One of the many perks of being a political gadfly these days, is that I get to travel a lot. Whether I’m covering a story, speaking at an event, or helping to raise money for a worthy cause, it’s my chance to leave the bubbles of New York City and Washington DC. I call it “meeting America,” and it is by far, the best part of my job.
Most of my travel is at the behest of colleges. And one of the most frequent topic requests is “conservatism on college campuses,” or what I like to call the Chupacabra. It’s so rare that I’m not surprised the few college conservatives that exist are desperate to discuss it.
So I’ve had to confront the question of “why” countless times – why is college such a liberal place? And here’s where I always get stuck: If your youth is supposed to be about rebellion, and college is supposed to be about self-exploration, what is either rebellious or explorative about doing what your professors tell you, or mimicking your classmates?
What’s rebellious about sitting in a coffee shop, smoking clove cigarettes and discussing The Communist Manifesto? Or it's sequel, The Feminine Mystique?
What’s rebellious about marching through the quad with 300 other teenagers who have never paid taxes or seen a doctors bill, protesting war, inequality, global warming, meat, or corporate corruption just to get out of afternoon classes and "act like college students"?
What’s rebellious about railing against the evils of organized religion, making fun of Christians, and mocking morality as antiquated or philosophically problematic? This, from the same group of young ethicists who routinely insist that meat is murder, but abortion is just fine.
Those scenes are played out over and over again, at every college around the country, as ubiquitous and commonplace as college a cappella and stoners. This myth of the young liberal rebel is, in fact, a total sham. And it’s as if we all have amnesia.
The student protests of the 1960s, when it seemed everyone under the age of 25 was drafted into this weird and drug-addled cult of unwashed morons, were supposedly about challenging “the establishment.” What we seem to have forgotten is that the establishment in the 60s – the folks in power – were all Democrats.
In fact, you can't find actual rebellion on a college campus any more. You know what would actually be rebellious? A march for fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, or lowering the deficit.
Rebellious would be a conversation in a coffee shop about the value of limited government and the oppressiveness of socialism.
Rebellious would be defending conservative values, defining morality, and standing up for actual religious tolerance, the kind that accommodates Christians, too.
Rebellious would be telling Barbara Boxer and Gloria Steinem that their feminist principles are a step backward for women, not forward. Or telling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson that race baiting belongs to their generation, not ours.
Rebellious would be indulging in some intellectual curiosity about the way that the rest of the country lives, instead of summarily dismissing hard working families from the square states as hicks and hillbillies, who come with a dueling banjos soundtrack and aren't smart enough to make their own decisions.
Now that would be rebellion. That would be different. That would be original.
But instead of thinking for themselves, young liberals – indeed, that rebellious counter culture subset – are content to let everyone else tell them exactly how to live and what to think. They’ll let Jon Stewart tell them what’s cool, and Saturday Night Live tell them what’s funny, and a radical professor tell them what’s smart, and a women’s lib group tell them what’s moral.
So enough with the myth of the youth rebellion. I’ve heard this one before. If you really want to convince me that young people are capable of true originality, show me the students who are challenging their campuses on their stifling of thought, their knee-jerk assault on morality, and their stunning dearth of intellectual diversity. I know, it’s not as significant or historical as the great biodegradable toilet paper march of 1997, but it’s a start.
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