Young conservatives group revels in new sense of 'belonging'
Looking for a job in the Reagan administration? It wouldn't hurt if your resume shows that you are, or were, an active member of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the conservative youth organization founded 21 years ago by William F. Buckley.
And as if to highlight this fact, President Reagan in a video-taped message to the 350 delegates attending the 11th national convention of YAF here praised their contribution to his political efforts by equating their goals with his. "Cutting government spending and reducing taxation have always been YAF goals. Today that's government policy," Mr. Reagan told the convention.
Over 75 present or former members of YAF now serve in his administration.
Tony Dolan and Dana Rohrbacher, both former members of YAF, are presidential speechwriters. Don Devine, another "Yaffer," is head of the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM). Better known by its former title, the Civil Service Commission, OPM sits at the cross hairs of the Reagan administration's efforts to bring the federal bureaucracy under control.
James V. Lacy, current national chairman of YAF (who works for the Department of Commerce), sees his organization's transition from conservative student activism outside the realm of political power to its present welcome in the White House as the successful end of one challenge and the begining of another. "Young conservatives now have to translate our philosophy and principles into public policy," he says.
Robert C. Heckman, executive director of YAF, says, "We have to guard against complacency. With President Reagan and three members of his Cabinet serving on our national advisory committee, the fortunes of the Reagan administration are in many ways going to be seen as one and the same with YAF."
The need to look ahead and not rest on recent electoral gains echoed throughout the convention.
In the keynote address, William F. Buckley focused on what was yet to be done , not on what has been accomplished by the organization he helped to found.
He exhorted the mostly male, white, college-age delegates to support and lobby for the Reagan economic programs; to not cast in cement their traditional resistance to a military draft, which YAF member see as the compromise of an individual's freedom of choice; and accept their social responsibilities, especially for the nation's elderly.
Mr. Buckley issued a dual challenge to both the delegates and America's prestigious private institutions of higher learning. He called for these "trend-setting" universities to accept only those students who have spent one year voluntarily serving their community and its elderly citizens.
"The principal social problem in America over the next 10 years will be the problem of old people," he said. "Our progress in the area of geriatrics is a stunning tribute to our instinct to preserve life, but we cannot ignore the accompanying problems associated with extending life."
But to the 350 delegates from 33 states gathered here, no amount of caution could dampen the fact that the fortunes of conservatives look bright.
Rep. John LeBoutillier (R) of New York, the youngest member of Congress, has been active in YAF since 1972. He gave voice to this optimism when he told the delegates:
"If you look at liberalism now, for the most part it is only found on the campuses, primarily lodged in the faculty. Kids are inherently more conservative today than when I was in school six years ago. Grades are important, careers are important, not radical issues."
YAF member Jim Roberts, the director of the White House Fellows Program and author of "The Conservative Decade: Emerging Leaders of the 1980s," told delegates. "We have survived and triumphed over radicals of the '60s and '70s. YAF now has entry to the legitimate power centers of the US. Our candidate for the presidency is in the White House -- not Eugene McCarthy, not George McGovern , and not John Anderson, all of whom also had widespread youth support."
Asked about the disproportionate number of women, especially women with college degrees who did not vote for Ronald Reagan. Mr. Heckman admitted this is an area of concern to the organization.
"By setting an agenda that emphasizes a free market economy, sound fiscal policy and a strong national defense," he said, "we hope to show positive conservative results to women, as well as minorities, that they have not seen before.