I recently found myself in a discussion about America’s youth with a small group of conservative activists. They were in unanimous agreement that conservatism and libertarianism will never be “cool,” that young people just don’t relate to the conservative or libertarian message, that no amount of outreach could be successful, and that we have to just face it–liberalism appeals to young people and eventually they’ll grow out of it and see the light.
I couldn’t disagree more on every level. The good news? They’re wrong.
As a former teacher, student adviser, dean, and private tutor, I have had the pleasure of working with students of virtually all ages. I have taught Improv and Spanish language and literature, been a monologue coach, and tutored everything from writing instruction to Spanish to Algebra. I know kids. I know teenagers and young adults. And I understand how young minds work.
The vast majority of young people I have had the pleasure of working with value similar things.
They love their independence. They dream of the day when they will be completely free to make their own decisions.
They’re not too fond of being told what to wear, how to style their hair, or even what kind of folders and pens to buy. Creative expression and the freedom of choice inherent in it are very important to them.
They will work hard at something they love doing. Whether it’s mastering the violin, winning a sports trophy, creating their very own computer game, or writing their first of many poems, they are driven by the desire to be successful at what they love.
They dream big. They’re not afraid to tell their first-grade teachers that they want to be astronauts, write middle school essays about how they’ll run for president, share their high school hopes to be the next Audrey Hepburn, or let their college professors know that they intend to find a cure for cancer. If you call them unrealistic, they won’t be afraid to call you a coward.
They also love to be entertained. Sure, they can absorb information and even get good grades when they’re bored. But when they are entertained, when good teachers make learning fun and exciting, when visual aids are thrown in, when film and TV elements come into play, when they act out scenes in order to learn a language rather than read the words off a page–it is then that they come alive. That’s when they really get what you’re saying and hold onto it.
So, why is this all important?
Revisit the traits I have outlined above–loving one’s independence and the idea of making one’s own decisions, dreaming big, freedom of choice–that’s all the opposite of liberalism.
Young people aren’t naturally drawn to liberalism. They have simply been told that the word “liberal” is a good thing, a “cool” thing, a “young” thing, a “hip” thing, and a “trendy” thing. They have been told that conservatism is an “old” thing, a “boring” thing, an “out of touch” thing, and a thing “of the past.” And kids are all about looking to the future.
Where have they been told these things? Well, we know the role that left-wing academia plays in all this. But there’s actually a much bigger force in play, a force that has entertained young people and hence held their interest–pop culture, music, awards shows, and reality television. There’s a reason that the Obama team ran a Sarah Jessica Parker pro-Obama ad during the MTV Movie Awards. They’re not stupid. They want kids remembering who the “cool” President is.
For a very long time, conservatives and libertarians have allowed the Left to own the narrative. The Left has told America’s youth who we are and what we stand for, and they have utilized mediums kids love and relate to in order to seal that falsehood. That’s why the message sticks.
And what have we done? Almost nothing. We have sat on the sidelines and said, “Well, this is what young people do. They’ll grow out of it.”
Unacceptable. Because guess what? Lots of young people don’t grow out of it. They turn into adults who have misconceptions about who we are and what we value. They grow up thinking that the Left is their ally, when in fact it’s the Left who is trying to tell them what to eat, what to buy, how to manage their health, and how much money is too much to earn–all the things they were once instinctively inclined to hate.
The groupthink and collectivism of the Left is the natural enemy of our youth’s visceral passion for independence, creativity, and success.
So, I reject that conservatism and libertarianism will never be “cool.” I reject that young people just don’t relate to those messages. I reject that no amount of outreach could be successful. And I reject that we have to face that liberalism appeals to young people and eventually they’ll grow out of it and see the light.
Those are cop outs. And they’re simply not true.
Overtaking the narrative requires effort. It requires thinking outside the box. And it requires a willingness to understand how young minds work and a desire to enter their world with yourmessage. I promise you that their instincts are already on our side.
Now let’s get to it.
This column also appeared on AMAC