Uncommon Interview: Charles Vidal

From on-campus activism to campaign strategizing, fourth-year Charles Vidal has earned his place as one of the most active young conservatives in the state.

By Raghav Verma

Fourth-year Charles Vidal was recently named one of the top 30 conservatives under the age of 30 in the state by the Illinois Conservatives. He founded Students for a Free Society on campus in 2008, contributes to the Red Alert Politics blog, and helps run Nick Schwaderer’s campaign for a spot in the Montana House. The MAROON sat down with him to talk about his time at the University and his political work and aspirations.

Chicago MAROON: Tell us a little bit about yourself: What year are you in? Where are you from? What are you studying?

Charles Vidal: Well, I’m graduating in December so I’m technically a fourth-year. I’m still going to be “Class of 2012,” call me what you want. I’m from Scarsdale, New York, and I’m studying public policy with a specialization in international political accounting. In terms of my political work, I guess I got started in terms of activism when I came to campus and founded Students for a Free Society as a freshman, which is the libertarian group on campus here. Since then, I have worked at think tanks such as the Heartland Institute, the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Though I think the real switch came for me this past fall when I was working out of Arlington, Virginia for Young Americans for Liberty, and that’s really when I found out about the entire activism side of politics and how to get involved and increase your efficiency.

CM: How does your recognition as one of the top 30 conservatives in the state of Illinois impact you, your organization, and the campus?

CV: Well, obviously we’re very happy to receive positive publicity for both Students for a Free Society and Young Americans for Liberty, which I continue to be involved in. And I’m just honored; they just contacted me out of the blue and asked me a few questions. Well, it’s definitely an honor and it does kind of speak to the state of politics in the state of Illinois, and especially in the city of Chicago, where you really don’t have people who would consider themselves conservatives, libertarian, or proponents of small government being very politically active.

CM: Do you know what led up to this recognition?

CV: I think part of it is my work. I think it’s the fact that my name is sort of out there because I do some writing for Red Alert Politics, which is a blog. I am the Illinois State Chair for Young Americans for Liberty, so I do oversee campus groups throughout the state and help them get resources and become more effective in their activism.

CM: What does your organization specifically do on campus?

CV: Well, Students for a Free Society, we obviously we have our weekly meetings but on top of that we do both activism projects and bring speakers to talk to students. This quarter we’ve done a couple of activism projects; we’ve done tabling in Bartlett and Reynolds. We’ve tried raising awareness of the “Crony Capitalism Equals Phony Capitalism” campaign: showing people that government involvement in the economy, regardless of whether or not you think it is necessary (such as the stimulus package—and I would point to the health care market as an industry that is considered to be very market-based when it’s not) is not capitalism, it’s corporatism, it’s a form of socialism. That’s what we’re opposed to. First, what people who are liberty-minded have to do is win the rhetorical battle and kind of reframe the argument so that people aren’t calling the stimulus package a part of capitalism. Then, we also have the “How to Visualize the Debt” campaign, which we tabled in Bartlett. Then we put up a giant sign in Reynolds, which lists the national debt, and the taxpayers’ individual share.

CM: How do you think this is all received on campus?

CV: Honestly, most people tend to ignore political activism on this campus. This is more politically involved and politically interested than many other schools. But people here would rather sit down and discuss ideas than get out there and let their opinions be heard and try to move politics. We do get some very positive responses. There is a segment of this campus that is very much appreciative of free markets and individual liberty, especially with the reputation that we have for our economics department.

CM: I also hear that you are a campaign advisor for a candidate in Montana?

CV: Yes, well, Nick Schwaderer is running for Montana State House District 14, and we met last summer through a fellowship program that we were participating in in Washington, D.C. After my experience working on the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa in December and January, and some of the trainings I’ve gone through, I felt like I was able to offer him some skills that would really help his campaign. The campaign is really just starting to kick off. He’s not facing a primary challenge, so he’s just looking at a November general, and I’m really excited about his chances both to win this election and to be a very effective legislator in Montana.

CM: Do you ever feel that your age might be a factor in this job?

CV: Well, he’s really young, too—he’s only 24 or 25. We’re young, we’re energetic, and politics is a young man’s game. When I was in Iowa, working on the aforementioned Ron Paul campaign, we’re working 12, 13, 14-hour days working six, seven, eight days in a row. It’s no letup. You can’t really be doing that when you’re 30, 40-something and have a family.

CM: Given that the University of Chicago is considered a fairly liberal school, did you see yourself coming here four years ago? Why did you choose to attend this campus?

CV: Well, I didn’t choose this campus. My parents met during Orientation Week during 1974, so it was kind of predetermined. I was destined to come here. I knew I was going to be involved in some sort of campus organization. I really had no idea that it would be to the extent that it has been this past year.

CM: Do you have any plans for the future? What do you expect to do after you graduate from here?

CV: I don’t know, I’m considering staying in politics but I’m also considering going into the private for-profit sector. I don’t think I’m going to ever fully leave politics. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I think even if I’m not working full-time, I can still contribute via writing and in other ways.