Review: YAF 2009 Student Conference

Me at the YAF Student Conference in the nation's capital

I’m back from the YAF Student Conference, and it was tremendous experience.  The impressive lineup of speakers covered nearly all the bases—social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism; what to look for in higher education, how to get involved in the conservative movement, fighting back against campus discrimination & indoctrination, and more.  I urge you all to watch most of the videos of the speeches here, but here are some highlights I think are especially noteworthy:

– British statesman Daniel Hannan gave a stirring speech detailing the devastating effects of socialism in his country, and imploring us not to follow down the same road.  Hannan spoke with a sense of clarity, purpose, and urgency that puts every single one of today’s Republican officeholders to shame.  It was clear that the only things motivating him were a deep love for liberty and an understanding of what is at stake—not political self-preservation or some arbitrary rubric of acceptable political decorum.  Further, I can’t describe how compelling it was to juxtapose the heartfelt ode to America’s Founding Fathers given by this Englishman with the tumultuous early relationship between our two nations—Great Britain clamping down on the liberties of thirteen colonies, who committed outright treason leading to bloody conflict in response.  Mr. Hannan is one of today’s finest testaments to the bond of friendship that our two countries have shared since then, and I pray that that bond may once again be restored in full.

Dr. Burt Folsom, Professor of History at Hillsdale College
Dr. Burt Folsom, Professor of History at Hillsdale College

– Irish filmmaking couple Phelim McAleer & Ann McElhinney screened two documentaries: Mine Your Own Business, a look at the environmentalists’ anti-mining crusade; and Not Evil, Just Wrong, a rebuttal to liberal lies about global warming and DDT.  Both films are devastating indictments of the Left, not only offering effective & accessible explanations of the falsehoods in environmental hysteria, but also revealing the very real suffering caused by Al Gore’s & Co.’s chosen policies.  I defy you to watch these films and walk away believing that the Right’s biggest problem is that we’re too “negative.”

– One of the most powerful events of the week was Friday’s “Socialism Rebuffed: Young People’s Experiences with Tyranny” panel, in which representatives from Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union shared their experiences living under socialist rule.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and these four offered a chilling vision of what happens when not even the good intentions are left.  While listening, I could not help but wonder how many times mankind will have to run the same failed experiments before the lesson sinks in and we finally relegate socialism to the ash heap of history, and leave it there.

Me meeting Ann Coulter
Me meeting Ann Coulter

– A panel on the current state of the young conservative movement showed more cause for concern within the movement than was probably intended, thanks to a few words from Zach Howell, chairman of the College Republican National Committee. He stressed the importance of presenting ourselves as “calm and rational,” rather than “shrill and loud and, frankly, not too educated.”  In theory, this is defensible advice (and he was right about the example he gave—a few college conservatives celebrating Earth Day by idling their cars & wasting electricity for hours)—of course our message needs to be intelligent and clear, though it’s worth noting that it ain’t Buckley-style editorializing that has turned the tables on public support for ObamaCare, showing that while reason and prudence are important, passion is also important, as is recognizing that sometimes anger is not only warranted, but necessary, as in the cases of policies that hurt people or dishonesty from politicians.  It also begs the question: who on our side is shrill and irrational?  When asked to defend his assertion that “there’s a lot of shrillness and anger that comes from the right wing,” Howell took the coward’s way out, saying he wouldn’t “get into naming names,” yet there are “a lot of voices on our side” who are shrill and detrimental.  Why not name names?  Howell’s claim is only meaningful and useful if it can be substantiated with examples so that we can evaluate its substance.  Otherwise, it’s empty smear-mongering more suggestive of wanting to win the good graces of non-conservatives than clearly & honestly identifying problems on the Right.  One would hope for better from the leadership of the College Republican National Committee, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see this instead.

The main message I took away from the conference: Reports of conservatism’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  I saw last week a smart, vibrant assemblage of young conservatives.  Across America, scores of patriots are working to educate their communities, beat back the forces of liberalism and restore America’s founding principles.  But we need more.  No matter how much you see somebody else doing, no matter what the polls may say or how they change, no American should be content to sit on the sidelines.  The old adage that one vote can’t make a difference shouldn’t be an excuse for apathy but a clarion call to ensure that your contribution to your country doesn’t begin or end in the voting booth.  To quote Abraham Lincoln, “How hard, oh how hard it is to die and leave one’s Country no better than if one had never lived for it.”

The future
The future
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