During the past week, I had the privilege and pleasure of speaking before two of the organizations that will surely be contributing heavily to the inventory of tomorrow’s political leaders of our nation. I can happily report that the news is very encouraging.
The College Republican National Committee held its 57th National Convention in Washington, D.C. I had been a member of that organization when I was in college, and in the 1960s I lectured and debated on over 750 campuses across the country and worked hard to set up a Republican Club wherever I discovered there wasn’t one. So, this year’s visit was a reunion of sorts. The College Republicans have grown enormously with chapters on over 1,800 campuses and a national membership of more than 250,000.
My other appearance was at the 29th Annual National TeenAge Republican Leadership Conference in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. TARs is now 41 years old. I remember vividly when Barby Wells and I sat down in my office on Vermont Avenue in Washington in the spring of 1966 and decided that there would be nothing wrong with setting up an organization to introduce the nation’s teenagers to conservative principles — particularly since they certainly weren’t learning anything about them in the public educational system.
The two of us, with the help of the late Rep. Donald Bruce (R-Ind.), founded TARs which occupied an 8’ x 10’ room in my office that I wasn’t using at the time. I had no idea that the seed which was planted then would grow into such a powerful tree.
Wells is still there. She runs TARs from a small office in historic Manassas, Virginia — about a half hour via Metro from the heart of the nation’s capitol. With little more than pennies in its bank account, TARs has miraculously thrived and today has literally thousands of chapters scattered throughout all 50 states. Its current national membership is more than 200,000. Over the last 29 years, more than 300,000 teenagers have attended National & State TARs Workshops dealing with current issues and campaign organization. These go far beyond just philosophical discussions. There is a heavy emphasis on training in the nuts and bolts techniques of precinct organization, voter registration campaigns, and getting young people actively involved in the democratic process.
At this year’s Conference, I heard Jamie Osborne (S.C.) and Steven Munoz (Fla.) give an excellent presentation — complete with a PowerPoint show — about: how to set up websites, podcasts and blogs, how to communicate effectively; and how to help your candidate win the election.
Other sessions taught TARs how to advance their cause by getting involved in community service, how to work cooperatively with senior party organizations, and how to break the wave of apathy that is an epidemic among many young people.
Mixed with these work sessions were daily trips via the D.C. area’s Metro to Capitol Hill to meet congressmen (including a special meeting with Senators Trent Lott and Jeff Sessions), a special briefing at the White House, and even a sunset visit to the inspiring Iwo Jima Memorial tribute to the Marine Corps — something every visitor to Washington should experience.
TARs is not just all talk. Its “alumni” include several Members of Congress, White House staff members, dozens of state legislators, and many party leaders. Twenty-two year old Justin Burr was one of this year’s speakers. He is the Chairman of the Stanly County, North Carolina Republican Party, and two years ago (at age 20) ran unsuccessfully in the primary for a seat in the State Legislature. The victor was the incumbent, much older than Justin, who touted his political experience. After being elected, however, he became immersed in a serious political scandal and was forced to resign from the Legislature. In the next few days, we should know if Justin is named to that seat by the party’s Executive Committee. He certainly would be the logical choice and, if fairness prevails, Justin should soon be in the State Legislature.
Getting young people — even in their late teens and early twenties — to bite the bullet and actually run for office is something TARs strongly encourages. They’ve got a good success rate.
The real acid test of my experience this week would come with my wife’s reaction to what she saw and heard. For over three decades, Barbara has been a school teacher and, quite frankly, is a little soured on America’s youth — particularly the 30% she sees “graduated” from high school who are unable to read their diplomas. Spending time with the College Republicans and the TARs was not only an eye-opener, but a heartening experience for her. Her impression: they are polite, well informed, articulate, responsible, dedicated and talented. On our flight home from D.C., she commented: “You know, there IS hope for our country.”