Do baby elephants dwell on same-sex marriage?

Young Republicans: so stylish and libertarian. So free of cares, except perhaps for weed and gay marriage. That's the view, at least, from the New York Times, which highlighted them at the recent conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee. The story purports to unveil differences between the baby elephants and their elders. It succeeds only on an extremely narrow band: the two hot-button issues of marijuana and homosexual relationships.

The Times piece starts out as "color," with the reporter wandering through the convention hall, apparently picking out young faces. It's not hard to find the ones he wants to highlight:

It was difficult to miss Ian Jacobson at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Known as Rooster, he was 33, with an ample beard, earrings and a towering orange-and-aqua spiked Mohawk haircut. But he also sported a pinstriped suit, French cuffs and a natty contrast collar.

Mr. Jacobson's sartorial contradictions matched those of his politics: He is among the young Republicans who are pro-free market on fiscal issues and libertarian on social ones. While his views represent a potential growth wing for a party that is losing among other demographic groups, they also show an emerging tension with the older social conservatives at the core of the party's base.

"I want us to return to our roots," Mr. Jacobson said while attending the conference over the weekend. A self-described "libertarian-leaning Republican" from San Antonio, he sketched out his ideal political party as one that freed individuals to chart their own course in their personal and professional lives.

The newspaper also interviews the leader of a libertarian student group, a Wellesley freshman, and an Ohio State junior "who was strolling through CPAC wearing a Russian-style winter hat with 'Obama' and the Soviet hammer and sickle emblazoned on it." Oh yeah: also a junior from Geneva College, which the article hastens to point out as a Christian school -- a rare mention of religion here. More on that later.

The Times' interests are rather obvious in this story. Same-sex marriage comes up seven times, marijuana four times. The economy and "fiscal issues" are mentioned once each. Taxes and the minimum wage come up once each, both in the same paragraph. And getting a job after graduation -- surely high on the list of college students -- doesn't show up until the last sentence.

Citing a recent poll the newspaper conducted along with CBS News, the story says that a mere 56 percent of Republicans under 45 support same-sex marriage "rights" (note the code word, BTW), versus 29 percent for older party members. Marijuana drives a shallower wedge between the generations: Half of Republicans "and Republican-leaning independents" under 45 support legalization, versus opposition by two-thirds of older Republicans.

Are those really the main items on young Republican minds? I hope to God not. Especially since God apparently wasn’t among the things they were asked.

The Times sounds disappointed not to find sharp rifts among CPAC chiefs:

The split did not take place among the high-profile presidential candidates, who largely avoided divisive social issues or mentioned them only to praise their party's big-tent tolerance, but the conversation was easy to find elsewhere.

Interestingly, abortion is not among the fault lines, the story reports, "with young and old opposed in almost equal numbers." But it still tries to make something of the fact that "younger Republicans are more willing to support a candidate who does not share their position on abortion than those over 45, according to the poll."

What about other issues? You know, like immigration, gun sales, global warming, foreign policy, the debt ceiling, the 2010 healthcare law, big business, women's and Hispanic concerns? Those and other matters came up in the same Times/CBS poll. Why weren't the young CPAC attendees asked about them?

GetReligion readers also would likely be curious about their views on religious persecution and discrimination. Coverage and comments on rights versus discrimination -- such as the photographer in New Mexico who was sued for not wanting to shoot a gay wedding -- are easy to find.

Then there's persecution abroad, an important matter of foreign policy. Just in late February, the BBC ran a searing account of the oppression of Syrian Christians by jihadis there. That was quite enough time for the Times reporter to ask young Republicans about such things, if he wished.

The Times article does quote Rick Santorum at length. He acknowledges that "libertarian social views" (code word alert) are spreading beyond college students. The story allows him to add:

Mr. Santorum said that after he speaks to youthful audiences, they give him feedback about how they had not previously heard his case about the importance of cultural conservatism as it relates to the centrality of the family.

"They don't hear it from pop culture, they don't hear it from the media, they don't hear it from anybody unless they're going to church, and even in church now they're not hearing it in a lot of churches," said the once and perhaps future presidential candidate. "So when you're only hearing one side of the argument it's pretty easy to be convinced."

I was going to say something like "It sure is," but you're probably way ahead of me on that.

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