As a pro-wrestling fan growing up in the South, my favorite brand as a kid was not the World Wrestling Federation or “WWF” but the National Wrestling Alliance or “NWA,” in which grapplers like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes served up my favorite male soap opera each week with a distinct Southern drawl. When cable tycoon Ted Turner purchased the NWA in 1991 he changed the name and it became an entirely different brand, relegating the beloved rasslin’ company of my childhood to a special place in time and in my mind. Strangely enough, there still exists a wrestling organization today called the NWA, and its website advertises that “The National Wrestling Alliance was founded in 1948 and is the world’s oldest and largest pro wrestling sanctioning body.” Yet in reality, this contemporary NWA is so minuscule as to almost not even exist, it pales drastically in comparison to the original product, and it is obvious that its promoters now parade around the carcass of an organization that everyone knows died a long time ago.
Founded in 1960, Young Americans for Freedom or “YAF” touts itself as “America’s oldest conservative-libertarian activist group,” but it is actually more like the modern NWA, in which its staff uses a familiar name to promote an organization not only minuscule in its numbers but that most political insiders realize lost any significance a long time ago. Just ask David Franke. Franke was a founding member of YAF and the man most responsible for giving the organization its name. When YAF sanctimoniously purged Ron Paul from its national advisory board in the wake of the Congressman’s 2011 CPAC presidential straw poll victory—a board position Paul had held for over two decades—Franke wrote the following response at The American Conservative:
“The only ones who are crowing about this are, of course, the leftist media. You know, another ‘split’ in the Right to rejoice over. Except that today’s YAF represents virtually nobody, so this is a ‘split’ without meaning. Today’s YAF represents itself as the ‘nation’s oldest conservative-libertarian activist group.’ They know that the media will not do any homework and will simply believe that this is the same genuine conservative student movement that helped pave the way for Goldwater and Reagan in the early days of the conservative movement. The leftist media have no self-interest in pointing out that YAF died as an organization decades ago. Today’s group has assumed the old name for obvious publicity and fundraising purposes, but it represents…what?”
Franke added: “I challenge today’s ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ to open its books and show us how many dues-paying members they have… I say they don’t have more than 200 dues-paying national members. And that makes them nothing more than a paper tiger compared to the more than 100 chapters and tens of thousands of members of Ron Paul’s Young Americans for Liberty.”
Indeed. Being the president of, or on the “advisory board” of, today’s YAF is about as significant as being the current NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and being purged from YAF even less significant. Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), inspired by Ron Paul, today has 26,000 activists in a 180 campus chapters. In 1966, YAF’s membership was estimated to be around 28,000, something the barely more than two year old YAL has already almost accomplished. YAL certainly boasts numbers larger than the 200 members Mr. Franke believes compromises the telephone booth-sized, Republican tree house that calls itself YAF.
But numbers aside, the cretinous disposition of today’s YAF is emblematic of the rampant ignorance characteristic of so much of today’s establishment Right, particularly concerning the history of the conservative movement. For example, YAF contends that it now dismisses Paul for his supposedly radical libertarian, antiwar positions. This is beyond amusing. YAF was founded according to the principles of “The Sharon Statement,” a list of core, traditionally conservative, free-market and constitutional positions declared at William F. Buckley’s estate in 1960. The Sharon Statement was written by author M. Stanton Evans with the assistance of Annette Kirk, wife of author Russell Kirk, whose 1953 book “The Conservative Mind” was considered by Buckley to be indispensable to the formation of the conservative movement.
In the 1960s, Buckley’s National Review bristled with debate between traditional conservatives like Kirk and libertarians like Frank S. Meyer and others, and both camps held up Barry Goldwater as a hero of their shared movement. Evans worked for National Review contributor Frank Chodorov, becoming the assistant editor for Chodorov’s libertarian publication The Freeman. Chodorov’s staunch non-interventionist position was almost identical to that of Ron Paul, which today’s YAF, despite their history, somehow finds beyond the pale. Evans even once said of his libertarian mentor, that Chodorov “probably had more to do with the conscious shaping of my political philosophy than any other person.”
If Evans leaned libertarian, his assistant in writing the Sharon Statement, Annette Kirk and her famous husband Russell, most certainly did not. Russell Kirk even once described libertarians as “chirping sectaries” during his ongoing debate with his fellow National Review contributor, Christian libertarian Frank Meyer. Yet Kirk too, was a solid non-interventionist, similar to Paul today. Kirk not only shared the same abhorrence for war exhibited by conservative heavyweights at that time like Richard Weaver and Robert Nisbet, but decades later would denounce George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War during a speech to the Heritage Foundation in 1991: “Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were enthusiasts for American domination of the world… Now George Bush appears to be emulating those eminent Democrats… In general, Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.”
YAF now repeats the lie that Ron Paul “blames America” for 9/11. Yet how is Paul’s contention that our constant foreign intervention inevitably produces “blowback” any different than what Kirk warned of in 1991, addressing the same interventionism: “We must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States…”
So from founders like David Franke, to the very authors of the Sharon Statement, M. Stanton Evans, and Annette Kirk, the foreign-policy views of Ron Paul that some establishment Republicans today find reprehensible would have likely not even raised an eyebrow at the founding of Young Americans for Freedom. It is not Ron Paul, or Young Americans for Liberty, or libertarians in general, that represent some new and intolerable aberration on the Right, but the current establishment-based conservative movement, which is almost completely void of any philosophy deeper than beating Democrats in the next election.
Perhaps G. Daniel Harden, when replying to Franke’s assessment of today’s YAF, put it best: “As an attendee of the Sharon Conference, now over 50 years ago, I completely agree with David Franke. Ron Paul remains the chief representative on the political scene today for those who gathered in Sharon. The mainstream conservative movement today is a completely different genre. And I identify with them less and less as time goes on. It’s a sad situation.”
A sad situation indeed. The positive news is that thanks to Ron Paul and his movement, there are now thousands of young Americans on the Right willing to stand proudly and loudly for freedom and liberty—no matter how many times the “conservative” movement tries to tell them to sit down and shut up.