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The Counter-Counterculture 

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

Wednesday, May 12 2004

Page 2 of 6

Several minutes pass without a single flier leaving Gallais' hands. "I guess I'm not very popular," he jokes.

During his two years at UC Berkeley, Gallais has earned a reputation as one of the campus' most determined defenders of conservative politics. In addition to his roles within BCR and on the Patriot's editorial staff, he has also served as the Bay Area region vice chairman for the California College Republicans, a statewide organization. As such, he may be one of the most reviled -- or at least the most baffling -- figures at the school.

Being a vocal conservative on a campus that is among the most politically charged in the country, the school itself surrounded by a vibrant ultraliberal community, has proven challenging for some of Gallais' Republican buddies. But Gallais thrives on it. He's fueled by a passionate belief in the party's ideology and a sincere admiration for George W. Bush (he has a cardboard cutout of the president in his rented room at a frat house, and his friends joke that he has a "man crush"). Whenever the unrelenting liberalism of UC Berkeley wears on him, he says, he is fortified by his faith in God (he's an Evangelical Christian) and his love for this country (he'd like to become a naturalized citizen and join the military, not necessarily in that order).

"I really like having my views challenged," he explains. "I always enjoy debating whoever is on Sproul, either them giving me a hard time or me giving them a hard time. ... When we hold controversial activities ... in my opinion it's a lot of fun. Because you get people aware of an issue -- they get really mad! -- but the debate that goes on is very interesting and I enjoy them. You yell at me; I yell at them. It's awesome."

Born in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, a scenic suburb of Paris, Gallais moved with his parents and sister to St. Lambert, Canada, when he was about 10. After four years there, they all moved back to France briefly before relocating to the North Bay in 2000. In every town it was the same: current events and international politics discussed at the dinner table every night.

Gallais landed in California as a junior in high school. He was immediately swept up by the excitement of American politics, as the country prepared for the presidential election. He watched all of the debates with his father, who identifies as an independent. Together they weighed and dissected the issues, and though Gallais had considered himself a Democrat, Bush eventually won him over.

"When I came here, to me Clinton was the greatest president and the Republican Party was this evil machine," Gallais says.

But the second debate between the candidates changed everything. "I thought Bush won that debate; he did an outstanding job, and I really identified myself with what he had to say," Gallais says. "First, it was Bush himself. He's a man I really admire: his charisma, his personality, the fact that he really seemed a genuine candidate, not a politician. And his economic policies -- ever since I can remember, I've been outraged by the concept of welfare. Especially in France and Canada, welfare is very important. You have people who spend their entire life on welfare, and I just couldn't comprehend. I watched my dad leaving insanely early in the morning and coming home late at night, working his ass off, and his money was going to other people. That perspective was the first one to make me change."

Though he had switched to the Republican Party by the time he graduated from high school, Gallais insists that the decision to attend UC Berkeley was a no-brainer. "It has such a prestigious image abroad," he says. "I knew about the hippie movement, but I didn't know it would be such a liberal school."

Yet here he is, watching a group of Socialists sign up new members at a table nearby while he searches for someone -- anyone -- who'll be receptive to his campaign literature. After standing in the same position near Sather Gate for about an hour, Gallais decides to relocate and stops to talk to Carrie Holt, who's been distributing the California Patriot nearby.

"Some people say nasty things [as we pass out the magazine]," she reports. "Like, 'Sorry, I don't read fiction.' You just smile and nod, because if you let them think that they got to you, then they've won."

She shrugs. "It's Berkeley," she goes on, "and it's amazing how people who are supposedly open-minded are so closed-minded. ... [W]hen it comes to opposition, they don't want to hear it."

Gallais, meanwhile, continues to scan the people walking toward him in search of a friendly face. The morning had been uneventful -- no shouting or spitting this day -- and his eyes eventually land on a woman reading as she walks. As she nears the gate, the cover of her book comes into plain view: It's American Dynasty by Kevin Phillips (which bears the subtitle "Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush").

Gallais shakes his head and mutters, "What a Berkeley book to read."

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Andrea Irvin finds herself in the private room of a strip mall restaurant in Lafayette for the monthly luncheon of the local chapter of the California Federation of Republican Women. Irvin, her blond hair carefully styled and her lips shiny with gloss, is the guest speaker.

When she's not in a professional setting, Irvin opts for jeans and stylish tops, but for this occasion she has dressed in a more subdued manner, tucking a fitted button-up shirt into black slacks. She has barely arrived when Jacquie Cloidt, vice president of the Orinda chapter, begins to whisk her from one cluster of people to the next. The attendees -- primarily ladies with white hair in Nancy Reagan-inspired styles -- seem delighted to meet the young conservative leader, and cluck sympathetically when they hear she's a student at Cal.

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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