Reagan Youth Conservatives: Rebels or Opportunists?

The year of the Reagan Revolution (1980) will be remembered for the appearance on the national scene of something never seen before: legions of politicized, energetic college students who were conservatives, the antithesis of the two pervious decades. The ideal of their youth craze was the election of the oldest president in American history. Enters Jack Abramoff, a college Republican leader in the Boston area! He had the reputation as one of the most innovative conservative leaders for his successful massive push for Reagan that shifted MA, the bailiwick of the Kennedys, Tip O’Neill & other Democratic leaders in Congress into the GOP column.

They were no different from the leaders of the Left in the 1960’s. As a matter of fact, they used the same outrageous tactics. Abramoff thrived on the comparison. During the Vietnam War, it was the leftists who fought those in power; in the eighties it was the conservatives who have become the campus radicals, except that they were clean-cut and wore neckties. Abramoff made his buddy Grover Norquist, a recent graduate of Harvard Business School, executive director of the College Republicans, amended its constitution, and made its Washington office more powerful that rewarded proselytizing on campus.

The College Republicans replaced the Young Americans for Freedom which was disintegrating from schism, coups and purges of its former members. The former simply filled the vacant market niche. Abramoff was a master of confrontation politics. College Republicans taunted campus leftists in a hundred innovative ways. They demonized liberals by setting up fake student groups, like “bestiality clubs,” labeled supporters of nuclear freeze as Soviet dupes, made fun of the federal budget and House Speaker Tip O’Neill as “fat”, among the lies and personal attacks they employed. Their politics focused on the showdown between the soft and the weak pounded by the hard and the strong. For that reason, Abramoff ousted the moderates from control of College Republicans, and insisted on transforming the organization into “an ideological and well-trained, aggressive, conservative outfit.” He boasted that they had the toughness to crack down, to fight where the moderates only appeased.

The liberal consensus was over. War was the order of the day. The Right’s favorite term for it was revolution! The slogan was “The best Party in town” and “Join the Revolution.” The war with the Soviets morphed into the war on liberalism here at home. They were obsessed with betrayal and conspiracy. They saw treason in every nook and alley. He lambasted the presence of 12k Marxist professors poisoning the minds of the youth in colleges & universities. They translated the strategic pessimism of the 1970’s into detailed description of the Soviet threat to each of us  regardless of our work—auto mechanics, vendors, bar owners, barbers, bondsmen. The US and its government could fall as early as 1982 or 1984. Notice the scare tactics?

They described liberal Democrats as Congress’ Red Army. One reason that the CIA & Congress classified documents was to keep the public in the dark from knowing the extent of the cooperation between liberal politicians and Soviet front groups. The same diatribes are repeated over and over again today by Ann Coulter, Michael Savage & Rush Limbaugh. All that has changed is the enemy. Russian commies have been replaced by Muslim terrorists that liberals are trying to appease.

The ideal of the winger-boy daydream hero was the freedom fighter, a ragged warrior who, according to myth, had spontaneously taken up arms against Communism in the third world countries. American conservatives come to love the freedom fighter for a simple reason—they validated their most cherish fantasies of the sixties turned upside up. Their revolution was for real. They had not traditionally cheered rebellions or guerrilla movements, e.g., British Empire, Shah of Iran, apartheid South Africa, local oligarchies in Latin America. They were ugly regimes but doing necessary work. During the time of Reagan, all the cutthroats became freedom fighters; all the mercenaries were now patriots. The cultural templates of the Vietnam War were re-written. Our guys were the heroic underdogs, disrespected and ill-supplied, fighting the high-tech organization man monster of the Soviet Union and its liberal proxies in the US.

One must question the judgment of conservatives when they bat for someone as a hero, e.g., Jonas Savimbi of Angola. When you read what they said of him, you would think they were talking of George Washington. Jonas Savimbi destroyed Angola because of his personal ambition. The civil war that he kept going for nearly 30 years made Angola one of the worst places on earth–an impoverished population, wrecked railroads  highways and dams, landmines strewn along its countryside, elephant herds wiped out with their tusks removed to raise fund for his army.

These people are always in denial. They always have an explanation for their failure., e.g., their leaders weakened and failed when they got to Washington; they had gotten lazy with the Beltway way of doing things; the city hypnotized them to repeal the assault from the right with an invisible force The siren sounds of Georgetown society were the reason for their alleged deviation from the truth. The finger-pointing continues in spite of their hold of the White House in the past 30 years. The Republicans who have held positions in Washington haven’t been conservatives at all. Nixon talked a good game but didn’t walk the walk.  Reagan did not shrink government as they thought he would do it. GWB was no good since the day he took office. He inflated the deficit, expanded Medicare and was nothing more than an “impostor.” Conservative leaders are impostors in many ways. They did not shrink government as much as they promised. It turned out that they were not rebels at all but opportunists.

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