December 19, 2005

The Kids' Exclusive Big Tent

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis offers must reading, about politically active young adults in Rhode Island, for anybody interested in local politics. Donnis obviously writes from the liberal's perspective (albeit that of an admirably fair liberal), but I'll offer one observation nonetheless, related to the fact that he twice emphasizes Young Republican chairwoman Mia Caetano's distinct stand from more conservative Republicans. First:

On the GOP side, the charge to build youthful involvement is being led by Mia Caetano, the genial and articulate 34-year-old chairwoman of the Young Republicans, who describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. ... In touting the group, Caetano, who works as an account executive for Esquire Deposition Services, says, "We're the new face of the party and we're the future of the party."

And on the next online page:

... as the cheerful face of youthful Republicanism — and perhaps mindful of the Rhode Island GOPs longstanding difficulty in surpassing token status — she tries to build a big tent, touting the Log Cabin Republicans and even raising the prospect of get-togethers with the Rhode Island Young Democrats.

A variety of plausible causes exist for the lack of corresponding specificity in the Democrat sections of the article — from the history of perceptions to the possibility that Republicans are, in fact, less monolithic in their beliefs. Still, it's curious that the closest statement of the same sort characterizing the Democrat side is the following, from Young Democrat president Paul Tencher:

Citing the rightward movement of the national Republican Party and the marginalization of more moderate voices, Tencher asserts, "The same thing has happened to young Republicans. They're more right, more fervent in their beliefs. ..."

The "same thing" phrase is misleading, in the published piece, because there's no foregoing suggestion that, for example, the Young Democrats are well to the Left of their elders. Given the starkly different assertions about the GOP's young, however, Donnis would have done well to investigate, because it appears that Caetano and Tencher agree about one thing; in Tencher's words, "[moving right is] not going to help them attract new members, because Rhode Islanders won't take that kind of stuff."

We'll see. Personally, I wonder whether that view mightn't be a false extrapolation of the beliefs held by the social class from which these young activists — of either party — tend to come. As far as I'm concerned, the direction in which Rhode Islanders will go, once they realize that they can decide for themselves what they will and won't take, is still up in the air.

In the meantime, my fellow social conservatives will continue to find themselves wondering whether we have to crash that big tent party that we keep hearing about.