I was privileged to recently deliver a keynote address at the Young Republican National Federation’s biennial Leadership Conference. After having my flight from Detroit cancelled and changed at the last minute, I arrived slightly harried (no bald jokes) shortly before my remarks were scheduled to begin.
Despite the advance notice that I was speaking, the room was packed. Entering, I felt a pang of nostalgia. No, the “mystic chords of memory” weren’t tugged by the fact I was now by rule a Young Republican alumnus—i.e., an “old dude.” I was struck by this generation of Young Republicans’ quiet desperation to be summoned to greatness.
If you’re thinking, “Okay, here it comes,” you’re right: When I was their age, President Ronald Reagan was a principled, creative leader who challenged and trusted Americans to end a deep recession; defeat an evil empire; expand liberty and self-government; and, thereby, reaffirm American Exceptionalism. As history records, Americans answered his call and transcended their trials in the twilight of the 20th Century.
During those halcyon days of the 80’s, we YRs were counter-cultural conservative punks. With P.J. O’Rourke’s Republican Party Reptile tucked under our arms, we swaggered across college campuses and tormented our intolerant lefty professors. We hunted and devoured conservative publications—American Spectator, National Review, and HUMAN EVENTS—that booksellers displayed slightly less prominently than porn (or so I was told.) We hit the burgeoning job market to earn our keep, pursue our happiness, and prove that liberals’ statist economic solutions were a recipe for misery. And we seized the chance to advance President Reagan’s freedom agenda at home and abroad.
As is its wont, the Left scurrilously reviled us as apathetic slackers or crass materialists. One sit-com even ridiculed us with a stereotypical “Yuppie” named Alex P. Keaton (who became the show’s most popular character.) All the while, we stood our ground and strode ahead, because we were serving America, the most potent mortal force for good in this world.
Ambling up to the podium and gazing out at today’s YRs, I realized they weren’t different from my generation. What was different was “the movement.” Sometime after President Reagan exited stage right, the free-spirited, rebellious, rock-n-roll Republican movement turned into a racket—bureaucratized, centralized, hubristic, and venal and, above all, boring. Self-anointed egoists stepped into Reagan’s shoes and right into the mire of big government, big bucks and bad times.
This generation of YRs—this entire generation of Americans—needs better. We need a Republican Party that is aspirational not transactional. We need a Republican Party that realizes the economic turmoil around us is structural not cyclical. We need a Republican Party that boldly defends America, her allies, and the oppressed people she’s promised freedom. In sum, we need a Republican Party that trusts, serves and leads the American people as we transcend the great challenges of our Global Age.
And we will get it.
Grabbing the mantle from Reagan-era rock-star conservatives as varied as R. Emmett Tyrell, Jr., Dr. Lee Edwards and John Batchelor, a feisty band of 80’s hipsters still hammer away at Leviathan: Andrew Breitbart and Mike Flynn are building the movement’s cyber-infrastructure; Greg Gutfeld, Andy Levy and their “repulsive sidekick” Bill Schulz are expanding the frontiers and audiences of red-eye TV programming; Steve Bannon, David Bossie and Chris Burgard are breaking new ground in conservative filmmaking; and Dennis Miller, Monica Crowley, and Thayrone X (to name but a few) are daily waging the war of ideas on the airwaves. In turn, they are mentoring the current crop of up-and-coming, edgy conservatives, like S.E. Cupp, Jason Mattera, Dana Loesch, Erick Erickson, Robert Bluey, Ray Griggs, James Allen, and a host of other new, needed voices.
Heartened that this motley crew of conservatives is rallying the ranks of hip liberty lovers, as I departed the YRs my nostalgia turned to optimism. When the Republican Party proves worthy of the people and the YRs and all Americans are summoned to greatness, they will answer the call and advance cause of liberty and self-government; and America will transcend her great challenges at the dawning of the 21st Century. American Exceptionalism will be reaffirmed; and intolerant lefty professors will be tormented.