´m able to look at politics and see things more clearly.”



Ellen Paul ´07 thought in high school that she would become an accountant. Then, one day, she asked herself a question. “Why?” 

She came to understand, she says, that she could make more of an impact on people´s lives by becoming involved in politics and government. Then, when she came to Connecticut College, she became one of the founders in 2003 of the College Democrats. 

Back in high school, she took a course from a man who left an accounting career to become a teacher and help shape young minds. It got her to thinking about whether she would gain more personal satisfaction by changing her career path than by preparing tax returns and balancing debits and credits. 

“I asked myself, ´What do I care how much this person could save money on this tax or that tax? Why would I care how much this guy is making?´”

She took off the final semester of her senior year to work on the campaign of Joseph Courtney, a Democrat seeking to become congressman in the state´s Second District — a district that includes Connecticut College. Courtney won in the closest contest in the nation in 2006. Previously, she had worked on the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and John Kerry. 

Now she is in Courtney´s Connecticut office, specializing in constituent services.

Her mother is a Democrat and her father a Republican. 

“I was 8 or 9 years old and I got into an argument with my father,” she recalls. “I stormed up the stairs and said, ´At least I didn´t vote for George.´ I had heard my mother say it and I repeated it.” The reference was to then-President George H.W. Bush. 

Paul especially enjoys educational issues and hopes one day to work on the legislative side of education, possibly in the nation´s capital.



In high school, Sarah Armstrong ´07 became disillusioned by a liberal history teacher who wouldn´t stand for her conservative views. It was agree with him or else, recalls Armstrong. 

She became particularly upset when she received a poor grade on a paper she had written about Christopher Columbus. The teacher held the view that Columbus essentially was a lout because of the way he treated Native Americans after discovering America. 

“He pushed me to the extreme,” she says. “For me, that was the tipping point.” 

Armstrong´s opinion, as expressed in her assignment, was that she hadn´t lived during Columbus´ time so she couldn´t reach an informed opinion about him. 

“I argued with him but I was frustrated because we couldn´t have an even-handed discussion about things,” Armstrong says. 

While attending Connecticut College, she was a leader of the College Republicans and served as chairwoman of the statewide Connecticut Union of College Republicans. 

She calls herself a “mainstream conservative” and, after graduation, went to work for a Washington law firm. During her time off she would spend several hours a week working for the McCain campaign. She since has been hired to work for his campaign, specializing in legal and administrative matters. 

Armstrong considers national security and fiscal restraint among McCain´s strong points, and, to her, these are the most important issues facing the nation. She also admires his willingness to take independent stands on issues. 

Though she hasn´t agreed with everything President Bush has done, she stands by him. 

“I think he has done a good job and that history will treat him well,” she says. 

Both of Armstrong´s parents are Republicans, but haven´t been politically active. “If I turned out to be a thoughtful Democrat, they wouldn´t have disowned me,” she says.



Cynthia Enloe ´60 never cared or knew much about feminist causes. Then, while a professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., she had an up-close look at a sexual harassment case in the early 1980s that made national headlines. 

“Sexual harassment — nobody even knew the phrase,” says Enloe, who today is a leading American feminist. “My friends were more into feminism than I was.” 

She says the case involved the chairman of Clark´s sociology department, a man who had made sexual advances against five women — all subordinate professors and students. 

In the 1970s, Enloe had taught women´s studies, but says she primarily focused on such issues as the need for women to get involved in politics and assert themselves on community and national issues. It wasn´t until the harassment case occurred that her passion for feminist causes surfaced.

Ultimately, the Clark women won a lawsuit against the department head, and Enloe became enlightened about feminist issues and wanted to learn more. “I became thirsty for knowledge,” she says. 

Today, she is a research professor specializing in women in politics at Clark. Raised in a Republican family, she is a Democrat. She considers that Hillary Clinton, even while narrowly losing the presidential nomination to Obama, “crashed the glass ceiling” in politics by convincing America she could be a competent president and commander in chief.

Many of her writings concern what she calls America´s “macho” foreign policy where, she argues, the military option rises to the top all too quickly, and frequently with men in leading policy-making positions.

She once wrote: “Civilian policymakers´ desire to appear ´manly´ is a chief reason for the Pentagon´s remarkable influence over current U.S. foreign policy. U.S. military policies today marginalize women and entrench the masculinization of political life at home and abroad.”



Naum Minchin ´10, a junior, says his grandparents and parents came to this country in 1978 from the former Soviet Union “with a suitcase between them and a couple of bucks in their pockets.”

They found success in the United States, after a long struggle, and Minchin believes others can do the same today. This is how he explains his libertarian philosophy:

 “I´m all about the ideal of individual responsibility. We shouldn´t have to rely on the government to subsidize our lives. You deserve what you get. You work for that dollar and you deserve to keep it.” 

Government taxes, he argues, “should be very minimal.” 

He says his mother became a nurse even though she couldn´t speak a word of English. His father is a writer. 
“They worked their way up,” Minchin says, “and now they´re doing well. They were able to send me to college. Everything they did, everything they earned, they did on their own.” 

On social issues, he says, he is a moderate. But, believing that government shouldn´t dominate Americans´ lives, he is a member of the College´s Republican organization, saying that of the major two parties the GOP views more closely resemble his own. He says academic institutions tend to be liberal, and he wants incoming classes to be exposed to all political points of view. 

Minchin majors in economics and minors in math. He hopes to pursue a career in finance.



Nazi troops were goose-stepping their way along German streets, Adolf Hitler had attacked and annexed Czechoslovakia´s Sudetenland, and the Third Reich opened its first concentration camp. The persecution of European Jews was underway. 

An observer to all this in 1938 was Miriam Butterworth ´40, a German major at Connecticut College who was studying at the University of Heidelberg. She was shocked by the atrocities and military aggression that eventually led to the start of World War II. 

Then, as the years passed, she wondered whether a similar situation ever might occur in the United States. 
“I didn´t think that could ever happen here, but I realized we have to be vigilant. If we ever should move in that direction you stop it by everyone rising up immediately and let it be known that it can´t happen here,” says the 90-year-old activist. 

In this country during the early 1950s, Butterworth watched as U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a witch-hunting expedition searching for communists in high positions. These violations of human rights offended her as well.

For most of her adult life, she has protested, conducted vigils and marched in organized demonstrations — all the time fighting for human rights and assuming the role of anti-war activist. She is a liberal Democrat who has campaigned for other liberals seeking the presidency, including George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy. Ironically, her mother was a Republican who “felt that Democrats … and saloonkeepers were all in the same boat!”

She says that, given her age, she has slowed some but still attends vigils in her hometown of West Hartford, Conn. She is troubled by the Bush administration, believing it has trampled on individual rights. 

Despite all the protesting, Butterworth — who was born in 1918, the last year of World War I — never has been arrested for civil disobedience.

“I don´t know why,” she says. “It´s probably because I look so harmless.”?


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