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Have you ever found heaven on earth?

I did this weekend at my first Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering in Washington, D.C.

When I entered the main hall, I was immediately showered with flyers. It was like Locust Walk on steroids — except every event had a conservative focus.

These flyers promoted events like the premiere of the trailer for the long-awaited movie version of a favorite book of conservatives — Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged — or evening parties featuring a gigantic cake commemorating Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.

The only thing that was missing was the milk and honey.

And what amazed me was that so many of the people at CPAC were students. (Penn had a contingent of ten.) In fact, 43 percent of the votes in the straw poll were cast by students.

At Penn, it can become easy to feel that conservatism is not popular with our generation. But college students have the perfect opportunity to become politically active in the conservative movement via the most pressing issue affecting our futures — our national debt.

It has become difficult for the federal government to say no to any programs even if their existence cannot be justified. As a result, the debt-to-GDP ratio will be 97 percent by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That’s the highest since World War II. And President Barack Obama’s $3.7-trillion budget released Monday does little to combat the problem.

Politicians say no to needed cuts because those changes would most affect the older generations, which vote in the greatest numbers. They do not expect youth to turn out in force in any election — and if they do, they expect that vote to be reliably Democratic.

Instead, they want to make sure they corner swing voters — who are usually older. So they keep benefits perfectly intact and in a gluttonous status quo. Meanwhile, if the current path is maintained, the Social Security system, Medicare, Medicaid and our entire government infrastructure will be broken by the time we are old. There’s no question that changes are coming — it’s just a question of when and whether the programs we have come to depend on will still exist at all.

Leave it to Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) to refocus our efforts. Daniels — who should run for president — has led a state that previously had consistent fiscal deficits to balanced budgets.

Daniels spoke at the Reagan Dinner on Friday night, focusing on this culture of the federal government. He knows that Washington is addicted to debt.

“[The national debt] is the new red menace — this time consisting of ink,” Daniels said. “We can debate its origins endlessly and search for villains on ideological grounds, but the reality is pure arithmetic.”

In this new battle to cut spending, our weapons are not guns. They’re “third grade math books,” Daniels said.

This battle with debt is the equivalent to a modern-day invasion. “If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of our land, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help,” Daniels said. “That is what those of us here are now called to do. It is our generational assignment.”

At that point, the room was just silent. Our government’s irresponsibility on this debt issue is unacceptable.

There is a crisis of leadership on this issue. No one’s stepping up to tell people the truth, even though they may not want to hear it. That’s what separates real leaders, like Daniels, from mere politicians.

Student engagement is part of what can solve this problem. I’m prepared to be a solider in the battle to roll back our federal debt and ensure that our American democracy focused on individual progress remains. Are you?

Charles Gray is a Wharton and College junior from Casper, Wyo. His e-mail address is The Gray Area appears every Tuesday.

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