No matter what your opinion of Ron Paul happens to be, it is impossible not to notice the energy his ideas have generated among young people over the last several years. Largely unknown outside of his Texas congressional district prior to his 2008 presidential run, the ideas he has espoused for decades have recently grown by leaps and abounds among the under-40 crowd. One would think this might be of particular importance to the mainstream conservative movement, as many of their most energetic and intellectually curious younger members have been joining the liberty movement en masse since 2008.
The current Republican leadership can either embrace this change and correctly view it as the wave of the future, or it may simply dismiss it and attempt to put off the inevitable.
It would be wise counsel for them to come to terms with the truism that that correct ideas will always outlive the man. The ideas that are taking on a life of their own seem to have caught the establishment portion of the Republican Party off guard. The hegemony many of those in elected leadership and media formerly possessed allowed them to monopolize the definition of what is and is not inherently “conservative.”
In the recent past, it often seemed like large swaths of the so-called conservative media existed solely to squelch pockets of independent thought that cropped up among its members. Anyone questioning one Republican policy or another was written off as some sort of “liberal” or “kook.” For the better part of the last decade, many conservatives were repeatedly told that the most indefensible actions by those in charge were somehow “conservative” so long as it was done by a Republican. But, by gosh, if the other party did the precise same thing, well, they must hate this nation. Massive invasions of civil liberties, foreign nations, and individual sovereignty—wow, where do I sign up? Obviously this was not the response these sort of actions engendered among the majority of younger Americans.
Long unquestioned by listeners and audiences, this shtick had begun to grow old. Thankfully, its formerly slow erosion has been sped up by the Internet and Tea Party movement. The terms of the debate have begun to be redefined as millions of conservatives, whether supporters of Ron Paul or the liberty movement in general, are no longer content to be dismissed when they have the slightest objection to Republican policy.
Many in the younger generation had rapidly grown weary of defending the actions of the previous administration on their college campuses to countless dissenters. Though the worldview of these dissenters might have been liberal in nature, they at least caused some critical thinking to be done regarding what largely turned out to be more than thorough contradictions and brazen hypocrisy. Sensing something was off about denouncing socialism while cheering on candidates who showed no real aversion to federal interference when it suited their agenda, many of these younger people were drawn to the message of a candidate like Ron Paul.
The notion that fidelity to the Constitution was something that withstood party or public opinion resonated, acting as a breath of fresh air after years of doublespeak and government expansion. The demand for this has only increased now that the same problems with government have continued unabated through the first two years of the Obama administration.
Considering the fact that, according to CNN’s exit polling, Republican presidential nominee John McCain received less than one-third of the 18-29 year old vote (which comprised 18% of overall voters), finding a way to tailor their message in a manner more appealing to the younger generation would seem like a logical venture. However, for a party and broader movement that is still more likely than not to cheer Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney at public events, one must conclude logic and not offending the average voter’s intelligence are apparently not on the front burner. Seemingly, party loyalty at all costs is still the flavor of day in many parts of the conservative movement; this explains the large resistance to Ron Paul and the liberty movement.
And this movement does have a high mountain to scale. According to recent polling data from Public Policy Polling, only 13% of Republicans hold an unfavorable opinion of George W. Bush, underscoring the degree to which party loyalty is still trumping independent thought despite the heroic efforts of many factions in the Tea Party movement. But the numbers in this same poll bear out what other surveys have indicated, showing that Ron Paul’s popularity among 18 to 29 year olds is nearly twice what is found among other age groups.
For now, owing largely to the lower turnout numbers among this age bracket in primary and general elections, the Republican Party can still get by with ignoring such developments. Many will still be happy to, with head firmly planted in sand, pull the lever for the next generic Republican without the slightest bit of hesitation. But not for much longer; their efforts to continue marginalizing the liberty movement are becoming progressively less successful.
The liberty movement will expand in proportion to the speed at which Republicans begin to realize the minimal difference between the Bush and Obama administrations. Sooner or later this will reach critical mass, eating away at enough of their base as these voters constitute more and more of the electorate. Instead of the current policy of ridicule, Republicans might want to act faster at changing their tune; at some point down the road enough of these enterprising young voters might become so disillusioned so as to make it too late for such an about face to occur.
Whether the candidate of choice for liberty-leaning conservatives happens to be Ron Paul or not is not the point of these observations. The intention is to alert Republicans that that the erosion among young voters will keep up the longer they hold on to Bush-style big government conservatism and reject pleadings to return to the traditional limited government movement.