Last week hundreds of conservative college students flocked to Washington to attend the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) National Conservative Student Conference. The five-day conference featured notable conservative speakers who specialized in moral and natural law, conservative thought, the Iraq War and other policy issues.
This annual event draws conservative college students who are typically a vocal minority in university classrooms. The goal is to empower the students to become outspoken against liberal bias and “oppression” on their own campuses. Panel discussions are wide-ranging, this year including “Status of the Young Conservative Movement in 2007”, “Great Books to Read in College”, and “Using the New Media to advance conservative ideas on campus”.
One of the ideological differences among attendees and speakers (and frequently within the conservative movement) was the tension between libertarian views and traditional conservative ones. Both perspectives were presented with the inclusion of a variety of libertarian-leaning speakers like ABC’s John Stossel and syndicated columnist Dr. Walter Williams as well as social conservatives like Kathryn Lopez of the National Review. Lopez spoke of her time at Catholic University and the fight against “pro-abortion” and GLBT groups on campus.
Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Robert George of Princeton spoke about morality in law, which seemed to deviate from the advertised topic of “The U.S. Constitution and its Roots in Natural Law.” The lecture focused on the importance of the pro-life movement and gay marriage. He argued in support of federal legislation, likening these issues to slavery and how “a house divided against itself will not stand.” He spoke of holding candidates accountable and claimed that they should not worry about what people think. He maintained they should choose what is morally right and not pander to the social conservative base like so many Republicans do during the primaries.
George began by talking about the Constitution, saying that conservative thought was derived from classical liberalism (he also joked about taking back the name.) It was a foolish idea to pair abortion and gay marriage to make a point. His point was lost when he talked about everyone being afforded the same protection under the law on abortion but not on the issue of gay marriage.
On Thursday, author and syndicated columnist (“Jihad Watch”) Robert Spencer addressed the audience in spite of CAIR’s (Council on American Islamic Relations) letter to YAF claiming that they would take legal action if he was allowed to speak. Two protesters were in attendance and there was increased security. YAF representative Jason Mattera responded to CAIR by saying that they should review the Bill of Rights, particularly that pesky first amendment.
Humberto Fontova, also a syndicated columnist and author from Cuba, lectured on the legacy of Che Guevara and the misconceptions that surround his idolization. Fontova weaved comedy with realism, keeping the audience entertained.
Current events, cultural icons, and social issues were not the only topics covered. A panel called “Great Books to Read in College” urged attendees to read classics of conservative thought such as Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s “The Anti-Chomsky Reader”, William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale”, and also many books that Regnery had published including the controversial “Poltically Incorrect Guides.” The panel also gave advice on how to enjoy reading and advised students to read liberal and conservative books to become more well rounded and test their beliefs.
The YAF conference is invaluable for young conservatives such as myself because it gives us an opportunity to define and shape our understanding of contemporary issues while learning that we are not the only college students who are fighting for academic freedom on college campuses. The conference not only works to educate students about liberal bias and conservative ideals, but also shows them the resources they can use to make their voices heard on campus. The conference left me with a sense of optimism. Whether social conservative, libertarian, or neo-conservative, the conference showed that despite our differences we are united in more ways than we think.