Winning the Youth Vote Through REAL Compassionate Conservatism

It has been observed that the up-and-coming generation of young people are more socially conscious than their spoiled Baby Boomer parents and their SUV-driving, yuppified older siblings.

This new generation is keyed into world affairs and world suffering and is doing something about it. They march against the War in Darfur; they do fund drives for AIDS Orphans; and they largely vote for candidates who pledge to recruit the government (i.e. the taxpayer) to solve these problems.

Increasingly, these young people are voting more and more Democratic. Of course, liberal Democrats have always enjoyed the majority of the youth vote - what little there was. But today’s socially conscious youth are making up an increasing percentage of the electorate and are going to play a larger role in certain elections.

Conservatives don’t do well with young people because they are seen as part of the older generation and not tuned into the needs of others. Conservatives are seen as misers who only care about their own affairs, their own businesses, their own retirement funds, etc.

To young people, conservatives don’t want to pay higher taxes because they don’t want to help the poor. This is the product of years of government school training and media propaganda bombardment.

I remember talking 14 years ago to a young conservative who complained every week about what he had watched on ABC’s Nightline. “Every show is the same,” he said. “They talk about some terrible problem going on in our country, then end the segment by asking what the government is going to do about it!”

The present generation of young people has been raised on a diet of statism from the time they were dropped off at daycare. The concept of private charity is not even on their radar screen. There is no debate on whether government should get involved. If there is a problem–no matter what it is–there must be a government solution…or at least a solution that somehow involves the government.

Rather than be depressed by this reality, conservatives need to show the “antithesis.” In other words, they need to show this younger generation that their worldview doesn’t mean the poor get left behind.

It is possible to cut taxes and make sure people don’t slip through the cracks. But conservatives have not done this over the last eight years. We’ve tried to win these voters by instituting the “compassionate conservatism” peddled by President Bush in his first campaign. This was nothing more than an extension of the “kindler, gentler” nation Daddy Bush talked about when he introduced America to his version of a “New World Order.”

But the problem with the Bush version of “compassionate conservatism” is that it’s not conservative, and therefore, not truly compassionate. Bush-style compassionate conservatism is nothing more than wealth redistribution to charities that have proven to do good. It’s sort of like socialism with brains. But it’s still socialism and therefore ultimately harmful to people because it sacrifices individual responsibility on the altar of government dependency.

Besides, when conservatives get into a spending war with liberals, they always lose. If conservatives want to support socialism, they should become socialists–not try to redefine conservatism to win elections.

Private charity does work, and conservatives should be the leaders in private charity. They need to talk about it all the time. They need to incorporate it within their platforms. Rights cannot be separated from responsibility. We need to replace the liberal concept of “Social Justice” with the conservative view of “Social Responsibility.”

If you have been blessed with great wealth, you need to use a good part of it to help those who legitimately need help. Just because you come from a low-tax jurisdiction doesn’t mean that there are no legitimate needs in your community. If millions of conservatives simply began to exercise more social responsibility, then today’s socially conscious young people would see that being conservative on moral issues and fiscal policy doesn’t mean you forget your fellow man. And it also doesn’t mean you run to the Nanny State to solve your problems.

American conservatives are some of the most generous people in the world. Every statistic ever conducted on this subject has confirmed this fact. If idealistic young people have to choose between supporting a candidate who gives a large percentage of his income and time to charity vs. a candidate who votes to give other people’s time and money to charity, I think conservatives win hands-down.

Conservatives usually advertise to other conservatives. They use traditional lingo like “Low taxes, individual freedom, limited government.” To many young people today, that means “My life, my money, my business.” It sounds selfish and miserly.

But limited government means someone has to step up and provide the “safety net.” And if suburban mega-churches are too busy building a “recreational ministry” to copy Gold’s Gym, instead of supporting an inner-city church that is on the front lines of some of our biggest social problems, then conservatives will continue losing elections and government will get bigger.

There are churches in Jefferson County, Alabama, with a combined net worth equal to the GDP of some small countries. Yet, they’ll spend more every year on pine straw for their landscaping than on the local crisis pregnancy center. Until this reality radically changes, conservatives will lose the next generation of voters–and more elections.

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