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The Zealot

Don't Call Robert R. Porter Apathetic - He Lives and Breathes His Cause

By Victoria C. Hallett, Crimson Staff Writer

A large 'George W. Bush For President' sign dominates the wall above the Claverly Hall fireplace. A roll of blue Bush stickers is strewn on the floor, and a handful of Bush posters lean against the wall.

Robert R. Porter '02, the man spearheading the Bush effort on campus, tied the mammoth sign to the roof of his friend's car to bring it back from a New Hampshire rally to campus.

He doesn't just admire the Republican presidential candidate--he has set up a shrine.

While most students were catching up on lost sleep and missed television programs during their breaks, Porter was slaving away for Bush's campaign in New Hampshire.

Porter gave up a chance to go to London with his sister in order to call supporters, wave signs on street corners and help set up events.

"It's grunt work, but it's fun," Porter relates. "Seeing the effectiveness, talking to people about the issues--that's the part I enjoy. Going canvassing can actually make a difference."

The joint government and philosophy concentrator believes in his candidate's message of "compassionate conservatism."

"He's ushering in an era of personal responsibility. That resonates with me," Porter says.

And he's just as excited by the current flurry of political activity in the states with early primaries.

"Everything right now is going on in Iowa and New Hampshire," Porter says. "All of the Washington big wigs and the media--they're all up there."

But Porter is used to such political hype now, after 21 years as a certified political junkie. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Porter lived a political life, especially because his father, Roger B. Porter, IBM professor of business and government at the JFK School of Government, served as a top economic advisor to the Ford, Reagan and Bush administrations.

The Porters regularly debated politics at the dinner table.

"When Rob was growing up he consistently showed an interest in public policy as well as in politics," Porter the father wrote in an e-mail message. "He has always loved to discuss a wide variety of policy issues and to debate them vigorously. He also enjoyed political campaigns serving as a volunteer in several national and congressional races."

Because his father has always concentrated on public policy rather than the political horse race, Robert Porter says he has been able to retain his idealism.

"I think it's important for the character and soul of America to create caring people, people who get involved and help individuals in their lives," he says.

He credits Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) as another crucial influence on his life during a high school internship.

"He said that growing up he always wanted to help others," Porter said. "It really affected me and attracted me to public service."

Porter the professor notes that living with politics can also have the opposite effect on children and turn them off of government, but he says he never saw that in his family.

"All our children seem to relish discussions about policy," he adds. "The conversation is usually spirited and invariably civil."

Robert Porter has elaborate plans for where he will be taking the campus campaign next semester.

After the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 2, Porter will focus attention on putting up posters and raising awareness here in Cambridge.

The idea of a mock debate between the student supporters of each candidate particularly appeals to him.

"This is Al Gore's alma mater," Porter says. "If [the] Bush [campaign] were to win a mock debate, that would be a big deal."

Although the big showdown won't happen for a while, Porter frequently finds himself fighting for Bush's point of view in his daily interactions with friends and colleagues.

He encourages informal discussion about the issues with friends and roommates.

"They'll walk into my room and see the poster," Porter said. "And then they'll ask, what do you think of this?"

He hopes to extend this casual spirit to conversations between supporters of different candidates.

"I hope we can stay positive and talk about issues and character rather than be enemies," Porter says. "That's something I pledge to do."

As for the future, his father, proud to have a son follow in his footsteps, sees him moving into a political career.

"He loves to organize, to discuss, and to challenge himself and others to do better...I am confident his interest is not passing," he wrote. "I see him involved in public service either in elective or appointive office."

The young Porter says he is unsure of the path he will take after college. But whatever he does, he expects to have some relationship with government.

Maybe one day another student will set up a shrine to him.

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