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This summer I arrived in Washington, D.C., zealous in my political beliefs and keen to effect change in Washington. I was confident in my beliefs when I left my small Iowa hometown. What I didn't plan for was a readjustment of my entire political philosophy.
In Washington, I worked for FreedomWorks, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to limited government principles. I had known for years that I was a conservative Republican, but not much else. I figured I had a reasonable grasp on policy; I'd usually focus on issues such as gay marriage and flag burning rather than complicated economic issues.
Boy, was I wrong.
While in Washington, I looked deeper into those sound bites. I examined the philosophical underpinnings of the conservative movement. Taxes, health care and Social Security are all matters that will affect my generation now and in the future. The funny thing is I didn't know anything about these topics before I came to Washington. I didn't know about them because my party wasn't talking about these issues, and this is the heart of the problem.
The Republican Party has lost its way. It collectively celebrates Ronald Reagan, but has forgotten his limited government values. Over the past eight years, congressional Republicans have grown the government to unfathomable heights, disregarding Reagan's maxim: "Government isn't the solution to the problem; government is the problem."
This is where my generation enters the discussion. I think that we are confused in our political beliefs. We are fierce advocates for personal freedoms, yet possess a general distrust of the large, intrusive federal government, a unique mix.
We can trace this political lineage back to our grandparents. The Greatest Generation worked hard, with a premium on personal responsibility. However, it was their generation who brought about the massive welfare state of the New Deal and stifled individuality throughout the 1950s. This influenced the Baby Boomers, who sloughed off conformity in favor of total liberty.
The only problem was that they left personal responsibility behind in the pursuit of that liberty. It's my generation's duty to exploit the best of both generations - the responsibility of the 1950s with the freedoms of the 1960s. The past two generations have laid the groundwork and made the mistakes. It's my generation's obligation to rediscover the nexus between personal responsibility and economic and personal liberty.
The previous generations' young aspired to positions in the federal bureaucracy. They trusted the government and their ability to shape it. Unfortunately, their influence has only made government bigger.
Quite simply, my generation is not inclined to trust the government like our predecessors. When we want to make a difference, we join nonprofit organizations. We seldom exclaim, "I want to change the world ... as a bureaucrat!"
We should be a natural audience for limited government conservatives. We have realized that bureaucracy is inefficient and that Social Security is nothing but an unfunded promise. Because Republicans have allowed so much of this needless government, the Democrats now appear the party of small government.
We are an idealistic generation that wants to make a positive impact on the world. But it's not just idealism that we are looking for; we need entrepreneurial policy solutions to long-term problems. We are the generation that will have to pay for the large government programs created by the Baby Boomers to serve the needs of the Baby Boomers.
The Republican Party has an opportunity to win back younger voters by dealing with the big issues, such as Social Security and health care, but not asking us to pay for all the fixes. Like our parents, we should have the opportunity to enjoy a growing economy and not be saddled with higher taxes to pay for new programs. The opportunity is there for conservative candidates to win us back, but they better do it soon or they will lose this generation.
MATTHEW HITTLE is a resident of Sioux City, a graduate of Bishop Heelan High School and a senior at the University of South Dakota. He spent the summer as an intern at the grass-roots organization FreedomWorks.