Magazine article The American Conservative

Generation Liberty

Magazine article The American Conservative

Generation Liberty

Article excerpt

The young right turns to classical liberalism.

THE NEW LIBERTARIAN youth movement abounds with energy and brazenness, and it has already outraged the Beltway right CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., is no longer safe for Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, thanks to irreverent young activists who this year greeted the Bush alumni with boos and a shout of "war criminal!" Chants of "USA!" from Cheney's supporters drowned out the libertarian hecklers, but the point was made: the conservative establishment has a battle on its hands.

The hostile reception for Cheney and Rumsfeld - as the former bestowed upon the latter a "Defender of the Constitution" award - was just one symptom of the generation gap. Another was the controversy surrounding the inclusion of gay Republican group GOProud among CPACs sponsors. But most telling of all was the exhibition hall, where the most crowded corner was occupied by Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty and young activists packed the booths of groups such as Students for Liberty. With this showing, it was no surprise Ron Paul won CPACs presidential straw poll for the second year running.

What was unexpected was the old guard's reaction. As the results were reported, with libertarian-leaning former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson claiming third place in the poll, Young Americans for Freedom - a conservative group founded 50 years ago last fall - announced it was kicking Paul off its board of advisers. YAF denounced Paul and his supporters as "the anti-conservative left within our movement." An "antiAmerican, anti-defense, anarchist fringe," YAF's open letter warned, "has become more openly evident at CPAC and beyond, where your support base has become synonymous with those who consistently blame America first."

The fight didn't stop there. Talk-radio host Kevin McCullough wrote a piece for Fox News entitled "Disrespectful Libertarians Hijack CPAC Poll - And Its Mission," saying "it has been the inclusion of the libertarian aspects of the past two years that has thrown the message of conservatism askew" thanks to these radicals "combining the desire for economic greed with the amoral desire to promote any behavior regardless of its cost to our culture."

McCullough may be right to feel threatened. The youthful libertarian movement has experienced rapid growth in recent years. The Students for Liberty campus network expanded from just over 100 groups in 2009 to approximately 430 at the beginning of 2011. Similarly, the twoyear-old Young Americans for Liberty - a continuation of Students for Ron Paul, despite its nominal resemblance to YAF - boasts 180 chapters nationwide and 3,000 dues-paying members. YAL recruited more than 700 students to attend CPAC 2011, a presence that certainly contributed to the backlash.

"Liberty-oriented student groups are extremely active on the local campus level - often outpacing the more traditional conservative organizations," says Bonnie Kristìan, YALs director of communications, who previously worked for the Leadership Institute, one of the primary centers of conservative activist training. "The fibertarian-leaning groups in general seemed to be the busiest on campus" during her time there, she observed.

More established groups on the other side of this rift, like the College Republican National Committee, still hold formidable sway. In the last election, CRNC representatives recruited "14,868 [students] as volunteers who called, doorknocked and rallied Republican candidates to victory all over the country." In contrast to the fledgling libertarian student groups, the CRNC has been around in some form since the turn of the 20th century and has annual budgets in the millions of dollars. This sort of mainstream muscle can temper feelings of momentum for overexcited young libertarians.

No matter, says editor in chief of Reason.com Nick Gillespie. "Looking at the machinery of Republican activism is one thing," he contends, "but 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. …

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