Thomas Dewey once called the Harvard Young Republican Club the West Point of Republican politics, and the club has never gotten over the flattery.
Today it is richer and fatter than ever. The speakers program that was almost nonexistent five years ago now brings Congressmen so frequently that one Midwestern representative recently stormed into the Republican National Committee in Washington to charge that only ten YR's came out to hear him at Harvard. HYRC leaders explained there had been a club event the night before the Congressman's visit and another coming up two nights later; they were more surprised by the charges than embarbarrassed.
Moreover such criticism has not seemed to stop the Big name parade. Senator Keating of New York, who now receives 40 to 50 major speaking invitations a week, will come to Harvard Saturday to address the "Political Workshop Conference," which has attracted a flock of other party notables.
Similarly, while the Young Democrats wither in apathy, the HYRC's major burden is its gold; with membership twice that of five years ago, the Executive Committee is now considering investing its excess revenue in speculative stocks. In an abortive revolt against the "machine at the annual election in March the main complaint of the rebels was that the club leaders had in effect fulfilled their agencies too well and too efficiently. "We've been terrorized and sherryized," was the wail.
As the material blessings of the Harvard Young Republican Club have increased, the old hard-core conservative clan has dissipated. The club was once a McCarthyite strong hold, even at a time the national Young Republicans were pro-Eisen-hower. As late as two years ago the club Executive Committee meetings went late into the night as one anti progressive resolution after another was moved, feebly protested and passed. Today a heavy majority of the Committee are progressives and they've left off passing the resolutions altogether.
This picture of the HYRC, more active, prosperous and progressive than ever before, is in contrast to the Massachusetts Young Republicans with whom the Harvard club is affiliated. The general rule of state Young Republican organizations across the country is: the more successful the senior party, the more successful and mature are the Young Republicans.
If, as in New York or Ohio, the GOP organization controls most state executive, legislative, and Congressional positions, promising young men and women in the party must wait in line for their chance to run for office, and the line forms in the Young Republicans. If, as in Massachusetts, Republican fortunes are low, bright young men like Attorney General Ed Brooke, Elliott Richardson, Rep.Brad Morse and George Lodge are eagerly recruited into the senior party, with the Young Republicans experiencing a consequent deprivation of leadership.
Sometimes capable leaders do develop in the Massachusetts Council of Young Republicans, but they are individuals whose views are too right wing to make them very welcome in senior party posts. It is not surprising therefore that the conservatism of the Massachusetts Council, and Young Republican organizations in similar states is often vindictive. Although the Young Republicans are not likely to influence party policy at the state level, they are almost obsessed with the subject and, as in the Harvard Young Republican Club of earlier days, fulsome emotion is the chief ingredient of frequent resolutions chastising GOP revisionists.
At the national level, the Young Republican leadership today represents a coalition of progressives and conservatives who primarily are interested in organization. They are opposed by a solid right-wing group which controlled the organization from 1957 to 1961 and whose chief interest is promoting an ideology of the hold-the-line, tighten-your-belt, there's-a-red-under-the-bed school.
The current, coalition leadership has shown a receptivity to any activity generated by Young Republicans: whether it be precinct work, a campaign to throttle the National Student Association, or an "All-American Conference" to enroll minority group voters in GOP.
Some progressive Republican leaders might wish for still more attention to All-American Conferences and less to attacking NSA or the Young Adult Council. But that is not a realistic alternative today. For while it is true that the Young Republicans have been swept up in a sudden "tide of conservatism," this is because they have been more conservative than the party as a whole for almost a decade. The best that can be expected is a rule of tolerance for all points of view. A progressive can be grateful that the Young Republican leadership, barring a reversal at June's national convention in San Francisco, is overwhelmingly organization minded.
Just why the Young Republicans across the country should be more conservative than their elders is a constant source of wonderment to observers within the party. With the exception of California, where a Birch backed candidate recently emerged from a ruthlessly sophisticated campaign with full control of the state Young Republican organization, most extreme conservatives eschew direct Birch Society ties. But that does not affect the extremity of their convictions.
Partly responsible, I think, is their sheltered, generally middle-class youth and their unfamiliarity with the issues. To such individuals the easy answers of the ultra-conservatives to difficult questions are very appealing; a few easily memorized slogans suffice for a platform on which one can exercise his emotions.
Older Republicans may be just as unknowledgeable, but when asked to nominate candidates or pass resolutions at a national convention, they at least are aware of the mood of the voters and the realities of 20th century politics. For the senior party, thoughtless or extreme stands cost votes, victories and jobs; for the more conservative Young Republicans, taking such stands costs only the respect of some of their elders, while the catharsis it brings usually seems worth that small price (It should be observed that parallel situations arise in many liberal organizations).
Secondly, the Young Republican national Federation tends to attract a different kind of worker than does the senior party. Despite its image among Democrats, the Republican Party as a whole is broadly based economically and ethnically, through its sociological "bell curve" may be on the prosperous side of the Democrats'. Such diversity is not so characteristic of the Young Republican National Federation-the desire of the present national leadership not withstanding.
In college and in the early years of a career and marriage, only the fairly well-to-do middle class partisan can afford to be active in a party organization, especially in a leadership capacity, which may require attendance at meetings and conventions often hundreds of miles from home. The more financially secure Republicans, not surprisingly, tend to be the more conservative ones.
One gets the impression among Young Republican groups-even, although to a lesser degree, at Harvard that many future politicians are not in them; those who will be party leaders may be biding their time in these early years, studying or working, and plan to skip right over the YR's.
This may be a wise route to political success. Young republican internal politics are often more petty and degrading than the senior party's even though the stakes are lower. By avoiding the YR's, one enters politics later with fewer enemies.
Moreover, unlike special issue groups such as SANE, the Young Republicans(or Young Democrats for that matter) tend not to be intellectually oriented as on organization. The Harvard Young Republicans have produced policy papers on civil rights and civil defense, and presently are assisting state legislators in research on Beacon Hill. But this is not typical fare for a Young Republican club, and not even the primary interest of the Harvard Young Republicans.
If one wants to participate in politics intimately familiar with the issues, he will become better acquainted with them outside the Young Republicans than within. Unhappily it is characteristic of all political organizations in both parties, that intellectual attainment is undervalued.
Nothing, however, precludes a Young Republican member from being intimately familiar with issues on his own. And by working as well in the Young Republican Club he learns early the lessons of practical politics that can give him sounder judgment than the aspiring Republican who remains aloof from the YR's. If his experience brings enemies early, it also brings firm friends. From shared political projects in the Young Republicans, peripheral and unaffiliated organizations can spring.
The Young Americans for Freedom, Advance,and the new Republican research group made up of Harvard and MIT assistant professors and graduate students (the Ripon society) all sprang up in recent years from individuals connected in some way with Young Republican clubs. These organizations may now have little to do with Young Republicans, but Young Republican experience helped stimulate their formation.
Membership in the Young Republicans is also economically and vocationally valuable. It is a fact of politics that the ambitious young aspirant in either party will win a job in Washington or influence in his home state more readily if he has a practical background. Of course a would-be politician in college is well advised to learn to think, for the glands alone cannot produce political success. But also it is advantageous for him to learn to operate in a practical political context like the Young republicans, no matter how obnoxious the right wingers and how petty the annual election fights. For in the conflict between men of thought and men of action, the laurels in politics go to the latter.
BRUCE K. CHAPMAN '62 is publisher of Advance, a progressive Repubilcan magazine, now based in Washington, which he and several friends founded at Harvard two years ago. His views in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the CRIMSON.