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The New Left vs. the New Right in San Diego : Conservatism Enjoys Day in the Sun

February 22, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

\o7 Political and social activism appears on the rise in San Diego County--in part sparked by a renewed struggled between the New Left and the New Right. Fueling the struggle is the Reagan Administration's involvement in the Iran arms-sale scandal, which appears for the first time to make President Reagan a vulnerable target for his political opponents. As expected, both the New Right and the New Left claim to be winning.

The New Left says public confidence in the politics of the New Right has been shattered because the scandal has tarnished the image of Reagan, for six years the standard bearer of the conservative movement. The New Right says it has been unaffected by the Reagan Administration's problems and accuses the New Left of blowing the scandal out of proportion in an attempt to revive a movement that has been dying since the end of the turbulent 1960s.

In truth, however, both the New Left and the New Right have gained considerable ground in recent years. For the New Left, the focus of recently formed progressive groups has been issues such as American aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, women's and minorities' rights, and the continuing nuclear arms buildup. The New Right has seen its ranks swell as the result of increased membership in established organizations such as Young Americans for Freedom, which has nearly doubled in size in two years, and religious fundamentalists, such as the Rev. Dorman Owens, who have been among the strongest supporters of the New Right.

It's been a heady six years for the New Right.

With the most conservative President in half a century in the White House, a shift in foreign and defense policies and, until this year, Republican control of the Senate, everything seemed to be going their way--until the Iran arms scandal.

The New Right also saw many of its positions on cutbacks in government regulation, increased defense spending and reduction of government programs turned from political views into practical realities.

But it saw only a partial victory for its opinions on aid to the contras and other forces in Central America that the New Right believes are needed to combat what it sees as a communist threat to the region.

In one respect, the New Right is little different from older conservative movements. The centerpiece of its agenda is a hard-line anti-communist stance, an ideology shared by the White House. Part of the new in the New Right is its massive support from fundamentalist religious groups and highly visible television preachers such as the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

"The rise of the New Right is mostly due to the failed policies of liberals and the Democratic-controlled Congress of the late 1970s," declares Barry Jantz, 27, county chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a national conservative youth group established 26 years ago by conservatives William F. Buckley and M. Stanton Evans.

"The huge recession we had under President Carter, the decline in the moral standards of this country, the growing threat of communism around the world--these are just some of the things that made people realize the left didn't hold all the answers," Jantz said.

The 350 members of Young Americans for Freedom in San Diego carry the banner of the New Right to college and high school campuses around the county with the same spirit of activism as their New Left counterparts.

They hold weekly meetings at San Diego State University, UC San Diego, Grossmont College, and Helix and Grossmont high schools. They sponsor debates on such issues as aid to the contras and President Reagan's defense budget.

They also bring to town an assortment of conservative speakers aligned with the New Right, such as Charles Riley of Accuracy in Media, Angolan rebel leader Figuerado Paulo and newspaper columnist Allan Brownfeld.

"Our focal point is education," Jantz said. "The future of this country depends on the young people, and so does the continued growth of the New Right."

The New Right's roots spring from conservative thinkers like Buckley and Russell Kirk, Jantz said. It was further nurtured by national support groups like Young Americans and the John Birch Society.

Throughout the 1950s and early '60s, the Old Right's home-style brand of conservatism gained considerable support in the nation, but during the late 1960s and early '70s, Jantz said, the one-two punch of the Vietnam War and Watergate knocked the Old Right out of the nation's political arena. Several years later, the New Right entered the ring to continue the fight--this time with a slightly different strategy.

"Basically, the New Right is built not only on traditional conservatism, but on newer, grass-roots issues that have developed rather recently," Jantz said.

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