Originally posted at The Minority Report and RedState on 06/05/09
It’s my birthday today. I’m 24! It’s a pretty useless age…luckily I have presents and cake to fill the void left by my inability to rent a car without signing my soul away.
Anyway, I’m feeling nostalgic and contemplative. Looking back, it’s interesting to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. I went to a fairly conservative Big Ten university, but surrounded myself with enough liberal friends to send Rush Limbaugh into spasms; I started out as an engineer, but moved on to political science because I realized that while I would have made a good engineer, I will make a GREAT lawyer. Now I’m moving on to yet another Big Ten school, where I’ll battle my way though a decidedly “moderate” (we’ll see) program and emerge, hopefully unscathed, with two graduate degrees. Not bad for a girl from a 3000 population town in flyover country, right?
It’s amazing to me that I never jumped ship from conservatism into the murky waters of modern liberalism and the “progressive” agenda. It certainly would have made my life a heck of a lot easier: I’ve spent more than my fair share of time battling my way through idiotic debates with “progressives” who wouldn’t know good policy if it walked up and gave them a healthy smack on the rear—which, in hindsight, is probably in itself the reason I never took the plunge. I delight in the ridiculous, but put stock in things that actually make sense. But what about everyone else?
By “everyone else,” I mean the thousands of people in my generation who stood up, lent an ear to, and drank the kool-aid of one of the most liberal Presidential candidates in galactic history. I went through the entire election season, from primaries to election night, being alternately baffled and dismayed at their reactions; at first I couldn’t see how this rookie senator hailing from the most corrupt political machine in the country could take an election from a seasoned senator and decorated war hero. Later on though, when it was all said and done, I began to see how party politics, coupled with the seductive cult of personality (and a healthy dose of irrational emotion) led to the complete dismantling of the GOP and ultimately the election of Barack Obama. Now, many are asking not only “What’s next for the GOP?” but “What’s next for the youth of America?” This past election proved that reaching the younger demographic is crucial to winning an election.
The GOP has found itself in a very interesting situation. In theory, this would be a great time to stand up, brush off the dirt and prove to Obama’s young, liberal support base that the GOP may be down, but it’s certainly not out. However, out of all the e-mails, tweets, blogs, and websites I see every day, I’m not seeing much to contradict my theory that the GOP, as a whole, does not “get” my generation, never mind the scores of young liberals fawning at the feet of Barack Obama. I want this to change, not only because it’s embarrassing to watch our current leaders trying to be down with the hip hop culture, or whatever it is they’re trying to do, but because I want to be able to identify with the greatest party in this country! Rather than orchestrating a drive-by flaming of the leadership, I decided to just put a few ideas out there, in hopes that somebody might read it and turn things around.
The Hardliners vs. the T-Shirt Collectors
From my experience, young “liberals” (and run of the mill young politicos, for that matter) can be broken down into two separate and unequal categories: the liberals who actually believe what they say, and the “liberals” who show up at rallies for the complimentary ham sandwich and Frisbee. (There is, of course, a third category consisting of those shining bastions of promise that couldn’t care less about politics, this country, or their future, but I’m going to ignore them because I find them annoying and generally worthless. Let’s concentrate on the ones worth working with, shall we?) The hardliners are not your target audience; while they may not have all the answers themselves, they honestly believe that a “progressive” path is indeed the wave of the future, and anyone who disagrees with them is an obstructionist. They have their own sets of facts and figures, and can generally prove that they have the capacity to read a book and form coherent thoughts. This viewpoint is not, in its purest form, as hostile as you may like to believe; however, people who follow this line of reasoning are the ones who, after a mere 15 minutes of conversation, make you feel like you’ve just drilled your head through a cinder block wall. They believe what they believe, and to hell with the man, woman, or child who dares to question their good intentions. They mean well, so get out of their way!
We need to focus our attention on the other category: the “t-shirt collectors.” These people usually have a generally progressive point of view, but their political moxie comes less from established personal doctrine and more from passing political trends and hot-button issues like abortion or gay marriage. The doctrine of “why can’t we all just get along,” as well as the doctrine of “hey, have some free stuff!” rings clear with this group of liberals, and that is what makes it particularly difficult to win them over. Converting the squish takes time, patience, conviction, and above all, a game plan. Engage these people–listen to what they have to say, and tailor your message to them. Drive-by politics may work for the left, but it certainly will never work for a party that’s already flailing, and can’t afford another big loss.
The Party of ‘O’ and the Cult of Sparkling Personality
Listening to a young liberal compare Democrats to Republicans is like hearing a historian compare Mother Theresa with Attila the Hun. On one hand, you’ve got the hardworking dreamer with a heart of gold; on the other, you’ve got a bloodthirsty criminal hell-bent on world domination. There is no middle ground, no common mission, no chance of reconciliation.
The Democrat Party has evolved into a personality cult. Don’t believe me? Consider their figurehead! Consider their high-profile supporters! Joe the Plumber cannot compare with Brangelina and Jessica Alba. In the eyes of the world, the GOP is the creepy redneck next door who invites you over to help skin rabbits and clean shotguns; meanwhile, the Democrat Party is that guy—the one who knows a guy who can get you what you want. The Democrat Party spends its time at posh clubs flirting with movie stars, and we’re the squares who sit at home doing nerd things like weaving American flags and whittling miniature Revolutionary War-era battle cannons out of single blocks of wood. It may not be the truth, but it’s the prevailing stereotype.
Stop for a moment and, in as objective a manner as possible, consider the rise of Barack Obama. (I know it’s hard, but so is life, so man up.) This guy came from out in left field somewhere, kissed a few babies, and ended up slithering right into the Oval Office. He didn’t do that by demonstrating unparalleled knowledge in economics and foreign policy. Oh no, he did that by rolling up his sleeves, immersing himself in pop culture, and making crass jokes about conservatism—all while creating a kind of mystique about himself. As much as you may dislike him, Barack Obama has it. He has that thing that makes people want him; he’s a rockstar, only instead of wearing leather pants, he wears Italian suits and silk ties. It’s that thing that allows him to pass off sloppy rhetoric as healthy domestic policy, and cruel ideology as rationality. By way of Barack Obama, the Left has deftly and brilliantly separated politics from personality, guaranteeing their candidates a free pass when things go wrong.
The only way to outwit the Left on this one is to create a cohesive personality for the GOP and conservatism as a whole. The Left has “change,” but we as conservatives are guided by our faith in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! A figurehead, someone we can rally around, will come in time; but for now, it is crucial that we reestablish ourselves as a party of ideals rooted in hundreds of years of history. Drive those tent stakes deep, because the left will do their best to ruffle any and all efforts to create a cohesive conservative image.
The Mess We’ve Made
Conservatives stand for individual freedom and individual rights that do not infringe on the individual rights of others. That’s why they are defined the way they are. The paternal/maternal government approach of Democrats and Socialists sounds awfully nice but it’s like living in your parents’ house your whole life. The more able you are to take care of yourself, the more you will resent having to live by your parents’ rules. Some day we all need to learn to accept responsibility for ourselves and our acts. Democrats believe that day should be put off as long as possible, or the government should take care of all adult decisions while letting the people stay like children their whole lives. Republicans believe that the day of emancipation from parents should happen as soon as possible, because history tells us that’s how people can be happiest with their lives.
~LJ “Beaglescout” Miller
Before I began to write this diary, I asked a few friends what they thought the GOP’s biggest problems were when attempting to relate to the young Americans, particularly young Liberals. Time and again, cultural relevance hit the list. This is the biggie, and it will make or break every campaign from here to eternity. Like it or not, America has evolved into a society of Facebooking , Tweeting, cell phone-clutching culture junkies, and the Democrats are leaps and bounds ahead of the GOP as far as harnessing those venues is concerned. We’ve come a long way since November, but we still have a long way to go. Looking beyond the internet, the GOP has got to sit down and revamp their most basic approach to winning the younger demographic. For example: If you’re trying to reach post-retirement Americans, do you target them with a bright, flashy ad complete with driving beats and the latest cultural icon? Or, do you put together something vaguely nostalgic, with soft music and lots of stuff about traditional values? The answer is obvious. The same logic works for ads targeting younger generations. It is completely possible to bend your platform to cater to different groups of people without compromising its message; all you have to do is get down in the trenches and open your eyes to who people are, what they want, and what they need in order to understand and accept what you have to offer.
No earmuffs, blinders, or hasty assumptions allowed.
It’s time to stop reacting, and start defining the narrative with conservatism in the forefront. Quit with the apologizing, belt up, and dare someone to label you a racist, misogynistic homophobe for what you believe. Furthermore, stop caring so much about what people think! You know you’re not a racist, misogynistic homophobe, so who the hell cares if some off-his-rocker liberal calls you one? Take it as a compliment—you’ve struck a nerve! The one thing I’ve noticed lately from young liberals is that their main problem with the GOP isn’t conservatism itself, but that the Party is generally confused about its platform, and as a whole refuses to defend itself. The bottom line is, nobody likes a waffling pansy; and at this particular juncture, in the eyes of young America, the GOP has been reduced to a bunch of pandering, waffling pansies with no direction or end game. The progressives in the party are making true conservatives look like gun-waving yahoos; conversely, us gun waving yahoos are making the progressives look like traitorous cowards. Stick a couple of cameras around the state house, and we’ve got a ready-made reality show!
There is a fine line between appealing to the young Left, and succumbing to its dark side; walking (just to the right, of course) that fine line is the key to reaching out without giving up ground. When the GOP finally speaks to young America, compromising values and making concessions will have nothing to do with its success. Proactive and confident conservatism, cultural awareness, and modernity of message, however, will have everything to do with it. Remember, back in September and October, when John McCain would end just about every speech he made with something along the lines of “STAND UP! Stand up and fight for your country! Stand up”? Well, do just that. Stand up and remember what it means to be a conservative. Take time to develop an even deeper appreciation for personal freedom, individualism, perseverance, pride, and responsibility. Then take that message, polish it up, and instead of harking back to the past for anecdotes and examples of conservatism in action, apply it to the here and now. Learn from the past, but live your message 100% in the present.
Toward the beginning of this year, I had a life-changing conversation with a liberal friend. We talked about everything: life, love, work, politics, religion…you name it. He told me he felt frustrated with the so-called stagnant nature of conservatism, and went on to basically flame all conservatives for being maniacal hypocrites. I said to him, “But I’m a conservative. Do you feel this way about me?” He responded that he didn’t, and when I asked why, he said to me, “Because you’re…different. You…listen. I know exactly what you believe, but you don’t make me feel bad about what I believe. I learn something new every time I talk to you.”
In substance, it wasn’t much, but as far as potential is concerned, I got one hell of a start that night. The door was still shut, but I found a cracked window, and worked with what I had. If it wants to succeed, the GOP will do the same. Don’t expect instant gratification—you’ll only be disappointed. But the people of my generation crave information, and eventually they’ll find out that the man they elected might not have all of the answers they’re looking for. When that happens, we as conservatives need to be ready to listen, reach out, and teach—rather than resorting to spewing off talking points before running off to the next high-value demographic.
Young people in America are an interesting breed. I’m one of them, and I still laugh every once in a while at the ridiculousness that is (occasionally) my life. We may have an affinity for cheap beer and Jell-O shots, college sports and ridiculous internet memes, tattoos and fast cars, but don’t think for a minute that we’re anything less than a force to be reckoned with. Like it or not, we’re important. We’re here—on your lawn, if you will—and we’re not going anywhere!
Crossposted at The Minority Report