Political Hay

Youth Against “Hope”

Keeping Reagan's legacy alive in the Obama age.

By 8.4.08

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People prone to believing polls might be excused for thinking that every college kid in America has spent this summer canvassing precincts for Barack Obama.

Support among younger voters and academics is Obama's greatest political strength. One poll last month showed the Democrat with a 12-point advantage among registered voters under 30, while Gallup reported Obama leading 54 percent to 39 percent among those with postgraduate degrees.

Despite such evidence of rampant Hope within academia, conservative activism on American campuses continues, as evidenced by the more than 400 students who are gathering in the nation's capital this week for the Young America's Foundation 30th annual National Conservative Student Conference.

YAF spokesman Jason Mattera says Obama's popularity among students is partly due to the idealism of youth who are "most susceptible to Obama's pie-in-the sky promises," having had little experience with "bloated federal bureaucracy" and its consequences. And the influence of professors is not to be discounted.

A 2005 study "found that 81 percent of political science professors consider themselves liberal and just 2 percent as conservative," Mattera says. "Two percent. With professors dripping over Barack Obama and conservative ideas seldom taught in the classroom, it's no surprise that he is a favorite on campus."

YAF is dedicated to promoting another youth hero: Ronald Reagan. The foundation purchased Reagan's California ranch in 1998, and has made the site the center of its efforts to teach the Gipper's philosophy to a generation who weren't even born when he became president.

"Ronald Reagan captured 59 percent of the youth vote in 1984," Mattera points out.

Reagan was an enthusiastic supporter of YAF, hosting White House tours during the group's annual Washington conferences every year of his presidency, and delivering a keynote address to the 1993 conference.

Despite the dismal state of the Republican Party -- with President Bush's approval ratings below 30 percent and the GOP facing an 11-point disadvantage in the "generic ballot" -- Mattera says there's still plenty of student enthusiasm for Reagan's vision.

Record numbers of students are attending the campus lectures YAF sponsors nationwide, he says. This year's national conference, beginning this morning with a speech by columnist George Will at the campus of George Washington University, will be the biggest ever. "Young people are thirsty for conservative ideas, and we're happy to quench that thirst," Mattera says.

YAF promotes a campus insurgency in the war of ideas, training students in activism and organizing such annual events as "Freedom Week," an annual commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph over communism.

Last year, YAF marked Freedom Week by issuing a "Victims of Che Guevara" poster -- a collage that used photos of those executed by Castro's henchman to compose the face of the man who is a favorite T-shirt icon of campus leftists.

Teaching such lessons about history, Mattera suggests, might help inoculate students against the Obamamania epidemic, which he sees as promising a return to the policies of the man who was in the White House in 1978 when YAF held its first national conference.

"Barack Obama has the same liberal ideas that fail every time they are instituted," he says. "We need to hear about the gas shortages of Jimmy Carter, the high inflation, the confiscatory taxes, and the weak national security. [An Obama presidency] will be Carter redux."

The Obama phenomenon shows why organizing campus resistance to liberalism is so essential, Mattera says.

"The national youth turnout rate rose from nine percent in the 2000 primaries to 17 percent in the 2008 primaries," he says. "In swing states with more youthful populations, including Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, the youth vote could easily play a monumental role."

While boldly staking its place on the conservative side of the political divide, YAF is officially non-partisan and Mattera doesn't hesitate to criticize Republicans for abandoning the Reagan philosophy.

"The GOP must get its act together," he says. "Young people crave choice and services that big government can never provide so they should be easy constituents for the GOP."

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.