Students traveled from far and wide to hear conservative ideas at Young America’s Foundation’s West Coast Leadership Conference, held November 11-12 at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara, Calif.
More than 550 young people from 21 states and 114 colleges heard conservative speakers, met like-minded friends, and were inspired by conservative ideas during the conference.
Dr. Richard Wirthlin, adviser to President Ronald Reagan, kicked off the conference with a moving speech at the Ronald Reagan Banquet. Wirthlin shared anecdotes and powerful stories about his former boss, many of which are included in his best-selling book, The Great Communicator: What Ronald Reagan Taught Me about Politics, Leadership, and Life.
Wirthlin recalled the President’s explanation of how he wished to be remembered. The President told Wirthlin, “I want to be remembered as the President of the United States who brought a sense and reality of peace and security. I want to eliminate that awful fear … that the world could be destroyed by a nuclear holocaust.”
Saturday’s sessions began with author and talk radio host Michael Reagan who told students about fond memories of his father. A keen sense of humor and faith in God were two of the strongest qualities President Reagan possessed, explained his son.
The popular talk radio host also discussed how Rancho del Cielo–the Western White House–was an essential part of the President’s character. “At the ranch you can see a man of humility. If there hadn’t been a ranch, I don’t think my father would have been president. The ranch is where he got close to God.”
Many attendees were toddlers during the Reagan Administration, and relished the opportunity to hear from those who knew him best and are now passing on his ideas.
“I enjoyed listening to people who knew Ronald Reagan well speak about him. I learned quite a bit about the sound character of this great man,” commented Rohit Joy of the University of California at Berkeley.
Foundation Executive Director Floyd Brown hosted a panel on the status of current events. Joining him were Virginia GOP Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin and Citizens United President Dave Bossie. All three emphasized the importance of principled, conservative leadership in the face of criticism.
“We have to strongly state where we stand; that’s what Ronald Reagan did, he framed himself with his vision for America,” said Bossie.
The panel also underscored the need for campus activism and the positive work of Young America’s Foundation. Griffin concluded, “If it weren’t for Young America’s Foundation, [you and] your classmates may never be exposed to conservatism.”
San Diego KOGO talk show host Mark Larson, using his quick wit and sarcastic humor, encouraged students to be active and stand up for conservative principles.
“You have to have a little fun with these issues…If you’re not getting resistance, maybe you’re being too passive,” he commented. Larson also discussed the war in Iraq and the importance of honoring our heroes in uniform.
A luncheon banquet featured conservative author and frequent Foundation speaker Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza discussed his book, What’s So Great About America, and refuted common arguments about Islam in the context of the War on Terror. The author explained the background of terms such as “fundamentalist” and debunked myths about various factions in the Middle East.
D’Souza used his experience as a campus activist to push students toward more aggressive conservative activism, as written in the foundation’s Conservative Guide to Campus Activism. “We’re fighting this war on two fronts,” said D’Souza, noting that American campuses are bases of the anti-war movement.
Activism was a major theme throughout the conference and was also discussed in a panel hosted by Foundation President Ron Robinson. He was joined by Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute President Michelle Easton, College Republican National Committee Chairman Paul Gourley, and Young America’s Foundation spokesman Jason Mattera.
Robinson and Mattera recommended students read the Conservative Guide to Campus Activism, citing increased recent attempts by the left to counter Young America’s Foundation.
“Our campuses are thirsty for conservative ideas. Don’t be a mediocre college student; be a blowtorch of conservatism and set wildfires,” said Mattera.
Author Steven Hayward shared facts from his new book, Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. After discussing Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill’s parallels, Hayward juxtaposed the virtues of great leaders with celebrities or self-interested public figures. “In society today, celebrity stands in the place of greatness,” said Hayward.
A highlight of the conference occurred when students had opportunities to meet and greet their conservative heroes. Hayward signed his books and talked with students, as did Wirthlin, Michael Reagan and D’Souza.
The conference concluded with retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, who discussed his experience as a leader in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rutter’s platoon helped overthrow Baghdad Airport in one of the crucial early battles of the war.
“Why aren’t we able to hear about the heroes of the war today?” asked Rutter while questioning the media for emphasizing negative steps in Iraq. Rutter concluded his speech with a special video honoring the late Sergeant Paul Smith who died protecting his fellow soldiers in the Iraq war.
Students enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere of the weekend and returned to their campuses motivated to make a difference.
“Young America’s Foundation … provided me with the opportunity to increase my knowledge, become better informed, and emerge a strong leader,” said Holly Hubbard of Utah Valley State College. “The speakers were very informative and inspiring,” said Melissa Cassara of Glendale Community College. “I feel empowered to stand firm in my conservative beliefs.”