It had all the ups and downs of any contested convention. Competing tickets, shifting delegations, rogue delegates, late night strategy sessions, preemptive conversations about the future, last-minute defferals, and hung-over delegates. And yet somehow, I find it hard to believe that, as delegates stumbled out of the Richmond Coloseium in 1993, that they were plagued the entire drive back home with thoughts of "What was the point?" These thoughts are exactly what filled my head as I left the Homestead in the wee hours of Sunday morning after witnessing the 2005 Annual Convention of the College Republican Federation of Virginia.
A word: This article is not meant to indict the College Republican movement, nor individual members. For all their faults and foibiles (which any organization is bound to have), College Republican chapters serve a vital function on college campus, bringing together like-minded students during a vital stage in their personal development and providing a forum for our issues in what is a very unique situation, a society in unto itself, college life. Rather, I seek to explore the CRFV, and why perhaps its not accomplishing what some may think.
Allow me to set the stage for you. From all reports, Friday's meeting was the essence of what would unfold over the weekend. It had been discovered for the first time that conventions have been conducted outside of the constitution for the past several years. That is, the traditional Friday evening approval of the Rules and Credentials Committee reports by the executive board is in clear violation of Robert's Rules of Order. How fitting that an organization that sees itself as mature, seperate from the senior party, ready to take on the left, cannot even conduct its business in a manner fair to all delegates. Also fitting was that few actually cared. While one faction had been counting on this, the other barely noticed what had happened. A brief interlude occured before the real magic of the evening: the hospitality suites.
The suites for the two tickets, those of TJ Maloney and Andrew Lamar, were a study in opposites but that both show the schizophrenic nature of the College Republican Federation of Virginia. Mr. Maloney's was by far more subdued, although alcohol was served. There were discussions of weighty issues, but also of light matters between friends, a scene not unlike that which was unfolding in the suites above. Certainly they did not have security called on them thrice, but then again, they weren't next to sleeping senior citizens, a fault of the hotel. The ticket is to be comended for holding its candidates to a no drinking pledge, which they at least gave the appearance of adhering to. And yet, up an elevator, a much different scene was unfolding. Hip hop music spilled out of the door to the Lamar suite. Inebriated souls lined the bed, and the the alcohol seemed to consist of much more liquor. And yet, an amusing scene. While others schmoozed and flirted, a brave soul from Patrick Henry College, who was running for office, stood there in the middle. She had a smile on her face the entire time. This was certainly not her scene, and yet she remained. If you need a reminder of what PHC is all about, check out the article that was recently featured about the school. Is she to be comended for attempting to keep a semblance of professionalism, or condemned for consorting with depraved company?
I hesitate to do such, but the actions of one delegation stood apart, that of Mary Washington. It seemed most of them were there to support the run of their peer, Mr. Lamar. Yet their haughty words and appearance belied what may be a fundamental problem with the organization: a preemptive demand for importance and individuality. Perhaps I am merely wistful for another time, but it seems to me that things just worked better when there was a certain subservience to the cause. We stood for liberty, but we did it with class. We didn't stoop to the level of modern culture because we stood for more, timeless values. In a way the traditional red, white, and blue tie of a young Reganite defined who he was, defying popular convention to show that he believed liberty could flourish without breeding a libertine society. We worked within the movement, taking lowly positions not to further ourselves but the cause. Not even a generation ago college students stood with George Allen in our own revolution. In return we earned the respect of the party, rather than creating for ourselves. And somehow the spark seems gone. Too much focus on building power within an organization with little power due to this very reason. Its a sick cycle. Youth embarass themselves before the party elders, leading to decreased support. The CRFV, despite moving its convention to the Advance, stood apart. Although I saw some intrepid CRS from the Tech and Virginia delegations (by far the superior chapters of the state), it seemed that little interaction was occuring between the Youth and Senior wings of the party. Vapid platforms about how to communicate inactivity between chapters replaced serious discussion about how youth can play a vital role in revitalizing the party, a topic which I'm sure Kate Obenshain Griffin, a perfect example of the old model would be more than willing to discuss. And so it was on Friday night. Tickets worked late into the night on how the could win control of an organization without meaning.
So on Saturday the delegations awakened (it was only half-jokingly considered that "they have to wake up in the morning to vote") and the politicking began anew. By this point things seemed to have halted. One candidate was overheard saying that he felt "it was over then." There was some interesting wrangling. It turned out that Lamar was less than clear about his being endorsed by Bob McDonnell, who wrote what was essentially a denial letter. However, this could not stop the shifting that was occuring. There was nearly a credentials challenge, but even that couldn't be worded properly by the faction that was offering it. In the end, Maloney was denied his coveted spot. But I would say this is not the end of things for him.
One insider was quoted as saying that the organization would be just as well off with either candidate in power. The problem is, would the party be? At the end of the day, the CRFV just doesn't have the resources to provide a unified front across the state. The real action goes down on college campuses, not in rented rooms piddling over how much webspace should be bought with the CRFV's piddling dollars. Its hard enough to get individual chapters to carry through with their promises; why have another BS organization competing?
Certainly there are benefits to a statewide organization. Students can learn the basics of convention politics and earn some degree of leadership experience. But at the end of the day what is needed for the youth movement is clear focus and direction. And how can having an organization that essentially bestows titles upon other members in exchange for coming to a couple of meetings in which the major topics of discussion are the next convention and a website (which frankly is the least that the CRFV needs) help with this? I hope, I HOPE that a miracle can occur and somehow College Republicans can govern themselves. But until then, I hold that Virginia would be far better off with a Youth Outreach Director. Don't abolish the indvidual chapters, not in any sense. But please, give the responsibility to someone who really cares about this party, not themselves.