The death of former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, brought up memories. On Sunday, Mrs. Reagan passed away Sunday, at age 94, seemingly putting a final stamp on the end of an era. Sadly however, the Ronald Reagan Era ended long ago. What’s next for the conservative movement? To find the answer, one must look to the past.
Today’s generation of students, (K-12, and even Millennials) only know the Reagan Presidency via the history books or by oral history passed down by their parents or often, the liberal media. But those of us from the generations who came of age in the 1960s and the 1980s must teach them what it was like to be a true conservative, rather than solely an economic conservative, or a so-called “libertarian/conservative”. They are our children and grandchildren.
Two generations of young people were lucky enough to cut their political teeth during these eras. The Baby Boomers, who reached high school, college age, and young adult hood during the early 1960s, and their children, the Generation Xers, who did the same during the 1980s.
We Gen Xers were fortunate enough to have the experience of the conservative Boomers as our teachers and our guides. Now we must guide the next generation, who are ready to hear something good, instead of the negative.
Brief Overview of the Modern Conservative Movement
The modern conservative movement in the Republican party started in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1960, 90 young conservatives came together to draft the Sharon Statement, which set down a series of principles for the conservative movement. The also founded Young Americans for Freedom, to serve as an organization for conservative activists. Phyllis Schafly, William F. Buckley, George Dunlop (later aide to Sen. Jesse Helms), conservative fundraiser Marvin Liebman, Brent Bozell, M. Stanton Evans, and so many others were key players of the era.
The young conservatives considered forming a third party and drafting a Presidential candidate, but instead chose to fight the “establishment” in the Republican Party at the time, and drafted Barry Goldwater as their man. Though Senator Goldwater did not win, the movement continued as the YAF’s membership grew into adulthood and continued with their careers. It was a heady time to be a conservative.
Ronald Reagan was working for General Electric during this era, and working what he termed “The Mashed Potato Circuit”, as he traveled the nation, giving a series of speeches. He often spoke to businessmen’s luncheons (only men in those days) and Republican Party dinners. His name ID grew and gave a nationally televised speech on Goldwater’s behalf, A Time for Choosing.
Reagan become a two-term Governor of California, first elected in 1966. By 1976, he was ready to run for the highest office in the land, but the nation was not quite ready for him. In 1980, his time came and he was elected in a landslide over sitting President Jimmy Carter. The Reagan Era had begun and young conservatives like me were ready for him.
Because President Reagan brought hope and optimism to the American people, young people couldn’t help but be carried along. Membership in conservative groups soared. The College Republicans became a force to be reckoned with, even being lead nationally by a young North Carolinian, David Miner. Generation Xers came of age in a time of great hope that America’s best days were ahead. We worked hard, fought off the moderates, and elected conservatives. Then, eight years later, Mr. Reagan’s second term ended and he left office.
Today, it seems that Millennials and students don’t have a lot of hope for. We’ve had the non-smiling President Barak Obama as President for over 7 years. The nation seems to be in a fog. Our military has shrunk. Welfare roles have increased. The role of the family has been de-emphasized and we tell our enemies our plans via the media. Government is larger than ever in it’s history. The FCC, like other Executive Branch Departments, has overreached its authority with Net Neutrality. Debt continues to add at an alarming rate. We are no longer a force for good in the world, or at home.
It’s a sad time…or is it?
At the Conservative Leadership Conference, (sponsored by the Civitas Institute), I was fortunate enough to hear a Baby Boomer-age leader speak. George Dunlop discussed the 1976 Reagan-Ford primary, and North Carolina’s importance in it. He also talked about the conservative movement, it’s future, and why there IS hope.
The self-described right-hand-man of the late Senator Jesse Helms brought up a topic from the bible that made me reconsider that America’s Best Days are behind us. Normally, conservatives are optimists and tend to be generally happy people, but our current president has managed to squish the last bastions of it from me, and others like me.
While in the U.S. Senate, Jesse Helms never gave up, even when he was alone in his beliefs. Today, we must use the example of Sen. Helms and President Reagan to motivate us to rally, work hard, and share conservative visions with high school and college students. We must encourage them to work hard, and share this vision with their peers. We also must work to bring home now-forgotten evangelical vote, just as Helms did.
Mr. Dunlop then stated something profound:
The Lord never fails to preserve a remnant of the people. He will always preserve a remnant so that conservatives can rise up and become conservative again, just like the Israelites did. We don’t need everyone. Just a remnant.
Get these people to work hard. Recruit people as delegates to the conventions that are true conservatives, not these libertarian/conservatives or moderate conservatives. We must go to our county conventions, district conventions, and our state convention with people who are like ourselves. “Spend the time and effort to get credentialed” and others like us credentialed.
That’s how we win. That’s why we have hope. The Lord preserved a remnant. While many were running away to become libertarian/”conservative”, the remnants didn’t. It’s time. It’s time for us to rise up and re-energize the conservative movement.
Note: My own parents are boomers who cast their very first vote for President for Barry Goldwater in 1964. (The voting age was 21 back then.) I was fortunate enough to go through high school and college during the 1980s.)