One of the young lions I met at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last week was stunned by what he heard there.
So stunned, in fact, that it may have changed his life.
“I came in a liberal, really,” he told me. “I think I’m a Republican now.”
He was at a loss to explain his epiphany, except to say that the speakers at the largest conservative gathering of the year made so much sense.
I offered him another possible explanation: that for the first time in his life, he’d been exposed to passionate exhortations of traditional American values – individual liberty, property rights, personal responsibility, limited government, faith in a higher power and more – without the distorting filter of an unabashedly liberal media. Or perhaps a teacher with his or her own political bent.
This was conservatism, pure and unfiltered. And it spoke to him.
I have a theory: Many of us never left high school. And even as otherwise thinking, rational adults, we’re still letting the “cool kids” tell us how it is and whom to pick on. The cool kids in the media – both news and entertainment – are liberal and desperately want to be accepted by the other cool kids. So they beat up on conservatives (especially women), and give fellow liberals sanction and succor and a lifetime hall pass.
Just one example: The media can’t let go of “Bridgegate,” in which aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a Republican) purposely impeded rush-hour traffic to punish a political foil. A contemptible act, for which they’re being punished. Yet, many in the media can’t let go of it – meanwhile not only excusing Democrat Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi scandal, in which four Americans under Clinton’s care were killed savagely, and which the administration repeatedly lied about and covered up, but also simultaneously beating the drums to make her our next president.
That’s just one example of the nakedly partisan treatment in the media. They’re hardly going to give conservative values a fair and respectful shake.
And that’s why such values, which used to be celebrated, are now mocked and vilified and diluted in the media (see: Tea Party). And it’s why conservatism unplugged and unfettered speaks loudly to open minds.
Indeed, one of the speakers at CPAC was Erika Harold – a young attorney who fights for religious freedom, a congressional candidate from Illinois and, incidentally, Miss America 2003. She described how she came to conservatism from a largely apolitical upbringing.
“I was studying political science and American history” in college, she said. “And I had the opportunity to study our nation’s foundational documents for myself. I began to compare our country and our freedoms with countries where the government has more centralized power. And it quickly became apparent to me that those countries where government has centralized power – they are less prosperous, and the people’s civil liberties are not protected.
“I began to marvel at the genius of our Constitution.
“I wasn’t seeking to find a political philosophy. But all of a sudden, I realized I had one. I was a conservative – a constitutional conservative.”
My young friend has come to a similar conclusion – by going to a conference, rather than college. I believe that’s because of the power of those ideas and ideals embodied in the conservative movement.
I’ve often described my own evolution in thinking to audiences who ask me. I, too, started out fairly moderate to liberal. Two things changed that: having children, and writing editorials. The former made me more protective and forward-looking; the latter required me to think things through more. I found myself persuaded more and more by conservative arguments, which, it seemed to me, relied on logic, while finding the arguments of my liberal colleagues and friends, while emotional, less and less supportable.
Contrary to the dismissive messages coming out of the national media, which flow through a largely liberal sieve, I find the conservative, constitutional position vastly more compelling. And while conservatism’s messengers have not always been the best, and have rightly been criticized for being too white and too male, the up-and-comers in the conservative movement represent the rich tapestry that we know America to be.
Harold herself is of mixed race. Then there’s retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, former congressman Col. Allen West, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Bobby Jindal – and Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire legislator running for Congress.
When you add in the fact that half the 10,000-plus at CPAC were under 30, the conservative bench is clearly strong and growing.
And when unfiltered, they’re even better.
Michael Ryan is editorial page editor at The Augusta (GA.) Chronicle, and executive director of the new Morris Civics Initiative, which aims to help create a renaissance of American responsibility and civics.