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Wanted: A Few Good Girls | The Nation

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Wanted: A Few Good Girls

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Enter the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, purveyor of common sense on campus.

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Karen Houppert
Karen Houppert is a Baltimore-based freelance journalist. Her book on indigent defense will be published by the New...

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With academia considered the breeding ground of liberals, the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute is the right's attempt to do some breeding of its own--of smart, savvy conservative women. Originally launched by Michelle Easton in 1993 to play "women's auxiliary" to the mostly male Young America's Foundation, the institute is less a think tank than a consciousness-raising organ, dedicated to convincing disgruntled students that feminism is the source of their woe.

Though the Luce Policy Institute has mostly skirted the media's radar screen, this may be the conservative group to watch in the coming years. It's not big or powerful--yet--but its existence and agenda speak to the right's next great assault: Guns are trained on the nation's women's studies programs, and smart, secular young women are being recruited as the foot soldiers.

While the organization's 2000 tax returns show that it operates on a mere half-million-dollar budget--compared with, say, the Heritage Foundation's $32 million this year--it is quietly linked to some heavy hitters. Buried in that same tax return is a list of board members, one of whom is Frank Donatelli, the former executive director of Young Americans for Freedom and, later, the first president of the Young America's Foundation (YAF--no relation), whose mission is to seed a new generation of conservatives. (Donatelli, who also served as assistant to the President for political affairs under President Reagan, is still on YAF's board.) But the ties go deeper: Ron Robinson, current president of YAF, is married to Easton, current president of the Luce Policy Institute.

With her mission firmly in mind--"taking conservative ideas to young women and mentoring them into effective leaders"--Easton, a minor player in Republican politics, has hooked her star to some of the big names in the conservative camp. Folks like Bay Buchanan (president of American Cause), Carmen Pate (former Concerned Women for America president), Ann Coulter (attorney and author of Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right) and Hoff Sommers have recently joined the institute's Campus Speakers Program.

"We want to give young women the courage and plain old gumption to stand up and defend their conservative views," says Easton. A round, matronly woman with an easy smile and straightforward manner (the personification of common sense), she sees the speakers' program as key. "Otherwise, it can be very lonely being a conservative on campus." In addition to helping out with speakers' fees, the institute holds regular luncheons, conferences and "how to" sessions to help young conservatives master the right's rhetoric and organize student groups.

According to Jean Stefancis and Richard Delgado, authors of No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America's Social Agenda, the Luce Policy Institute is following an astonishingly effective cradle-to-grave strategy developed in the 1990s: Conservatives narrow their sights on a few promising targets, handpick their young leaders and spend a bundle bringing up baby Right.

This is a lesson the Young America's Foundation, Luce's big brother and neighbor (the headquarters are adjacent), knows well. At its best, it unfolds as it did at Swarthmore in 1993: YAF sent Dinesh D'Souza to lecture at the college; in the aftermath YAF collected six enthusiastic conservative students and invited them to its headquarters to plan a yearlong conservative speakers' program; by 1994 YAF boasted that Swarthmore's Conservative Union had swelled from six members to seventy-five, and a new conservative campus newspaper had been started--thanks to $37,000 funneled toward the college from a conservative matrix.

Today, YAF employs marketing and sales incentives to motivate students with its "Club 100 Program." "This unique program thanks YOU for constantly striving to promote conservative ideas to your fellow students," promoters say. YAF awards students points for each conservative event they organize or participate in, then offers special access to "mentors" like D'Souza, free merchandise (like the poster it sells of a creepy space invader titled "Invasion of the Liberalien Professors"), signed books from conservative authors and, for those who tally 100 points, a trip to Ronald Reagan's ranch.

YAF boasts that members of its organization have landed jobs throughout the Bush Administration, and, thanks to its National Journalism Center, college interns have gone on to the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CBS, Larry King Live and Newsweek. Students get help starting conservative campus papers--via substantial funding, training programs, internships and a special wire service that churns out "story ideas." Using the campus press as a petri dish, YAF has cultivated a new generation of conservative voices.

But despite its success, YAF has a problem. Recently, it appears to have poked its head out of the sand and noticed a dearth of women's voices. Likewise, in groups like Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, there is a paucity of young women. A troubling question has emerged: What will happen when Bay and Phyllis and Dr. Laura and the gang retire?

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