I had an epiphany today…OK, maybe it’s just end-of-the-semester sleep deprivation. Who knows? But I thought I’d share it for what it’s worth on a Friday night when there are fewer folks posting diaries.
I teach engineering at a small campus of a rather unusual university. Our student body, and faculty for that matter, are significantly less liberal than most institutions of higher learning. About 20 percent of our student body are ROTC, and virtually all our students are interested in getting into the aerospace and aviation industry. In the last three POTUS elections, I have run a mock election in all my classes. In 2000, George W. Bush got the votes of about 90% of the students. Algore actually ran in third place behind Nader! In 2004, the result was very similar, though Kerry did manage to capture second place with around 10 percent of the vote. However, in the 2008 version, McCain got only one more vote than Obama out of the roughly 100 votes cast in my three classes. I seriously don’t think that our student body has changed that much since 2000 or 2004, it just reflects the general appeal that Obama had to the younger voters. But it was a significant shift.
We at Redstate have engaged in a number of post-election debates about the challenge to Conservatism. Should we moderate our message? Should we go back to first principles, a la Reagan? Should Sarah Palin be our spokesperson? Is she what her fans (full disclosure: myself included) think she is? Should it be Jindal, Sanford, Gingrich, etc? Should we support gay marriage? Should we kick out the “squishy” moderates or open the tent more?
I love these debates. I have my definite opinions, and I love hearing the opinions of all of you at RedState. But something happened today in a couple of classes that actually caused me to have a ‘aha’ moment in regards to the challenges we face as Conservatives.
In my classes, I do not take attendance. The students are over 18, so I figure they’re big boys and girls and can decide for themselves whether to attend class. But I do give ‘attendance quizzes’, where I usually ask a handful of trivia questions, then give the students full credit just for taking the quiz. It’s kind of like taking attendance, but more fun. Friday, I did this in two classes. I decided to do a little ‘education’ with the quiz questions. Here are some of the questions I asked, along with the answers I gave them.
- If the U.S. Government does not borrow another cent, how much money over the course of your working career will you personally pay just on interest on the federal debt? ($170K, I heard this stat at our Tea Party rally)
- If the Obama budgets are passed over the next 10 years, how much will you pay on interest? ($350K)
- What percentage of your income is sent to the federal government to pay for Social Security? (15+%)
- What percentage of that money do you expect to ever see again? (I didn’t give them an answer here, but they nearly unanimously said 0%!)
- What is the new name for the War on Terror? (Overseas Contingency Operation)
- What is the new name for Terrorism? (Man-made disaster)
- According to the Sec. of Homeland Security, what is the biggest threat to U.S. security? (Right-wing extremists)
OK, why am I relating this long, drawn-out story? My students are pretty well-educated compared to your average 18-22 year-old. They tend to be very conservative, both in their own lives and their political viewpoints. They pay attention to the news. But when we went over the answers to the questions above, only a few had any clue about these things. And when they heard the answers, many were shocked. Why do so many of these young people not know the truth about these things? They’re not oblivious to the news of the world, FoxNews is on our campus TV’s more than CNN.
Now everyone here at RedState could have answered these questions in their sleep. There have probably been a dozen diaries covering each of these questions in the last two weeks alone. So if you’ve actually read this far in the diary, you’re probably saying ‘Hey, azeroprof, get to the stinking point already!’ OK, here we go.
Our path to success as Conservatives should be easy! We just have to get the message out there. For all our infighting about ideological purity, Sarah Palin’s competence, and all of that, we’re just not presenting the Conservative principles to the voters, especially young adults. Barack Obama is giving us the template on which to build that message. It’s a gift we couldn’t have hoped for. We absolutely cannot assume that these folks inherently know the answers to the questions I posed above. We have to educate, educate, educate about these issues. The nuances to that message are not important, but pushing that message everywhere, anywhere, anytime, is what is critical.
Now here’s where you come in. While it’s useful for us to converse amongst ourselves to help hone our Conservative message and focus our criticisms of the current Socialist administration, we need to turn our focus outward. We need to spend more time sharing ideas and experiences on getting the Conservative message presented to as many people as possible. Yes, we’ve had some of these discussions here, but not enough. Yes, many of us can say that we already do that to some extent. But much of the Conservative chatter, on and off the Internet, is presented TO Conservatives BY Conservatives.
I don’t have the answers here. But there are thousands of us here at Redstate. Surely we have the collective creativity to share some mechanisms for just getting the stinking word out to folks who don’t already identify themselves as Conservatives. We need to get the message to the Independents, the apolitical folks, and even the Kool-Aid drinkers themselves. If you can speak coherently, work up a speech or two and find places to give it. If you can write well, write a column or even a book targeted to non-Conservatives (are you listening, Amy? ;-). If you have kids or grandkids, find ways to help them share the message with their friends. Talk politics in places where you’ve been afraid to talk politics. Write up a brochure explaining why Conservative principles are what can save this country, how they are the principles on which the nation was founded. Print up 1000 copies and give them to everyone you meet, leave them lying around in public places. And even spread the message on the Internet, but not just on Conservative venues.
And most important of all, share your ‘Conservative Evangelism’ ideas with the rest of us here. Tell us what worked for you, what didn’t work. Or even what you think might work. We can still have our fun discussions where we bash around the moderates, where we praise Sarah Palin and wait for Art’s negative response, where we poke fun at the TOTUS. But if we don’t get the message OUT, there might as well not be a message!