I often get the impression that liberals don’t have the foggiest understanding of how people become conservative. Maybe they believe radio talk show hosts hypnotize their listeners with the sound of their voice or Richard Mellon Scaife pays us all $5 a week under the table to vote Republican, but that’s not how it actually happens. While I can’t speak for every conservative, I can tell you how I became a right-winger.
To begin with, I was never terribly political in high school, which is probably the case for most teenagers. However, were you to guess which way I was going to end up leaning back in those days, you might have very well guessed liberal. Like most of my friends, I was a big fan of gangster rap like the Geto Boys & NWA along with the politicized message of Public Enemy & the obscene Luke Skyywalker & the Too Live Crew. That sort of music was standard fare for me when I was a kid. Some of my heroes as a teenager included Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, & Satchel Page, all of whom I admired in part because they achieved so much despite racism. I was also deeply affected by reading Malcolm X’s biography — although in a different way than John Walker Lindh. The book impressed upon me how important it was to try to make a difference in your life and how big of an impact one man can have, even a man like Malcolm X, who was a dope using punk in prison before he became an impact player in the Civil Rights movement. That book started to get me interested in politics, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I started to truly form my views.
Of course, I still had a head full of mush when I arrived on campus. I had minimal knowledge of American history, economics, and even what was going on politically in the world thanks to the mediocre high school education I had received. But, I did know I was interested in doing “something political.” So I started reading political books, listening to what my professors had to say, and talking politics with my friends who in retrospect, knew as little as I did about what was going on.
But even then, there were two lenses I viewed every political proposal through — pragmatism & did the idea make America better or worse off? At the time, it seemed to me that the first question that should be asked about every program, every idea was quite simply — will this work? If the idea didn’t work, then it was a bad idea, no matter how noble the intentions were of the person who proposed it. Next, I thought you had to consider the implications of the policy; did it make our country stronger or weaker? If it made our country weaker, then it was something I opposed.
Unfortunately for the left, practicality was not their strong point. As an example of what I mean, let me take you back to a class I took my sophomore year called “War, Peace, Justice and Human Survival.” The professors were ultra-libs of the sort you rarely find anywhere other than on college campuses, peace rallies, or on the pages of ultra left-wing mags like Counterpunch. Our professors explained to us very earnestly that we should get rid of our military and use non-violent resistance to protect ourselves from other nations. The professors talked about why they were pacifists, how right & moral their position was, & all the wonderful things we could do with the money we put into the military. They talked about the whole concept as if it were the greatest idea since the Wright Brothers decided to build a plane. Meanwhile, I was wondering what happened when Cuba’s military starting looting Florida and gang raping the women? What were people supposed to do then? Invite the Cubans in for soup, call them “brother,” and try to show them that we’re “human beings too?� Suppose they don’t care that we’re nice people, what’s our back-up plan?
Even in my political infancy, that was the core difference that I perceived between conservatives and liberals. As I saw it, conservatism was based on finding practical solutions that were chosen primarily because they worked and made America a better place to live. On the other hand, I believed the left’s ideas had more to do with what they thought was �nice� or �mean� than whether their proposals actually worked in the real world & strengthened our country.
As I�ve gotten older and my views have matured, I�ve found that those first conclusions I reached continue to be in large part true and those early discussions I had with my professors still seem to be apropos metaphors for most of the wars of ideas I see between the left and right today. Sure, political maneuvering, different factions within the left and right, religious issues, and social mores cloud some of the issues. But at their root, most of the ideological battles being fought today consist of right-wingers who are in one form or another crying, �This is practical & it�s good for America,� vs. left-wingers replying with some variant of, �That�s mean,� or �We should do this because it�s nice.� Maybe that�s not how everyone sees it, but it’s how I see it, and that is what turned me down the “right” path.