About 300 students from around the country gathered at Santa Barbara’s Reagan Ranch Center-the heart of the conservative Young America’s Foundation-last weekend to exchange ideas and learn how to become more effective activists. At the organization’s annual gathering, most presenters focused on getting back to the conservative values of small government and strong national defense, urging students to arm themselves with facts when challenged on campuses they said were largely liberal and intolerant of conservative views.
Clad in black T-shirts bearing “The Conservative Movement Starts Here” on the back, students took in presentations by Massachusetts governor and recent presidential candidate Mitt Romney, South Carolina Senator Joe Wilson-famous for yelling “You lie!” while President Barack Obama spoke to Congress earlier this year-and Hannah Giles, a 20-year-old student who distinguished herself this year by exposing alleged corruption at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Posing as a prostitute and armed with a cameraman dressed as her pimp, the Young America’s Foundation activist taped ACORN employees giving her advice on illegal activities, causing Congress to immediately cut off federal funding to the organization as well as initiate an investigation into its activities. “I think it’s showing young people that it’s okay to be a conservative,” said conference participant Brad Mahlsted, a student at Whittier Law School.
The theme for this year’s conference was getting back to basics, said Ryan McNicholas, executive director of UCSB’s College Republicans, re-establishing their conservative values. “It’s taken us 20 years to get over Jimmy Carter, and he didn’t do a quarter of what Obama has done in 10 months. It’s like grandma and grandpa took us out for a steak dinner and ditched the tab on us,” he said of the Obama administration’s policies and spending.