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Conservative, But Not Republican: Why I Left the GOP

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey GOP! Here's a wake-up call: Gallup reports that the number of 18-29 year-olds who identify as Republicans fell from 41% to 32% over the course of the Bush presidency. I am a young conservative. But like many conservatives my own age, I don't consider myself a Republican.

The turning point, for me, occurred during the 2004 GOP convention in New York. I was a student at the time and had finagled a press pass for the week under the auspices of my college newspaper.

One night during the convention, there was a huge party hosted by Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) dubbed, "Dreier's Big Apple Martini and Bowling Party." My friends and I vowed to crash it.

Dreier's party was held in a bowling alley in Greenwich Village. Above the bowling lanes, on the fifth floor, was a nightclub called Pressure Lounge. It was when I reached this area that my eyes beheld the evening's surprise entertainment. My thirteen-year-old fantasies materialized before my eyes. There was a pole dancer writhing around in black lingerie to the accompaniment of the Billy Squier tune, "The Stroke."

When a pole dancer's performance is paid for by the "Party of Family Values," it is a strange thing indeed. I'll never forget the open-mouthed look on the faces of an elderly couple standing next to me. They had left a tidy ranch house in some quiet suburban town in order to come to the Republican Convention, and they never imagined it would end in a striptease.

Up until that night, the Republican brand had carried, for me, a connotation of moral superiority. Afterward, I realized my naïveté.

Republicans had quite a decade: The Wilsonian mire in Iraq, an enormous prescription drug entitlement program straight from the Great Society playbook, careless deficit spending. By the time Roberts and Alito came around, you weren't allowed to like Bush anymore.

For a long time I refused to believe that our leaders had authorized torture. But Cheney and his apologists made that disbelief impossible to sustain when they openly advocated water boarding. The ticking time bomb scenario, they argued, justified extreme measures in the defense of the country. But they forgot what it was about the country that made it worth defending in the first place.

By the time Sarah Palin hit the scene, I realized just how cynical the party had become. I watched countless right-leaning politicians and pundits line up to dutifully espouse the greatness of a plainly unqualified candidate.

To young conservatives of my generation, the above laundry list of failures from the recent era of Republican rule represents a giant pole dancer's worth of GOP hypocrisy. The GOP didn't keep its promises. As a direct result, among many young conservatives I know, apathy prevails.

I am amazed when I hear Republicans criticizing Obama for his out-of-control spending. Conservatives need to realize that the emperor has no clothes and Republicans, for whom "fiscal responsibility" has been a longtime buzzword, just recently dedicated eight years to profligate spending (to name the least of their crimes).

For better or worse, the Republican Party remains the only viable vehicle for conservative governance in the U.S. These days, many are calling for the Republican Party to return to "true conservatism." That's very fine. But if conservatives cannot be honest about their own failures over the past decade, how can they hope to reform the Republican Party?

Self-proclaimed conservatives have cheered a decade's worth of misguided policies - all for the sake of promoting the Republican brand. A generation of disaffected young conservatives is the unfortunate result.

To my generation there is no greater turn-off than hypocrisy. Mine is the generation that invented reality television. It is a generation that craves authenticity even more than correct policy.

Conservatives must admit and amend their failure to uphold the principals they have always claimed to represent. They must place principle above party. In short, if they wish to gain the support of the young, conservatives need to get real. Only then can they restore hope and enthusiasm for the Republican Party in the rising generation.