Youth could lead alternative to GOP (and Dems)on May 16th, 2011 at 6:00 am
Ten days ago, what was billed as the first debate among Republican presidential candidates took place, and though Herman Cain had a good line, it was the familiar Ron Paul who seemed the most thoughtful and principled of the bunch. Like February’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, however, the GOP’s establishment seemed to scoff at the Texas Congressman and his backers, ignoring what some say is the most dynamic force that’s growing in Republican ranks.
No, not the Tea Party.
Besides Paul and Cain, the debate featured Gary Johnson, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum, but they – and Fox News’ procurers for the Right wing – disregard both the grassroots surge of libertarian-minded voters and also what Reason magazine editors see as a pivotal time.
“We are in fact living at the cusp of what should be called the Libertarian Moment,” wrote Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, “the dawning not of some fabled, clichéd, and loosey-goosey Age of Aquarius, but a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over every aspect of our lives, from 401(k)s to hot– and cold-running coffee drinks, from life-saving pharmaceuticals to online dating services.”
It’s partly a generational divide pitting old, tired and extremist Republicans with young, vibrant and tolerant Republican-leaning youths too often derided as “Paulinistas” or worse.
Most young Americans have social consciences but don’t fight the tired, old “culture wars.” Their preferences are unpredictable; for example, “56% of young adults wanted health insurance coverage for all Americans, even if that meant increased government spending,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“The generation raised on the Internet has essentially been raised libertarian,” Welch and Gillespie said, “even if they’ve never even heard of the word. Native net-izens now entering college exhibit a kind of broad-based tolerance toward every manner of ethnic, religious, and sexual-orientation grouping in a way that would have seemed like science fiction just a generation ago.”
Paul’s 2008 presidential organization, the Campaign for Liberty, did well in fund raising, though the GOP establishment convinced the corporate media he had no chance, so coverage faded to nothing. But his support continues. Not only did Paul win CPAC’s straw poll for the second consecutive year, the Campaign for Liberty transformed itself into Students for Liberty, which quadrupled its campus chapters to more than 400 this year. They are a far cry from groups such as the Young Americans for Freedom (founded in 1960 by disappointed Goldwater supporters) and the establishment wannabes, the College Republicans.
At Western Illinois University, where I work, Students for Ron Paul became Students for Liberty – one of the first 30 U.S. chapters officially recognized. Their organization summarizes its goals as “sick of war, scummy politicians and never-ending debt? So are we!”
WIU’s Students for Liberty president Tim Muto has said, “We are a nonpartisan group that believes the problems we face transcend political lines. It’s not about Democrats versus Republicans, or Right versus Left. It’s about right and wrong.”
Political parties and party loyalty dramatically changed since Democrats and Republicans solidified themselves more than a century ago, and the Libertarian Party itself, formed in 1971, grew out of a sense of betrayal. Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Lewis Rossetto said, “Libertarians finally accepted the fact that they had been abandoned by the liberals, used and misled by other radicals, and sold out by the conservatives.”
Ron Paul supporters aren’t reclaiming the Republican Party as much as reject it, and both the Republican Old Guard and the Tea Partying neoconservatives miss the signs.
Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer dismisses the fired-up youth as going through a phase – an unfair generalization. Appearing on Fox, Krauthammer said the libertarian movement is just “a lot of college students who want to be Ayn Rand.”
Bonnie Kristian, communications director for the Young Americans for Liberty, another Paul offshoot, told John Glaser of The American Conservative magazine, “All we’ve seen is ever-growing debt, war, abuse of our civil liberties, corruption, corporatism, misery-inducing monetary policy, and general irresponsible growth of government. It isn’t difficult for us to understand the two major parties do not have our best interests in mind.”
Criticizing Republicans’ fuddy-duddy Duds, Gillespie said, “When you look at the heart and soul of the party, what you see now is a party that is totally bankrupt, literally, figuratively, and spiritually. So whoever are these Republicanoid operatives that are being churned out by some college committee, the party they’re serving is either going to become more libertarian or die.”
In Reason, he and Welch wrote, “Politics, always a crippled, lagging indicator of social change, will be the last entrenched oligopoly to be squashed like a bug on the windshield of history, since the two major parties have effectively rigged the game to their advantage in a way no robber baron ever could.”