A few weeks ago I wrote a column arguing that marriage equality was a fundamentally conservative value. I argued that the issue of gay marriage was an issue that the Republican party should embrace. In this same vein I want to put forth a new question — could the Republican party ever attract a significant chunk of the youth vote? The answer is a resounding yes. It will not be easy, it will require a tremendous amount of work by young members and changes in ideology but it is certainly feasible. Furthermore, the fundamental ideas of conservatism are not incompatible with the liberalism that seems to come with youth.
A very popular response to my question seems to be to respond with the often-misattributed quote: “If you are young, and not liberal, then you don’t have a heart. If you are old, and not conservative, then you don’t have a brain.” However, this does not have to be the case.
Right now, due to reasons that Republicans only have themselves to blame, the grand old party is linked with being on the wrong side of many social issues. For the past few years the radical right has defined the GOP. The party has catered to the elderly (if for no other reason than this group is the most likely to vote) and members of the party with less than noble political motives. In the eyes of many, the Republican party is closed-minded and only invested in the needs of the rich. Sadly, this is the path my party has chosen and it is heartbreaking. The Republican party should tout conservative ideas that could genuinely improve the country and benefit everybody.
I think the most obvious first step for the party is to distance itself from social issues. It is not conservative for Christianity to dictate lawmaking, however, the government staying out of many social issues is. The party needs to revert to what it really means to be socially conservative: supporting small but productive changes that slowly better the country while avoiding too much federal government intervention. We should emphasize that social issues are not the business of the federal government but the business of the people in each individual state. This is social conservatism.
The Republican party can attract the youth if we distance ourselves from the image of the part that wants to help the rich and screw the poor. This is not conservatism; it is just the image being perpetuated by certain members of a party. Conservatism is thinking that agencies run by the government are inherently less effective than privately-run agencies. It is thinking that people should be encouraged to take risks with their money and that the government’s true role is supporting the idea that anyone can succeed. Why should the idea that the government should do less and cost less alienate everyone under 30? Maybe it’s that we don’t pay as much in taxes and so this idea is much more theoretical than practical. However, this is the age argument that I want to avoid.
The Republican party could become the party of individual hope. It could be the party that defines the American dream; the dream that if I work hard I will be rewarded. A party that fights to keep the government out of your daily life could attract people of all ages. However, it’s become clear that the party is too hung up on alienating arguments. This is no ones fault except the current prominent members of the GOP who have allowed the party to become a symbol of outdated ideas. This does not have to be the case and can be changed.