“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
— President Ronald Reagan
When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, I was 12 years old. Other than my parents, no other person shaped my view of the world more than our 40th president. Today, I am a conservative and a Republican because of him. Most importantly, I am an optimist about our future because of his influence on my life.
President Reagan had an eternal optimism for the American people. Maybe it came from his Midwestern roots, but he genuinely cared about people and it shaped his beliefs. Reagan believed in each and every person — and not in the government.
As he famously said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Watching him as I came of age made me want to share in his optimistic perspective on life and his deep devotion to America.
Early this week, I shared that optimism and passion with a roomful of college students at the 41st Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference. I met students from Alaska to Florida — and even a few who came over from Ireland to hear from an exciting slate of conservative speakers.
Many of the students told of their heroic efforts to push back against the blatant bias on their campuses. They spoke of their battles for free speech and open dialogue. Others told of the small businesses they were starting while attending school. And many told me of their commitment to serve our country through the military. Being there renewed my faith in this generation.
Sure, I understand the very legitimate concerns about the voting patterns of those under the age of 30. One recent poll shows that nearly 60 percent of young adults support socialism. Another shows that less than 25 percent say that they are extremely proud to be Americans. Those are troubling numbers.
Talking to the young Americans at this conference, however, gave me a renewed hope for the future. Many of them came from very diverse backgrounds — yet they shared a common hunger for freedom.
To advance the cause of freedom, we need to set aside traditional rhetoric and speak from the heart. We need to mix logic and emotion to make our case to the upcoming generation.
Telling stories to illustrate our ideas is an important method. One which received a great response from the students is the difference between taxis and Uber.
Taxis are in cities where they are highly regulated, there is a big fee or tax to operate, there are restrictions on hours and areas of operation, and they tend to box others out from entering the profession.
Socialism is like that. They like to tell you what to do, how to do it and when to do it. You see, they believe in the government.
Uber, and Lyft for that matter, operate differently than a taxi service. As long as the driver and passengers are safe, they really don’t care if you drive once a day or all the time — whether it’s a hobby or a profession.
Free enterprise is like that. As long as you don’t threaten the health and safety of your neighbors, we don’t care what you do. Start your own business. Pursue your own career. Live your own life. We believe in the person.
I told the students that it was great that they were all at this conference but that we need them to reach out to their classmates — sitting in their dorm room or apartment wearing jeans and a T-shirt — who are trying to figure out how to start their own business or begin their own career path.
Most, if not all, of their classmates want to pursue their dreams without massive interference from the government. They want to make a positive difference in their life and in the lives of those around them. And they want to love their country.
We need to let them know that true freedom and prosperity do not come from the clumsy hand of government. They come from empowering people to live their own lives and control their own destinies through the dignity of hard work.
Free enterprise can make that happen.
We need to let them know that freedom is endowed by our Creator and defined by our Constitution. And unlike so many other places around the world, we live in a country that guarantees those liberties for every American citizen.
Looking ahead, we must fight to ensure that future generations continue to have these same freedoms in the country we so dearly love.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.