I’ll never forget Michele Bachmann’s speech at CPAC 2013, which unveiled her idea for a new type of conservatism, one that would boost the platform of “care and compassion.” Between criticizing the President for his lavish vacations, exposing the atrocity of employing a White House dog walker on the taxpayers’ dime, and preaching the message of conservative-love-for-all, I found myself clapping. I stood and enthusiastically cheered along with 200 other CPAC-ers. It wasn’t until Bachmann exited the stage and the clouds of group-think parted, that I realized she had said absolutely nothing of life-giving potential for the conservative movement. More recently, Republicans across the spectrum have taken a liking to compassionate conservatism, with high hopes of revitalizing the party’s image with a makeover. The GOP is worried about its appearance, and has good reason to be. Polls show the party performing poorly among women and young voters. Republicans have traditionally struggled with securing those demographics, but now the GOP faces a new obstacle–a stronger libertarian movement. Sweeping across college campuses and gaining momentum, libertarianism is cementing itself as a more attractive option for thousands of young conservatives. Caught between an admiration of tradition and a necessity for change, GOP leaders have misdiagnosed what’s killing conservatism in America. They continue to promote ideas of American exceptionalism and argue for hawkish military expansions, promising a revival of Reagan conservatism.
But that’s the GOP’s problem. Young conservatives don’t want another Reagan regime.
Since the 1980’s, conservatism has seemed conflicted in carrying out one of its most basic tenets: change can be a good thing, but should be approached prudently, not zealously. Conservatives have sought to preserve tradition at home, but have intervened in foreign affairs like fanatics hell-bent on spreading democracy. Last week, a group of GOP senators took the Senate floor and spoke for an hour about President Obama’s failures abroad. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham pointed to the current unrest in Iraq as evidence that the US should be doing more to secure peace in the Middle East, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell accused the President of weakening America’s national security by withdrawing troops from the country. In May, after his opening remarks at a dinner for Republican donors, Senator Rand Paul faced an onslaught of tough questions about his positions on foreign policy. Paul’s non-interventionist views make him an outlier on foreign policy, and although he connects well with younger voters, he risks losing the support of some powerful Republicans. Center-right Republicans seem receptive to Paul’s stance on foreign policy, but a large chunk of the GOP resists moving in a non-interventionist direction. Many Republicans are standing firm against pressure from the libertarian movement, hoping for a war hawk front-runner in 2016. GOP leaders are out of touch with twenty-somethings, preaching compassion but holding onto an offensive, uncompassionate take on foreign policy–an issue close to the heart of Generation Y.
Today’s young conservatives have a healthy distrust of government, and unlike earlier generations of conservatives, it doesn’t go away when the Republican guy is in power. Perhaps this is because we came of age watching the Bush administration fumble situation after situation, and expand the size of government to ensure more comprehensive screw-ups. Promises of lower taxes and a strong defense don’t satisfy us, because we know all too well that GOP governments can be very big governments. We grew up in the midst of a war based on lies, and have realized the devastating futility of our involvement. The Iraq war is a tragic mistake that continues to play out, and is a major reason for Generation Y’s fervent distrust of government intervention. We don’t want to expand the military budget, we don’t want to spread democracy or police the world, or claim anything that resembles the Bush Doctrine. Generation Y Conservatives don’t look favorably upon much of what the GOP aims to do abroad.
Republicans have a deep-rooted addiction to interventionism, leaving many young conservatives hungry for new options. The hype surrounding the “Ron Paul Revolution” was not taken seriously by the GOP, but Ron Paul’s refreshing stance on foreign policy lit a fire that’s not likely to simmer down anytime soon. With the recent announcement of turmoil in Iraq, young voters are reminded of the follies of imperialism. For decades, the United States has “spread democracy” by assisting in coups of other nations’ leaders, and then placing U.S.-approved dictators in power. In fact, the United States gave so much money and military support to Saddam Hussein, his leadership was practically handed to him on a red, white, and blue platter. By sticking its nose into other nations’ business, the United States forges powerful alliances in every corner of the world, gains access to more resources, and feels good by making the less enlightened world a little more American.
Center-right Republicans seem open to taking a new stance on foreign policy, but a large chunk of the GOP resists moving in a non-interventionist direction. Many Republicans are standing firm against pressure from the libertarian movement, hoping for a war hawk front-runner in 2016.The GOP declares that “a strong national defense is the pathway to peace.” America is exceptional, and has a responsibility to change the rest of the world whether they like it or not. Reform at home should be considered with caution, but reform abroad–go for it. What the GOP doesn’t realize is that to Generation Y, America’s interventionist policies just look like excuses for more power at the hands of careless politicians. Because at the end of the day, the Iraq war has cost about $1 trillion, the United States spends about $600 billion a year on the military, Guantanamo Bay is still going strong, and drone strikes have killed an estimated 273 innocent civilians. If the GOP wants to reclaim the hearts of libertarian converts and prove its compassion, what it needs is a foreign policy makeover.