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A tale of two grassroot movements

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I hope everyone had an enjoyable break from the world of academics and politics in places more tolerable than South Bend. Although I didn’t make it to any of those warmer parts of the continent (not all Republicans are rich), I did thoroughly enjoy the events of the week before break. I did manage to fit a few political science midterms in an otherwise hectic week of political activity. And unfortunately, I’m going to have to bore you all with another article on the Social Security policy debate gridlock.In my chronic condition of political addiction, I began working with the College Republicans and the local Republican leadership to develop just one of many grassroots responses to President George W. Bush’s visit. The current policy debate is entirely unique from any other policy issue since the Vietnam War due to the significant impact it will have on younger voters. This being said, the local Republican leadership wanted to find a way to get younger Republicans involved in the grassroots effort to build up support for President Bush’s initiative to address the issue of the future of Social Security.Before I go into detail about the local efforts of young conservative voters fighting for retirement security, I must take a minute to step back and admire the tactics of the left. Following the lead of Howard Dean, who has been quoted saying, “Don’t propose, simply oppose, oppose, oppose!” the left has mobilized its own vast coalition of grassroots organizers. Instead of catering to the concerns of the young, they have utilized their far more successful tactic of whipping up older voters into a frenzy of fear. They have begun a campaign of leaving automated phone messages in Republican-controlled Congressional districts making sure to stress how any Bush plan would involve benefit cuts and throwing all of your money away into that mysterious stock market which is really just “waiting to crash at any moment.” Aside from ominous phone messages warning of Bush’s mischievous plan to throw all of your money away, they also mobilize older anti-Bush forces to turn out in force for town hall meetings and Social Security reform events. Most of the protesters and full-time anti-Bush enthusiasts that protested Bush’s visit were Americans too old to even be affected by any changes to Social Security.I was forwarded the Moveon.org e-mail sent to protesters of Bush’s visit. Conveniently enough, it gave them short talking points to tell the media about why they oppose Social Security reform. In keeping with Dean’s strategy, I heard no alternatives about what counterproposals they had to fix Social Security. Their protest seemed more like an “I hate Bush, too” support group than an intelligent expression of free speech. If Senator Hillary Clinton were president, perhaps I could relate to how such gatherings may be of therapeutic value.The difference between them and us is that we have asked for alternative proposals and ideas. I’ll let you in on what the “evil” Republicans did in the week leading up to the president’s visit. We organized a College Republicans Social Security phone bank on March 1 in La Fortune. Rather than leaving automated messages with older voters, we determined it would be best to call those that would be affected by any proposals for reform. We did the unconventional and called younger voters. Statistically, this tactic is not worth it, banking on the fact that younger voters are among the least reliable of coalitions in American politics. This consideration, of course, is outweighed by the moral imperative that voters who will be directly affected by a policy should be consulted.In our own little grassroots victory, we had over 100 Notre Dame students call young voters in this district and ask them how they felt about Social Security reform. Once the results are computed, we will find out a lot more about your opinions on the issue rather than feeding you pre-manufactured talking points on an issue. Efforts such as this help provide critical information to legislators about our generation that go beyond the sound bites taken from a few rabid Bush-hating protesters.In the long run, not all grassroots activity is created equally. The nucleus of a presidential visit provided us with a unique opportunity for political activity and discussion. Hopefully, our efforts will prove successful in mobilizing our generation to confront the issue. We’ll continue to try and counter the frenzied resistance of the left with sound policy proposals.

Tom Rippinger is a senior political science major. He is the co-president of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He can be contacted at trippin1@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.