In the 20-plus years that I have worked as a conservative activist, I’ve spoken on almost 200 university campuses.
Usually these are talks to campus Republican and conservative groups.
Over time I have observed changes in attitude among many young Republicans, and I believe the shifts in attitude I see help explain the rise of Ron Paul.
When I first started lecturing early in the 1990s, leading heroes of Republican youth were Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr.
Individual freedom, respect for constitutional limitations on government and traditional values was the message. There was a sense of purpose. America as a “shining city on a hill,” quoted so often by Reagan, taken from the Puritan John Winthrop, captured the picture.
Now, increasing numbers of my campus hosts ask that I not talk about “values.” Leave out the stuff about marriage, family and abortion, please, and just talk about the economy.
The materialism and moral relativism that created our left-wing culture is now infecting our youth on the right. Young Republicans may be pushing back on government, but too often now their motivation is like their left-wing contemporaries – a sense of entitlement and an interest in claiming rights with little interest in corresponding personal responsibilities.
Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen recently described Ron Paul’s success as a “resurgence of the libertarian and isolationist wings of the Republican Party,” resulting from “hard times and unpopular wars.”
But overlooked is the important role of youth.
Of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents that support Paul, 67 percent are under 34, compared to 37 percent of Romney’s and 20 percent of Gingrich’s support.
This youthful surge has helped Paul’s very successful fundraising, heavily driven by small contributions on the Internet. Compared to Republicans who have raised the most funds, 48 percent of Paul’s cash is from small donors, compared to 10 percent of Romney’s and 4 percent of Rick Perry’s.
And youth have been critical in Paul’s on-the-ground organization. I watched this play out when Paul won the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit in Washington where I spoke last October.
Busloads of youthful Paul supporters arrived only to hear his speech and to pay and register so that they could vote. They put him over the top.
They have little interest in a Reagan-like “shining city on a hill” message, or talk about a threatening “evil empire” abroad.
To the contrary, they are excited by the “leave me alone” candidate who thinks the rest of the world is not our business. Apparently they share Paul’s indifference to the looming threat of a nuclear Iran or the almost complete absence of the freedom they think is so important in most Islamic nations.
Chicago Sun Times columnist Steve Huntley reports one estimate of over 200,000 persecuted Coptic Christians leaving Egypt by year end. He reports a dramatic drop in the presence of Christians throughout the Middle East (the Christian population of Bethlehem is now a third of what it was 35 years ago).
The only exception is Israel, where the Christian population has more than quadrupled since 1948. But Ron Paul sees no distinction between Israel and its neighbors, nor does he think Americans should care.
Self-centered materialism that leads our youth to support such indifference to global realities is also driving collapse of the American family.
Census Bureau statistics show that today 20 percent of America’s population between ages 18 and 29 is married. This compared to 59 percent 50 years ago.
In his farewell speech, Reagan issued a warning to the nation:
“… are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?”
I doubt that Ron Paul’s vision of America is what Reagan had in mind.