I guess when I talk to friends and colleagues and family, I haven’t found too many people who are aligned on just one side of the political aisle. I hear things like I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative, for example. So it shouldn’t strike anyone as too unusual that I’ve turned views politically. Several times actually over the course of my life. When I was in seventh grade I was a political junkie and followed the Watergate Chronicles with rapt attention. I couldn’t believe each new headline as the reach of the investigation got closer and closer to Nixon, the president himself. When All the President’s Men came out I was thunderstruck. That was a time when if you said you were a republican most people actually heard the word “crook.”
My parents and grandparents and everyone I knew growing up was a card carrying Union member and lifelong Democrat. It would have been inconceivable to my grandma that I even considered voting for a Republican. But then as I headed off to college, my AP history teacher Jerry Tewmey sat me down and told me the purpose of going off to college was to separate yourself from your past and create your own identity, you know, construct your own independent point of view. I remember him saying, if you come home from college and show up at the Christmas table and don’t find anything about the dinner conversation objectionable, then you’re failing at school.
Of course, coming home to a loud, boisterous and ethnic family always insured that someone was spouting off about something that would raise a few eyebrows. I could almost hear one of my aunts admonishing us, “Now we don’t need that kind of talk at the dinner table.”
When I headed off to college, I spun toward the right. I was swept up in the Reagan revolution on campuses across the country during the 80’s election. It started after a campaign event for Perry Bullard who was our Democratic Congressman. It was hard for me to take him seriously on issues, when he was doing pot in his campaign office. I was really turned off by that (I know I was such an innocent nerd back then!) Then there was something excessive about the union talk going around at the time– pressing for a 4 day work week, always looking for more perks without necessarily offering more. And then, my high school best friend and I were now roommates up at Michigan. Gilbert and I worked summer shifts at Quality Metalcraft, an automotive parts manufacturer. To be honest, there was something not altogether pleasant about union life on the shop floor. Like the guys setting up a makeshift gambling parlor in the back so they could play cards after stocking up enough parts on the line to make quota for the day. Or the intimidation practiced on one of the Probies (those with fewer than 90 days were probationary employees and not as yet afforded the union’s protections.) whenever they showed up to a shift just a tad bit too enthusiastic for the work. He found his tires slashed. It was episodes like this that got me thinking more about individual responsibility. And then of course there was also Ayn Rand. And Russell Kirk. He boiled it down simply for me: Conservatism is the negation of ideology. Sounded about right to me at the time.
Yes, maybe there was something worthwhile in the conservative cause.
But it’s years later now, and time to be asking: So how did that turn out for you?