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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Defining the New Conservative

    This past weekend, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Washington DC. Despite the decidedly ‘un-conservative’ presence in the federal capital these days, CPAC was at full capacity, a record 8500+ in attendance. At a time in our nations history when economic policies are verging on the socialistic and foreign policy is approaching imperialistic, the American conservative movement has never been in more need of redefinition.

    At the conference, Mitt Romney won the Presidential preference straw poll with 20% of the vote. This is Mitt Romney’s third year of winning the poll, but Bobby Jindal (14%), Ron Paul (13%) and Sarah Palin (13%) are relative new comers to the political limelight and still managed to capture a large percentage in the poll. This shows that Conservatives have not yet picked a favorite to rally around.

    On one hand Mitt Romney has a history of tax increases as the governor of Massachusetts and leans towards the right, on social issues. Ron Paul, on the other hand, is a libertarian conservative in favor of minimizing the scale of or government in virtually all its functions, but prefers to let the states decide on social issues. Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, lies somewhere in between, sharing Romney’s belief in the government’s mission to promote “conservative” social values while limiting its economic presence. Sarah Palin needs no introduction and remains popular, despite allegations that being on the VP-ticket helped seal the election for Obama.

    Despite perceptions of the conservative movement as a dying animal, conservative activists are young, and old, and interest is building on the tail of the well-publicized Republican Presidential primaries.

    CPAC has a history of attracting college-aged activists and this year was no exception. If anything, growing movements such as the Young Americans for Liberty, which formed out of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, are helping the growth of the conservative youth movement. A vital target for any political movement to survive in the long run.

    This fact is not lost on Stony Brook’s conservative students. The Stony Brook College Republicans joined thousands of other young people who thronged to the event, bringing 15 of our own students.

    Conor Harrigan, Stony Brook student who was in attendance, described the future direction of the conservative movement as uncertain, but strong. “People are going to argue on why we lost [the election], what we could have done better, and play their blame games, but eventually they are going to settle on a set of leaders and a direction. I just hope its not the same scraggly old blue hairs.”

    Although young conservatives haven’t yet settled on their candidate, their participation and enthusiasm, in general, is good news for the movement. In a keynote address, Rush Limbaugh helped define conservatism; “We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government.” It’s a simple and agreeable enough proposition, but one that easy to preach and harder to practice. Despite being associated with the conservative movement, the Republican party’s, platform has been at odds with conservatives in recent years. John McCain, in particular, was vilified at the conference for distorting old conservative values that may have contributed to his defeat back in November. But, on the whole, the theme of CPAC 2009 was not blaming Republicans, or even Democrats, for recent election woes, but to look to the future.

    According to Harrigan, a long term goal for conservatives should be obvious, just by looking at the faces of conference goers. Stony Brook’s ethnically diverse group was the exception at CPAC, which was mainly attended by whites. According to Harrigan, “We whine when people say we’re just the white people party. This hasn’t happened out of racism, but conservatism expects people just to come to it… The conservative movement has to make a larger effort to expose different groups to it.”

    Principled conservatism, by definition, supports the equal opportunity for all by limiting the role of government over the lives of the individual. Clearly, this is an idea that transcends racial or national boundaries. However, by tradition, the American political left has done a far better job of courting America’s poor and minorities, by promising welfare and appealing to special interests.

    Conservatives need to step up to the plate, now, by demonstrating the limited effectiveness of welfare and that economic freedom for everyone is preferable over the long run.

    The election of 2008 was far from a landslide victory and Obama’s form of liberalism is not a heavenly mandate. In the context of the economic crisis, keeping conservative principles alive is all the more important, and if the American public is not happy with the Democrats’ changes, conservatives have to be in place to offer something better.

    That something is not some big, esoteric appeal for ‘change’, but a reversion to the principles of our constitution, which has worked reasonably well for the last 200 years. The enthusiasm and expectation generated by and around CPAC makes me hopeful for the future of conservatism, which will be a formidable opponent next election cycle, ready to challenge the liberal movement and force incumbent politicians to justify their government-expanding actions.

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