Baby Elephants

What's with all these really young GOP pundits?

On February 27, 2009, attendees at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference were addressed by Jonathan Krohn, a precocious fourteen-year-old who helpfully informed his audience that the Republican Party is merely the “shell” to conservatism’s “filling.” In the aftermath of Krohn’s unexpectedly rousing three-minute speech, various papers and bloggers waxed enthusiastic about the young man. One blogger wondered if he was the “GOP’s Obama-To-Be”; Wonkette essentially declared Krohn the future of the GOP. The New York Times ran a feature on him last Saturday, noting that:

Jonathan, an experienced child actor, rocked the house with a three-minute speech, which was remarkable not so much for what he said, but his electrifying delivery. The speech was part pep talk, part book promotion. By Saturday morning, an archdeacon of the movement was saying, “I’m Bill Bennett: I used to work for Ronald Reagan and now I’m a colleague of Jonathan Krohn’s!”

And Krohn’s hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, gushed that:

the pint-sized, sweater vest-favoring author of an 86-page book, “Define Conservatism,” energized the conservative base and inspired attendees, who were on their feet by the end of his brief speech.

The GOP has always welcomed its share of relatively young commentators. David Brock became a staffer at the weekly conservative magazine Insight soon after graduating from college. Dinesh D’Souza earned fame for his antics as a staffer at The Dartmouth Review while still an undergraduate. Even William F. Buckley finished God and Man at Yale when he was only twenty-six.

But the GOP also is strangely enamored of really, really young commentators. Take teenage radio host Ben Ferguson (now in his 20s), the youngest nationally syndicated radio personality in the United States, who addressed the Republican National Convention in 2004. Or Ben Shapiro, the Los Angeles student who, at seventeen, became America’s youngest nationally syndicated columnist and later wrote Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. Or Kyle Williams, the Oklahoma adolescent hired as a WorldNetDaily columnist at age thirteen.

Where do all these pedantic conservative adolescents come from? Home-school, usually. (Krohn, Ferguson, Shapiro, and Williams were all home-schoolers.) Most home-school parents are Christian conservatives, proponents of ideologically tinged curricula and non-traditional educational pursuits, such as becoming a nationally syndicated radio host. (Hey, it’s just as academically valid as wood shop.) Most children in traditional schools are dissuaded from pursuing these sorts of goals—not by their teachers, but by their fellow students. For a typical high schooler, there are few hobbies—aside from high fashion or Magic: The Gathering—more likely to result in a wedgie than an intense interest in supply-side economics or the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

And yet, paradoxically, teenagers make very good conservatives. The basic conservative message is simple and sort of beautiful when you first discover it. High school is the period when people first begin to realize that some things in life, particularly “programs”, don’t work very well; that regulations are made for and enforced by stupid people, life is not fair, and all of those damn second-handers are always mucking stuff up. When a highly intelligent youth discovers a philosophy that extols individualism, pure reason, and selfishness, it can look pretty amazing. And if that kid is institutionally empowered by a schooling environment that encourages him to pursue his own interests for class credit? Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Jonathan Krohn.

So conservatism can be good for teenagers. But are these teenagers good for the Republican Party? It’s somewhat hard to take seriously a movement that lionizes a child pundit prone to such proclamations as “Barack Obama is the most left-wing president in my lifetime.” It is not that Krohn is much more eloquent than his adult counterparts. In the young man’s book, Define Conservatism, he explains that a conservative is someone who believes in:

1. Life

2. Personal Responsibility

3. Less Government

4. The Founding Principles

These are hardly the sort of revelations that would have eluded William F. Buckley.

But the thing about Krohn and his cohorts is that they are unexpected and, well, rather charming. The GOP loves adolescent pundits because they’re one of the few segments of the party’s fan base that are naturally fresh-faced, innocent, and attractive. America expects CEOs or older white men (people like the ghoulish House Minority Leader, John Boehner) to speak for the Republican Party. (The Republican Party has actively tried to counter this perception, which is why outliers like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Michael Steele have recently been raised to national prominence.)

So why not try to burnish the party’s image by bringing some new (and uncontroversial) voices into the fold—even if they are a little silly, or if their message is a little simplistic, or if they are fourteen years old? With the Republican Party stinging from its recent losses, Meghan McCain isn’t the only one who wonders if maybe America is a little sick of hearing from Ann Coulter. And, when it comes right down to it, Jonathan Krohn makes just about as much sense as she does.

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Daniel Luzer is web editor of the Washington Monthly.