In an election year with lots of attention being paid to getting young Americans to vote, a number of Web sites and blogs are disproving the notion that punk-rock-powered voter education and activism are a liberal monopoly.
One in particular, Conservative Punk, is carrying the torch for independent-minded young conservatives, even as polls show young voters gravitating away from that end of the political spectrum.
Unlike Punkvoter and Music for America, two left-leaning voter awareness and registration groups that accept contributions as so-called 527 groups — exempt from taxes as political organizations under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code — Conservative Punk has so far declined to accept political contributions, or funds from any established party.
The Web site, launched in February with little more than pocket change and the goodwill of like-minded partisans, is a vigorous blend of commentary, Web links, cartoons and news stories that reflect an unruly, maverick spirit among conservatives.
Looking for balance
In a piece titled “Doc Martens on the Ground,” a Marine stationed in Iraq weighs in with comments on the war. Another item explores the roots of Middle Eastern and Islamic anti-Semitism. The site also includes commentaries from punk musicians such as Michale Graves, former lead singer of the Misfits and now the voice of Gotham Road.
For ConservativePunk.com founder Nick Rizzuto, a 22-year-old publicist for New York radio station KROCK, it's all about seeking equal time.
Rizzuto, a conservative since the 2000 election, said he started the site in response to what he saw as an absence of attention paid to young conservative voters.
“It was almost don’t-ask, don’t-tell. If you were conservative or libertarian and not a bleeding-heart liberal, you almost felt like a bit of an outcast,” he said.
“I realized that not everybody in the punk scene was as left-wing as they make it out to be. You think of punk, you think of the Clash and other politically left-wing bands. I wanted to get out there and make people aware and that there are people out there who don't necessarily fly with the Punkvoter line.”
Insurgents on the right
Conservative Punk joins blogs and sites such as GOPunk.com, PunkVoterLies.com and Lefty Destroyer on the ramparts of a conservative insurgency that borrows some of the populist strategies of the left, while sometimes breaking with conservative ideology.
Rizzuto, for example, champions some ideas consistent with liberals — “like reformation of drug laws, ending mandatory minumum sentencing for minor drug offenders.” And his Web site comes out in support of voters turning out in November — a position that could do the loyal opposition more good than conservatives. “If doing what I'm doing helps the liberal side I'm not actively doing that, but that happens, so be it.”
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Such departures from the norm reflect Rizzuto's discomfort with painting all American conservatives with the same brush.
“There are punks who are conservatives and libertarians,” he said. “We're not all one-minded in our political philosophy. What unites us is a certain attitude toward it all. There's a certain amount of dissatisfaction with a system that's kind of stagnated either way with Republicans or Democrats. There are those of us of a more conservative mindset politically, but conservatism is not a lifestyle.”
Another kind of clash?
Punk, however, was as much lifestyle as music. Spawned in the mid-70s, punk rock began as a reaction to bland, homogenized musical fare and a rising tide of music industry commercialization. Punk evolved into its own celebration of anarchy and independence; groups like the Clash, the New York Dolls, Iggy and the Stooges, and the Sex Pistols — punk's enduring archetypes — ushered in the movement that inspired Rizzuto's Web site.
But considering punk's tradition of adopting anarchy as a principle, how does that square with American political conservatism?
“Punk rock has always been about thinking for yourself," he said. "So, what's the point for thinking for yourself if we're all expected to come to the same decision? I think that's very dangerous. When you lose that independence, you lose a little bit of your freedom.”
Several rock stars have adopted that independence of thought, from Ted Nugent to former MTV video jock Kennedy (an avowed Republican said to wear the party symbol as a tattoo on one of her more private parts) to punk icon Johnny Ramone, who made his allegiance known in 2002, when the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, proclaiming “God bless President Bush, and God bless America!”
With views like that, it's not surprising that some of his best friends are liberals.
“They're all for it," he said. "They think it’s a great thing we’re doing. There are places where our philosophies cross over a little bit.”
A breadth of opinion
For Rizzuto, that potential for crossover reflects a diversity of opinion that respects no ideology — and areas in which liberals and conservatives may be more in lockstep than one might think.
“When people realize there's common ground between liberals and conservatives, it could help to mend a bit of the extreme hatred one side has for the other.
“There's very mean-spirited stuff being said right now on both sides," Rizzuto said. "People don’t realize there's more than one way to make the world a better place."
That sentiment extends to the site's relationship with the GOP leadership. “We were contacted by the Republican grassroots group, but by taking money from the RNC [Republican National Committee], we'd lose independence," Rizzuto said.
“We've had pieces that criticize Bush,” he said. “It's not like we're out there actively campaigning for Bush." Rizzuto emphasizes the site's financial independence as well, noting it was constructed "pro bono by true believers."
Voters’ paradigm shift?
Conservatives may need those true believers in the fall. Some recent polls suggest conservatives are facing a shift in young-voter opinions increasingly at odds with the administration. The May 24 Newsweek Genext poll finds voters between 18 and 29 giving the president “poor marks on his handling of the economy, the war in Iraq and overall job performance.”
An April poll by the Harvard University Institute of Politics found that college students are no longer any more supportive of President Bush than the population at large. Their backing for the war in Iraq has declined from 65 percent in April 2003 to 49 percent last month.
And the once-dreaded L-word, “liberal,” apparently isn't the anathema it used to be. The Harvard survey found that the percentage of students describing themselves as liberal has increased over the last year, from 36 percent to 44 percent. The poll sampled opinions of 1,205 randomly selected college students.
Considering how Americans have voted in the past — the Federal Election Commission found that only 51 percent of the U.S. voting-age population of 205.8 million Americans cast ballots in 2000 — Rizzuto was pragmatic about the function of his site, and the need for an informed electorate, no matter how people weigh in in November.
“All you can really do is put out the information and hope people make the right decision,” he said. “It’s not my place to say what the right decision is.”
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