They call it "the movement." The movers are bright young people scattered throughout Washington's policy-making hothouses, hydroponic conservatives feeding on Reagan's unblinkered sun and a steady ideological drip. They flourish on the Hill, in the agencies, the White House, the foundations and the universities, working for what they call "the coming revolution."
"It's closer," says one, "than any of us dreamed a few years ago."
This revolution won't be fought in bell-bottoms and headbands. The women sport Pappagallo shoes and silk bow ties. The men wear dark suits and Armani; they look like they need to shave maybe twice a week but do it every morning anyway.
They socialize at meetings and receptions and concerts (classical, not rock). They drink scotch instead of smoking pot. They rarely sleep together and don't talk about it if they do. "The trend," says another, "is toward elegance, class and civilization, rather than marijuana, guitars and lumberjack shirts.
"It's boring," he adds, "to be a proletariat."
Calvin Klein over Levi Strauss, William F. Buckley over Petr Alekseyevich Kropotkin, Newt Gingrich over Che' Guevara. These revolutionaries are ambitious, rightwardly mobile and powerful, judging by the magnitude of the under-30 vote for Reagan. Their collective voice echoes the Vietnam-era protests, but from the opposite direction -- a kind of conservative antiphon sung by the young, to the themes of patriotism, anti-Sovietism and free enterprise.
"What I notice today about kids in the conservative movement," says Adam Meyerson, editor of the conservative Policy Review and a grand old man of 30, "is that they are normal. That might not have been the case 10 years ago. The big difference is that they think they're on the winning side -- they think they own the future."
Two common experiences shaped their politics, seminal experiences that somehow escaped broader political analysis and postadolescent prognostics. One of these, "professor-loathing," is a generational reaction to liberal values of the 1960s as reflected in college faculties.
"If anyone wants to see what the '60s were like," says a recent college graduate, speaking at the Heritage Foundation before an audience of rapt young faces, "drop in on a college faculty meeting. Leather jackets, ponchos, burlap bags, blue jeans, Trotsky glasses and funny-looking shoes are the uniform . . .
"The majority of university professors are socialists. They hate this country. They prefer distant totalitarians to the local businessman . . . They represent a spiritual and moral decay that began to take hold in America after the Vietnam war."
The speaker is Ben Hart, 25, who as a student at Dartmouth was physically attacked by a college fund-raising official for distributing copies of the conservative Dartmouth Review, founded by Hart and several classmates. He wrote about the incident in his book, "Poisoned Ivy," which has entered the movement's mythos.
"In the '60s," Hart says, "we had rioting students. Now we have rioting faculty."
The Dartmouth Review inspired a spate of conservative journals on other American campuses. Literary antiestablishmentarianism was once the exclusive province of the left -- now, according to Hart, there are 75 such imitations, and a clamoring mass of nascent conservatives on campus.
In Washington, as director of studies at Heritage, Hart organized a loose polemical group known as the Third Generation for young conservatives. They forgather every other Wednesday night to hear other conservatives under 30 speak to the issues. The sessions are so popular that people line the walls of the Heritage Foundation's small auditorium.
The Third Generation, say its members, is a recrudescence of youthful rightism succeeding the neoconservatives of a decade ago and the earlier, old-line righties of the 1950s, such as Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Buckley, editor of the conservative National Review.
"At one time," says Hart, "you could get all the conservatives into a telephone booth. Now young people are joining the movement in great numbers. Sixty-five percent of voters under 24 went for Reagan . . . For under-30 voters, it was more than 62 percent."
Another member of the "Dartmouth Mafia" -- young, ambitious, conservative alumni who moved into the real world here on the Potomac -- is Frank Cannon, 25. .e ran Students for Reagan in 1980 and is now administrative assistant to Rep. Mac Sweeney (R-Tex.) as well as chairman of D.C. Young Republicans. His first foray into politics was to hand out Reagan literature at polling places in New Hampshire.
"Liberal academics would come up and tell us we didn't understand the process," he says, "that Reagan didn't have a chance. They called us fascists, or something equally unintelligent."
Cannon founded the Dartmouth Conservative Union, against the wishes of the administration and many of the students. "People ripped down our signs. One student told me that if I wrote for the newspaper again, he would beat me to a pulp. There were threatening phone calls. It was a little like being in the South during the civil rights marches."
Cannon describes himself as "ethnic-looking." The movement is not elitist, he says. "I was under the median income for Dartmouth students. The members of the Radical Union were the rich ones. I know because I helped one of them move. He had the heaviest stereo I ever lifted."
Cannon's father is a former labor union president on Long Island, his mother a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. One of his earliest memories is of a Kennedy bumper sticker on the family car. "My parents are typical of the people the Democratic party moved away from. They believed in opportunity, and a strong America." Cannon got his father a job this fall on a local Republican congressional campaign.
The reaction against faculty isn't limited to the Ivy League. John Merline, a slight 24-year-old in V-neck sweater and matching tie, worked as an intern for political columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak and is a regular at Third Generation meetings. He became a con-symp after taking a course at the University of Michigan called Biology and Human Affairs.
"It wasn't about biology at all," says Merline, a philosophy major. "It was about the failures of capitalism. The professor said capitalism led to pesticides and dead babies in foreign countries. Every week there was an El Salvador update. You could take the tests home, and everybody got an A. If you got something wrong you could rewrite the test."
He began to read UM's conservative journal, the Michigan Review, and, like Cannon, to practice political persuasion. "My parents were liberal. My mother has compassion for the poor, like most people. She began to listen to me when I said the poor might be better off under the conservatives." He says she voted for Reagan.
The other common factor in young conservatism, the big complement to professor-loathing, is the "two presidents" theory.
"People under 25 remember only two presidents," says Grover Norquist, 28, an economic analyst for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. "For them the Democratic Party is not John Kennedy, real or mythical. It's not FDR. It's Jimmy Carter."
Carter to the Third Generation means U.S. hostages, expanding Soviet tyranny, high interest rates, "malaise." By contrast, Reagan means Grenada, anticommunism, low inflation, jobs.
"Carter screwed things up and blamed it on us," says Norquist. "Reagan said he would step out of the way and let the economy work."
With his gray suit and matching tie, precise hand motions and well-rehearsed monologue, Norquist looks like a 60-year-old Rotarian three decades before the fact. At 21 he was executive director of and spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. Today he makes speeches about free enterprise and fiscal responsibility for the Conservative Opportunity Society.
His political education began in western Massachusetts when, as a teen-ager, he witnessed the local library tossing out books on the communist threat. Norquist gathered them up. While his peers read "Dune," he read "Witness," "I Led Three Lives" and "Masters of Deceit."
He studied economics at Harvard. "We were told that the big three American auto-makers constituted an oligopoly. If we asked about foreign competition, the professor would say, 'That's a stupid question. There isn't any competition.' There was a whole school of economics that I had to read on my own."
He worked for the Harvard Crimson. "That's where the hard left existed. They were Marxist-Leninists. Now they call themselves neoliberals . . .
"The important thing, as far as young people are concerned, is that the left has lost the moral high ground. Liberals can't look you in the eye and talk about Afghanistan, Angola, genocide or yellow rain."
To the libertarians within the movement, the two presidents theory is not as important as the notion of reaction against an older generation and the restraints it has placed on the young.
"The rules of an ordinary American high school," says Walter Olson, 30, who works for the American Enterprise Institute, "are enough to drive most students into libertarianism."
Libertarianism is the belief that people should be able to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't impose on the freedom of others. When Olson addressed the Third Generation, he said libertarianism had been criticized for inadvertently encouraging fornication in public parks. The libertarian response was, "Get rid of the parks."
"Libertarianism is attractive to the young," he says, "because it represents a very healthy revolt against authority . . . A lot of 18-year-olds know they're smarter than most adults, but they see adults trying to limit their driving and drinking. Nothing concentrates their minds like the draft. These restraints make them aware of the issues, and the need for individual rights."
Olson edits the journal Regulation. He experienced professor-loathing at Yale -- "There was a great deal of pressure to accept the consensus leftist views" -- and emerged a free-willer, as well as a conservative.
"Government shouldn't interfere," he says, "with capitalistic transactions between consenting adults."
She sits in a fashionable restaurant on the Hill, tall, single and 26, wearing a fire-red Chanel-style suit and a lacquered pin to match. Languidly she pushes dark hair away from her pale green eyes, and says, "Young women are turning away from feminism. To them it means radical, and lesbian. Girls coming out of college today don't feel discriminated against. Why should they march around on the street and scream at men?"
She is Noreen Barr, legislative director of Phyllis Schlafly's anti-ERA Eagle Forum.
"What do the feminists tell a young girl? Not that she's lucky, that because of electricity her work at home is much easier, that because of equal rights she can drop out and raise her kids and build her re'sume' and reenter the force, that she can have a loving husband she takes care of, and who takes care of her. The feminists tell her that she has to make 'adjustments,' that something's wrong with her if she's not in the mainstream."
She did not suffer professor-loathing at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., where she read and discussed the Great Books. To her and her friends, feminists weren't avatars who had won equal rights -- they "were sloppy. They looked like they didn't like men. They didn't seem moral, since they were for abortion."
Barr upholds the two presidents theory and the reaction to the 1960s. "I remember sloppy-looking people running around being arrested. It seemed to us that they were at odds with helping others and helping the country. I didn't identify with them. I wanted to be a success."
She looks for similar qualities in men. "A lot of women are disgusted with men who 'care about caring' . . . Many guys you meet ask themselves, 'Is she, or isn't she a feminist ? If I hold the door for her, will she spit in my eye?' You run into men who say, 'chairman . . . I mean, chairperson.' That person has been crippled."
For a boyfriend, she says, "You look for someone like your brother, who's considerate, a gentleman and secure." Or like President Reagan -- "strong, masculine, proud and patriotic."
Of sex and the movement, she says, "I don't see that in a right-left perspective. It goes on, on both sides of the fence. The barriers have been broken, mostly by the media, but there's a reaction against that, too." She'd like to outlaw premarital sex, but admits "there's an enforcement problem -- invasion of privacy. But I see no problem with having it on the books."
A male member of the movement asks rhetorically, "How long can you hang out with someone who wants to regulate what you do in the bedroom? I can tell you that they the religious right don't want to regulate it. You can't scare young people into believing that Jerry Falwell represents a threat to them. The ones I talk to don't see any threat to their life styles, however decadent or nondecadent."
Sex is more a theoretical factor in the movement, he says, than a real one.
"I always heard that one of the things that made the New Left work was that the sex was better. I wondered how that would affect our organizing on the right. How do you make college Republicans seem like the place to be? Sex was just one of the things used by the left that we considered, like rallies and posters. But we told campus organizers that if they slept around, they would be fired.
"We never really came to grips with the problem. In general, people who are interested in the social issues don't sleep around. The homosexuals don't make a point of it. If you slept with someone in the movement, it would be called 'fishing off the company pier.' It would be considered imprudent, even stupid."
Sex or no sex, the conservative movement seems to be burgeoning on campus. "We registered 320,000 new college Republicans between April '84 and October '84," says Paul Erikson, treasurer of the College Republican National Committee. "That's astonishing, since we have only 9 million college students in the United States."
He adds, "They were really just registering for Reagan."
At least some of them are black. Deroy Murdock, 21, a junior at Georgetown University, is the first black chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. He worked for Reagan's '80 campaign while a high school student in Southern California. A first-generation American whose parents came up from Costa Rica, Murdock was strongly anticommunist. He had become disillusioned with Carter's performance as president, and started listening to Reagan's radio broadcasts. "Reagan seemed to have the answers."
Older blacks, he says, "consider me a traitor. I tell them they shouldn't wed themselves to any part of the political spectrum. When I was going door-to-door for Reagan, black Democrats got incensed. Typically, they'd say, 'How much are they paying you?' I set up a Young Americans for Freedom booth outside the Democratic convention in San Francisco. The Mondale and Hart people thought I was kind of cute. The Jackson people were furious, and abusive -- they thought I was just short of satanic."
Murdock and his conservative friends on campus like to watch "The McLaughlin Group" before going out on a Saturday night. "We like movies, and dancing. We do liberal things, like drinking at the Third Edition."
William Keyes, 31, is chairman of BLACK, a black conservative political action committee that supported Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan. (Keyes won't divulge what the acronym stands for.) He says, "I see evidence around the country of young blacks joining the conservative movement. When Jesse Jackson leads black people down the street to vote, that's big news. But in fact a lot of young blacks are looking at the economics. They realize that crime is down, and inflation, interest rates and unemployment . . .
"Coretta King, Benjamin Hooks, Jackson and the whole crowd portrayed Reagan as a warmonger. Now a lot of young blacks are looking around and saying, 'What's all this hysteria? There's no war. Nobody's been killed. I haven't been drafted and neither have my friends.' "
The Third Generation prospers, "the movement" is certifiable. But a revolution?
"It's not really a revolution," says a member of the same generation who is impressed by the number of young conservatives she encounters at sociopolitical feeds around the federal city. "They don't want to reduce the size of government, they want to join it and buy a little town house and never have to go back to Wilmette."
An often-cited reason for conservative strength among the young is self-interest. Or, less charitably, selfishness.
"Sure they're selfish," says Hart. "They want jobs."
"Young blacks don't care about 'fairness' the liberals talk about," says Keyes, "but whether or not they and their friends can participate in these new opportunities."
In his office at the Chamber of Commerce overlooking the White House, Norquist straightens his tie and glances across Lafayette Square. History, he says, "is marching on our side . . . I think the revolution is happening. It's going to stick. I don't see what could happen to move it back."
But there's a blemish in the Reaganaut sky, and it's not a laser-equipped satellite.
"The trouble is," Norquist says, "there will be a lot of whores trying to jump on the bandwagon. Like young professionals who decide to go to Washington and be a Republican."
"It's a cynical thing to say that young people have changed," insists Cannon. "They haven't lost their idealism, they've just recognized failed practices."
Not all of them, however. Cannon deals with young leftward counterparts on the Hill every day, and plays softball with them on the Mall. "It's going to be a long fight," he says.