Voices on the right
NEW YORK — The College Republicans are preparing for the Republican National Convention. Roughly 50 eager student volunteers will descend on New York next week to man hospitality desks and give directions.
"It's a great way to get our members to get to know people," says Gregorio Pro, executive director of the New York College Republican state committee of the New York chapter of the national group. Mr. Pro - who will be a junior at The King's College in New York this fall - will volunteer in the convention's transportation department, greeting delegates and ensuring that they board the right buses.
He welcomes the experience and the networking opportunities he hopes will come his way. But volunteering for the convention is more than just a résumé-building activity for Pro; it's also a means of advancing the conservative social values he cherishes.
Pro shares his commitment to such values with a much-celebrated and much-analyzed group of young Americans who are pushing their own generation to the political right of their parents.'
Cultural and political observers have been declaring a conservative groundswell for at least 15 years.
A 2001 survey done by the University of California at Berkeley found that young people today are substantially more likely to support conservative social initiatives such as prayer in school, federal support for faith-based charity, and limits on abortion. Of 1,250 people aged 15-92 surveyed, 60-70 percent of college students and teenagers supported such initiatives, compared with about half the adults surveyed.
Why are youth embracing conservatism? There are two reasons, says Ryan Thompson, editor in chief of Young Conservatives (www.yconservatives.com), a weekly Web publication with a staff of about two dozen young writers nationwide.
"There [are] legitimate people out there that really believe in this, and I think that's because some parents in some respects are a little more protective because they know what they did during the '60s generation," says Mr. Thompson, who expects to begin his freshman year at Hillsdale College in Michigan this fall. "Then, there's also some [for whom] I think it's a rebellion, almost. You see the excesses of that generation. And people, when they see the excesses of one generation, they go to another side."
If liberal parents are not enough cause for rebellion, liberal school environments may also spur conservative-leaning students to new extremes. Thompson says some conservative students are "ostracized" in high school.
His writers, who are mostly high school students, often come to Young Conservatives because "they feel like they are being trampled by a school newspaper that is overregulating."
David Rushing agrees. Several years ago, as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, Mr. Rushing noticed things "going on around campus and in the world that I wanted to help to change." Hoping to make a difference, he joined the Young Conservatives of Texas, a statewide organization of roughly 500 members at 11 colleges.
Today, Rushing is chairman of YCT and a law student at Southern Methodist University. He says campus liberalism definitely prompts students to join YCT, observing that YCT's strongest chapters may be at the University of Austin and the University of North Texas - "probably the two most liberal campuses in the state."
Pro says most College Republicans he knows are also attracted by what they see as the party's apparent concern for the family and the family's authority.
"Those that I have spoken to seem to have a focus on increasing the influence of the family in everyday life," he explains. "Mom and Dad are to be respected. Education comes first from the home, then school. "
Late last week, a Manhattan meeting of College Republican campus chapter leaders looked like a cross between a corporate meeting and an early Monday morning class. Full suits and jeans were about equally represented.
Some students earnestly took notes on their laptops, and others doodled as New York state committee chairman Dan Centinello urged the group to realize the importance of the immediate future.
"I don't care who you love, who you hate," he told the assembled students. "This is the time to spread Republicanism." He urged the students to marshal votes for both President Bush and local Republican candidates.
But later, talk shifted from strategy to ideology. J. Stanley Oakes Jr., president of The King's College, reflected on the principles behind the students' politics.
"When you think about universal principles," he said, "my generation ought to be transmitting them to you and they have done a lousy job."
That failure to transmit values explains a lot about the attraction of today's youth to conservatism, says Thompson. He attributes his peers' conservatism at least in part to a general yearning for parental instruction.
"There's a lack of guidance out there for certain, out there among adults, that I think is a problem," he says. "People are getting kind of sick of this 'do what you want' kind of society."