Young America’s Foundation: Live Conservative or Die in Canada
Spokesman Jason Mattera kicked a Campus Progress reporter out of YAF’s conference, saying it is for “conservative students.”
Never let it be said that the conservative movement is against tradition. In strict keeping with what has now become a yearly routine, this afternoon the Young America’s Foundation prevented a Campus Progress intern (me) from attending its annual conference. Although YAF accepted my online registration to attend parts of the conference open to all DC area interns, even sending me an email confirmation, they asked me to leave when I showed up to see keynote speaker (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich speak. I had barely told the people working registration my name when Jason Mattera, YAF’s spokesperson, came running up.
"Who are you with?" he asked me.
After some miscommunication, we established that he was asking where I’m an intern, and I replied that I’m an intern here at Campus Progress. There was an awkward pause.
"Sorry," Mattera said.
"What do you mean, ‘sorry’?" I asked. "I received an email confirmation that said I was registered. I don’t see what the problem is."
Mattera explained that the problem was that I’m a Campus Progress intern, and that since I’ve been liveblogging the conference all morning, I wouldn’t be allowed in, since blogging isn’t allowed at YAF’s conference (despite the fact that attendees have been tweeting about the conference all day). I told Mattera that struck me as bizarre, and a little bit like censorship. He suggested that I tell this to my "friends in the White House, and maybe they’ll pass a law to make us let you in." Mattara is, apparently, unaware of the fact that it is Congress, not the White House that passes laws. Politely deciding not to embarrass him further, I instead pointed out that Campus Progress’s National Conference welcomed attendees of all different viewpoints and encouraged them to blog and tweet about the conference—some did.
Mattera told me this was "comparing apples to oranges … this is a conference for conservative students." In fact, the two situations are kind of the same thing, and it’s YAF that looks bad. Campus Progress sponsors a conference with progressive themes, and yet it includes students who hold a wide range of views, and it certainly doesn’t turn students away on ideological grounds after previously confirming their registration.
I asked Mattera why his organization was so desperate to keep students with different viewpoints out (okay, I used the word "censorship"), and his response was that I could watch the livestream online. It seems strange that Mattera is willing to broadcast the event to the whole Internet but won’t let registered interns in to the event.
"Well, if this is what the conservative movement is doing to attract young people, I’m not sanguine about its future," I said.
Mattera laughed at me, and then replied, "Goodbye—oh wait, here, have an Obama fist bump." I refused his proffered fist, and he added, "Why don’t you move to Canada?" He seemed to think this suggestion was hilarious. (The fantastic thing about Mattera’s parting shot is that I do, in fact, have dual citizenship with Canada, have lived there, and will actually be going there in just under three weeks.) I turned and walked back into the elevator.
I’m not surprised that YAF barred me from Gingrich’s talk, judging from Campus Progress’s history with this conference. But I do confess to being puzzled as to what YAF—whose website claims, "The Conservative Movement Starts Here"—hopes to achieve by perpetuating a childish attempt to keep its speakers and attendees away from young people who don’t identify as conservative. Does YAF think that this is the way the conservative movement will regain its strength and influence? Do they think that young people who are politically moderate or undecided will be persuaded to join a group that bars non-conservatives from its events? Do they think that a movement that refuses to engage dissenters will ever be able to compete effectively with them?
I have no idea what Jason Mattera was thinking when he laughed at me and suggested I move to Canada, but if it is how he plans to spread the conservative message to young voters, I have a feeling that’s not going to work very well.
UPDATE: Looks like Jason Mattera can’t handle a little criticism. After I wrote this piece about how he and his organization denied me entrance to the YAF conference after previously accepting my application, he responded on the YAF blog. In the process of calling me “this girl” who “has quite the imagination,” he misstated or distorted so many facts that it would be pointless to correct them all. After all, while I am an ethical journalist who would never dream of fabricating quotes or making anything up, no one recorded our conversation at the YAF registration desk, and at this point it’s my word against his. But regardless of who said what, Mattera’s tone in his post demonstrates that he‘s the one who’s crying like a baby, even as he attempts to demonstrate his power and authority over a younger, female adversary.
Well, at the risk of disappointing Mattera, that’s not how this works. I don’t cry. And, as I told Mattera in person on Tuesday, and subsequently wrote in the above post, if the conservative movement thinks it’s going to regain its power by trying to publicly silence and intimidate a single progressive intern, it is most gravely mistaken.
Emily Rutherford is a staff writer and editorial intern with Campus Progress. She is a sophomore at Princeton University. Follow her coverage of YAF on Twitter.