Conservatism’s future: Young Americans for Liberty

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare
Font Size:

An editorial in the August 1960 edition of National Review described the conservative youth activists who agitated to get Barry Goldwater on the ballot with presidential nominee Richard Nixon:

Youth was everywhere at the Republican convention. Youth managed the various candidates’ booths. Youth waved the posters. Youth held the convention parade, and it was youth, primarily, that staged the Presidential demonstration Wednesday night … Lots of the young people had no ideological interest, they had come … well, because their family was Republican … But those who were serious, the ones who will be working hardest to guide the Republican Party in the future, were conservatives: and most of them Goldwater fans. They passed out 15,000 Goldwater buttons, handed out literature, rallied inside and outside the amphitheater. They greeted Richard Nixon at the airport with Goldwater signs, and did the same thing for President Eisenhower the next day.

The editorial then noted: “They drove one Nixon aide into muttering in exasperation ‘Those damn Goldwater people are everywhere.’”

Youth might not show up in droves at the ballot box, but their activism and enthusiasm has long been a driving force behind the direction of both major parties. This has been particularly true of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

The youth activists who so passionately championed Goldwater in 1960 and 1964 were at the forefront of a conservative revolution that would eventually take over the GOP and deliver Ronald Reagan the White House. The old Republican guard, which preferred Nelson Rockefeller, would push back in ’60 and ’64, and the establishment fought hard against conservatives again in 1976 when Reagan challenged President Ford. But by 1980, the old Republican guard was simply no match for the long-building Reagan Revolution, something everyone concedes started with Goldwater.

And it all began with youth.

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the United States’s premiere conservative and libertarian youth activist organization, with 26,000 members in 286 campus chapters nationwide. Patterned after earlier, once-dominant groups like Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) — which organized and rallied much of the grassroots muscle behind Goldwater’s campaigns — YAL initially grew out of “Students for Ron Paul.” Since its founding three years ago, YAL has exploded to become the largest conservative youth activist organization in the country. In fact, its size is unrivaled.

YAL’s success has grown out of the continuing popularity of Republican maverick Ron Paul among young conservatives and libertarians. Much like the youth at the 1960 Republican National Convention, today’s youth are “everywhere,” manning booths, holding posters, waving signs, passing out buttons, holding rallies and distributing literature at most GOP or conservative events. Whether everyone in the Republican Party likes this development is a different story, just as it was for Goldwater and his young legions.

YAL has harnessed this enthusiasm, breathing new life into conservative activism. YAL initiatives like “Visualize the Debt,” the “Petition to End the Wars” and “Constitution Week” have helped highlight some of the most important issues of our time on campuses across the country. YAL’s “Year of Youth” program armed an army of youth activists this year with the proper campaign tools heading into the 2012 elections, and YAL’s recent “Campaign Bootcamp” has accomplished the same goal, training 1,000 grassroots activists in key states across the country. Working in conjunction with groups like Campaign for Liberty, American Majority, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Leadership Institute, YAL is giving young activists the tools they need. YAL is also encouraging its members to “Choose Charity,” in an effort to get more people involved in private, liberty-minded solutions to our problems, as opposed to government solutions.

And YAL is just getting started, something The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait alluded to in an August 2011 piece titled “I have seen the future and it is Ron Paul.” In it, Chait cites polling data showing that a strong majority of young Republicans identify more with Paul than with any other 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Paul’s popularity with America’s youth will have long-term implications for the conservative movement and the Republican Party. As National Review’s August 1960 editorial noted of the Goldwater youth, such fiery young conservatives and libertarians represent “those who [are] serious, the ones who will be working hardest to guide the Republican Party in the future.”

The old America — and the old Republican Party — of endless debt, government expansion and partisan distractions is being rejected by a rising generation that refuses the big government that is supposed to be its inheritance. Like Goldwater, like Reagan, like Paul, today’s young people envision a country much better than the one given to them. They’re right. Better yet, they’re resilient — and it is these Young Americans for Liberty who continue to lead the charge in a new revolution.

Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger. He is also Young Americans for Liberty’s director of outreach.