Wanted: A Few Good Girls
Interestingly, the Luce Policy Institute gingerly avoids the subject of abortion. Though Easton is antiabortion and plenty of the institute's speakers are, none among its thirty position papers--which dip way down into minutiae, like a paper staking out support for Valentine's Day--even bring it up. Like the IWF, which downplays abortion in its effort to make a secular appeal to professional women, the Luce institute eschews a formal stance. Easton says she is "absolutely prolife" and denies that her organization's silence on the issue is a strategic decision to attract more young women. She says that Luce doesn't take on abortion simply because there are so many capable, single-issue antiabortion groups out there. Meanwhile, program director De Pasquale, points out that about half of Luce's speakers are prolife and about half are prochoice. Four college interns working for Luce who were interviewed for this article seemed uncertain about the organization's official position, though three of them sketched out a personally-prolife-but-opposed-to-government-intervention--i.e., prochoice--response to my query about abortion.
Would they be there if the organization were overtly antichoice? Clearly the IWF and Luce institute suspect they might not, but Cokorinos warns against surmising that there is, therefore, a political gulf between neoconservatism, libertarianism and the Christian right. He points out that they're all bankrolled by the same foundations, like the Olin, Sarah Scaife and Carthage foundations.
"The purpose is strange," says Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "It's not simply recruiting aimed at the student body but it's focused on the alums, hoping to get the alum to cut off programs on campus." Pointing out that 80 percent of students are prochoice, she says campus antiabortion groups are appealing to a small minority. "Conservatives think they've lost students on social issues, and they have, so they're going after the administration, the faculty and the alums." And the resources are disproportionate. FMF's main rival in terms of presence on campus is the Campus Crusade for Christ, which boasts a campus organizing staff of 1,800. "We have twelve full-time organizers on staff," says Smeal.
Clearly, the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute is a different animal from the Campus Crusade for Christ. A sleeker, smarter, more urbane creature, the Luce institute strives for hip. "Some people think all young conservatives look like George Will in a bow tie," says De Pasquale, explaining that young conservatives battle an image problem on campus. And Luce interns are a far cry from the choir; at one gathering a young Lucite in goth garb confidently navigated among Heritage Foundation interns.
But beneath the style, the substance remains similar. At a recent women's luncheon, co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the Luce institute had invited Bay Buchanan to speak. Nothing new here: Immigrants are pouring across our borders; immigrants are overwhelming our compassionate hospitals, which treat them even though they lack insurance; immigrants are making us learn Spanish.
What about the young women attending the luncheon? Those who are the object of the institute's recruitment efforts? They seem attracted, yet perplexed.
All the students listening to Buchanan preface their remarks by saying they "totally agree" with what she's saying. But such xenophobia rests uneasily with these college-educated women. One student wonders how to reconcile her basic Christian values, like "love thy neighbor," with Buchanan's anti-immigrant agenda. Another, a first-generation immigrant, wonders what criteria Bay would employ to sort the "good" immigrants from the "bad."
The conversation becomes more interesting later, when four young Lucites, who are summer interns at the institute, talk about feminism and work and family. They seem confused. They don't think childcare is bad. They're not opposed to amending the Family and Medical Leave Act to mandate paid leave. They don't think women should be back in the home. "I think it should be a flexible choice," says Melinda Haring, a junior at Pennsylvania's Grove City College, asserting that women should do what they want to combine career and family.
I feed them lines: the Christian right stance (God says Mom's place is in the home), the libertarian stance (Mom can do whatever she wants; Uncle Sam ain't payin' for childcare/flextime/maternity leave). They throw back feminism lite.
Not suprisingly, these young women, who are struggling to articulate and anticipate a work-family balance that is totally abstract at the moment, sound not dissimilar to their twentysomething counterparts at the other end of the political spectrum. It seems mean to point it out, to pick apart ideas so embryonic and unformed.
But they're learning. Christina Carroll, a sophomore at the College of William and Mary, tells me that conservatives on her campus are afraid to speak out and that she's trying to do something about it. She took a women's studies course last semester and the professor so disliked her conservative take that she got kicked out of class once for her opinions.
Pressed, she's vague. "I believe, I'm not exactly sure, I think that day we were talking about education in rural Africa."
"She kicked you out because you disagreed with her about education in rural Africa?"
"Well, it's more that she got fed up with me in general."
Firm in her understanding of the power of the isolated anecdote, Carroll is struggling to gain command of the convincing details. Still, she's in good company. She is being tutored.
What Bay Buchanan and Christina Hoff Sommers and YAF and Clare Boothe Luce and all the other organizations courting campus conservatives know is that the way to counter "statistically challenged" progressives is not with better statistics (after all, those might be hard to find) but with good stories. Passion motivates.
And in the battle for young minds in the academy, it's all about perception. Targeted attacks and cultivating a few loud voices can generate media attention to the conservative presence on campus. A little money, well spent, can create an illusion of discontent. And, when speaking in neighborly, over-the-fence yarns, sometimes all you need is one good anecdote.