Young Guns: What to Make of Conservative Teen Pundits?

I read Williams' column with interest, but it began to take a turn towards the end. My wife remarked, "Someone that young shouldn't be this cynical." Williams went from conservative cheerleading to dishing on conservatives and their causes. Williams was struggling with who he was, what he believed, and what he wanted to do with his life in front of an audience of thousands. Williams ended his column in 2005 at the age of sixteen.

Another teenager, Hans Zieger, began a column at age seventeen and ended up writing for as well. He had a unique focus on issues relating to the liberal assault on the Boy Scouts and wrote a book on the topic, as well as another one called Reagan's Children. He "retired" at twenty-one at the end of 2006, declaring, "I don't know enough to be weekly offering my opinions as though possessed of some eminence." Zieger is now a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative alternative to the ACLU.

Krohn has several advantages over Williams and Zieger that could produce better results.

First, he exudes a self-confidence that is a rare quality at his age and a must for survival in the world of punditry. He's not intimidated by any venue or at all starstruck. He doesn't strike me as the type to write several hundred columns and then declare, "What the heck do I know?"

Second, Krohn has a clear friend and mentor in William Bennett. I think it's undeniable that some adult guidance and advice can help as you're entering a field and what Bennett has provided is invaluable. My early political involvement was encouraged and strengthened by the Montana state legislators, who invested time in me. Bennett's even greater investment will have an even greater effect on Krohn.

Third, Krohn's timing is better. Williams and Zieger began their columns in the middle of the Bush administration. In the age of Obama, with a conservative movement that is wary of its own party establishment and thoroughly disgusted with the betrayals of conservative principles, a great many opportunities exist for new voices that didn't exist in the Bush era. Krohn's case is also helped by his focus on first principles that seem to have been forgotten by political forecasting pundits.

Of course, these differences don't answer the challenges of critics. How could Krohn be qualified to opine on the issues of the day? And what of the loss of childhood that's occurring here?

The entire question of age is an ad hominem that avoids addressing his actual statements on the issues. It's true a teen political writer has not directly experienced much of what he writes about. However, it's also true that adult columnists write frequently about policy issues that they've only read about in books and magazines. They have to, because there's a limit to human experience and we can't experience everything directly.

Second, being a pundit depends on an ability to engage your audience. Every successful columnist and radio host does that. If Krohn does that, he meets the job requirements quite nicely.

Writing quality does improve with age. I sent in letters to the editor and posted a few articles on my personal site in my teenage years. I don't regret anything I said in those pieces, but if writing them today, I would have said them much better.

However, had I stayed out of politics until twenty-one like President Hoover suggested, while my mechanics might have been stronger to start, my writing would now be far shallower. It's true that I can talk about my wife and my mortgage while Krohn cannot, but there is no teacher in the world of politics like experience.

I've been heavily involved in politics from ages that Krohn's critics would consider dangerous and unhealthy. The result? I remember things that most people my age have to rely on a book for because they weren't paying attention at the time. I've worked on a presidential campaign, congressional campaigns, and even a campaign for sheriff. I've served on Republican central committees in two states and ran for two offices. I may only be twenty-eight, but I have the political resume of a forty-year-old.

Krohn is also running smack dab into "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It's been culturally ingrained that we ought to expect teenagers to be irresponsible slackers. But the history books tell how, when Andrew Jackson was thirteen, he became a courier for the Continental Army and endured the hardships of being a POW. John Quincy Adams, at age fourteen, was a secretary to the U.S Mission at St. Petersburg, Russia. Many teens will rise above our low expectations if only they're given a chance.

The best way to look at Jonathan Krohn is the same way one looks at a baseball prospect. If Krohn gets a nationally syndicated radio show, it will most likely be a weekend show on maybe a dozen stations. That's comparable to being assigned to play in the AA minor leagues. And just like a minor leaguer, Krohn's future will depend on how well he proves himself at articulating conservative principles.

And like a baseball team, the conservative movement will go nowhere if they do not develop good talent through the minor leagues. No good baseball fan hopes for his team's farm club to fail, and no good conservative should hope for a young man like Jonathan Krohn to fail.