It is now 2018. There is a Republican majority in congress and for the last year there has been a Republican president in the white house. However, that equation is not likely to endure following new elections in this coming year. Republicans in 2017 passed an extensive tax overhaul, delivering a major promise to those who voted the Party into power, yet records of national opinion suggest that they will shortly surrender that authority in midterm elections. There is a reason for this: Republicans, while doing well to deliver policies, have done little to deliver a message. False depictions of what the Party stands for are the depictions that Americans and the rest of the world hear, and if that continues, the prospects of Republican longevity are grim. The burden of a real solution to this problem, I believe, lies in the hands of college students. We need to deliver the message.
As a college-aged member of the Grand Old Party from Jersey City, New Jersey – where but a grand 6% of the electorate is registered with the GOP – I am a highly endangered species. Even so, I often attend my city’s Republican conventions: breakfast with my parents. You see, with such a dearth of Republican voters in town, we have a Party quorum whenever my parents and I are seated at the same table. But if the Grand Old Party doesn’t more successfully attract grand young voters, even such intimate Party gatherings will ultimately come to an end.
It is astonishing. A mere 20 years ago, my father was leading the city as its Republican mayor after having been re-elected with a record 69% of the vote. Republican registration when he was initially elected was only 6% – same as today – but during the 1990s, the people of the city, including the poorest and most powerless, rallied around his leadership, and Republican policies brought them the highest rates of job growth and poverty reduction in the United States.
Today, it is almost impossible to imagine that level of political support for a Republican in a northeastern city, which begs the question: what has changed?
The answer, I think, is that the Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis of identity. To attract young people, Republicans need to more clearly remember and proclaim what our Party truly stands for. It is not resistance to change. It is not nationalism. It is not any of a host of false notions. At the core of our Party’s identity and purpose is its commitment to advancing the principles of social justice so eloquently stated in America’s Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration’s signers understood that because power corrupts, social justice is not successfully advanced by concentrating limitless power in the hands of benevolent dictators, government bureaucrats, academic experts, social elites, or any other select individual or group. They knew that what successfully advances social justice is securing the natural rights of, and empowering, every individual. This security we call “freedom.”
Fighting to secure the freedom of each individual is what the Republican Party has championed since its founding. Our Party was born out of the struggle to end the extension of African-American slavery so it could ultimately be abolished. With Civil War-era Republican control of the United State House and Senate, Republicans passed the 13th Amendment and successfully did abolish slavery. Similarly, it was a Republican-controlled House and Senate that passed the 14th Amendment, requiring that government grant every individual equal protection under the law; that passed the 15th Amendment, giving every male individual the right to vote; that passed the 19th Amendment, giving every female individual the right to vote; that more solidly supported the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964; and that more solidly supported the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Along with its commitment to secure freedom, our Party has also sought throughout its history to positively empower individuals and families in ways that leverage freedom. We believe that individual freedom mixed with individual empowerment jet fuels opportunity. Abraham Lincoln and his fellow Republicans in the 1860s passed the Homestead Act, which empowered individual households, including those of freed slaves, with the offer of free land, requiring only that they live on and improve it. This expanded the opportunity of poor Americans to work, earn, and leave behind the shackles of poverty. Today Republicans seek to empower individuals and families with school choice, health care choice, and other empowerments that seek to jet fuel their opportunity to exercise freedom and get the best for themselves and their families. This is in stark contrast to Democratic initiatives in each area, where decision-making is consistently arrogated to government, reducing freedom and choice.
Indeed, put simply it comes down to this: Where Republicans seek to leverage freedom by empowering the individual with expanded opportunities to choose, Democrats, promising better outcomes when government decides, narrow individual freedom and choice. History forcefully rebukes the Democrat’s policy approach. Placing power exclusively in the clutches of any select individual or group has forever and always led to tragic consequences. It is only when government is used to secure freedom for and empower each individual that social justice advances.
I am a freshman at Georgetown, and I know that I am not the only college-aged Republican to have sat in an auditorium, listening to a speaker utter words such as “justice,” “love,” and “compassion,” fully understanding that somehow these words were intended as critiques of my Party – as if Republicans do not believe in justice, love and compassion, as if Republicans are champions of heartlessness and indifference and everyone knows it. College Republicans must not allow such speakers to continue to walk in darkness. We must make clear to our campus communities that it is our commitment to justice, love and compassion that underlays our support for the Republican Party. Indeed, it is because we care so much that we are willing to think critically about what actually works to advance social justice and to risk approbation at universities to stand up for what is just.
Those who want to progressively implement Socialism in America see suppressing other viewpoints on our campuses as the key to their success. This is old news. Little we’ve done has altered the fact that it is near impossible for professors who believe in inalienable rights and freedom to be hired onto our campuses. Reactions of outrage and resentment have not reversed the trend of censoring dissenting student voices. So what can we do that will actually work?
College Republicans must unwaveringly speak up for securing the safety of every neighborhood, for school choice and health care choice for every family, for economic freedom for every individual and business, for freedom of thought, conscience and speech even on university campuses, where it is most aggressively attacked. But as we speak out, we must make it crystal clear that we take these policy positions not in spite of our compassion for others, but because of it.
We can attract idealistic young people to the Republican Party. But we will not succeed if our Party is thought principally to stand for nationalism or resistance to change. We will only succeed if our peers understand that what centrally defines our Party is its historic and abiding commitment to advancing social justice through securing the freedom of, and providing empowerment for, every individual. Dr. Martin Luther King observed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The constant fight to protect liberty in America — the same that King fought — is the Republican fight. Fight it.