Right Turn

COMMENTARY Political Process

Right Turn

Jun 30th, 1999 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and president of The Heritage Foundation.

Here's some unsettling news for baby-boomers raised on the '60s culture of free love and big-government liberalism: Many of your kids are becoming-gasp!-conservative.

Listen to Wendy Shalit, the twenty-something writer whose new book sends a scandalous message: sexual promiscuity is wrong.

"Their parents are the ones who sort of believed in this liberation through promiscuity and experience," Shalit, author of "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue," told the Associated Press. Kids today, however, are "embracing the codes of conduct that their own parents rejected."

For Shalit and others like her, the philosophy of "love the one you're with" just doesn't cut it. Indeed, according to a recent poll of 275,000 first-year college students conducted by UCLA, young people are shunning liberalism across the board-on everything from sex and crime to individual responsibility and the role of government. According to the survey:

  • Casual sex is no longer the norm. The students were presented this statement: "If two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for a very short time." Only 40 percent said it was acceptable. That's down from the all-time high of 52 percent in 1987.

  • Abortion-on-demand is losing its appeal. Only half of the 1998-99 freshmen surveyed support efforts to keep abortion legal, a record low. In 1990, 65 percent supported abortion on demand.

  • There is little tolerance for criminals. Nearly three-quarters of the freshmen said there is too much concern for those who commit crimes, a nearly 50 percent increase from the early 1970s. In addition, less than a quarter of them believe the death penalty should be abolished-a significant drop from 1973, when 56 percent of freshmen opposed capital punishment.

  • Washington is not the center of life. Only 26 percent of those surveyed said keeping up with politics is essential or very important, well down from the 58 percent during the government-is-the-answer days of the mid-1960s. Meanwhile, almost 75 percent said they volunteered time as high school seniors, a strong signal of the importance young people place on taking individual responsibility to improve society.

It's amazing, really. These kids are not only rejecting the "if it feels good do it" ethic of their parents' generation (my generation), they're also resisting popular culture. As Hollywood parades its junk through movie theaters and the music industry pumps out more and more trashy CDs, many of today's young adults are buying into values and responsibility.

They're also saying they've had enough of Washington-knows-best. They've seen the fruits of big government-exploding drug use, children bearing children, the loss of individual freedom and a growing dependence on the state-and they don't like it. They realize their future rests in their own hands, not government's.

Mark Twain once said that when he was a teenager he couldn't believe how dumb his father was, but by the time he became an adult he marveled at how much the old man had learned. Today many of the adults who imbibed the polluted culture of the '60s could take a lesson in common sense from their children.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.