I was once a liberal.
I was once an ultra-liberal raving lunatic who read too much Chomsky and Zinn. I wore Che t-shirts and sported a shiny, red card that proclaimed me a member of the Communist Party USA. I had dreadlocks, smoked pot, and used terms like “wingnut,” “American imperalism,” and “a foreign policy based upon capitalistic greed, Christian fundamentalist tyranny, and the systematic slaughter and oppression of indigenous populations.” I thought I was clever and worldly. I was actually nuts.
That changed. Let me explain.I was raised in south Georgia in a nice, normal family. My family were mostly Republican and attended a local Pentecostal church. I was raised to believe in God, family, and country. We flew the Stars and Stripes and the Stars and Bars. We spoke in tongues and prayed. We ate plenty of fried chicken, turnip greens and drank copious amounts of sweet tea. I remember shooting my first gun when I was only seven and loved to fish and hunt. We weren’t too involved in political matters, unless you tried to take the Confederate flag down, though my grandmother was probably the most politically active. She was a member of the Christian Coalition and proudly voted Republican. In 1996, when I was 19, I was able to vote for the first time. I remember voting for Ross Perot. I couldn’t vote for Clinton because something deep inside told me that it might endanger my soul, but I couldn’t vote for Bob Dole either because my natural teenage rebellious self couldn’t stomach voting for someone my grandparents supported so ardently. He seemed old and boring, though Clinton seemed tainted by a touch of evil. So, I voted Perot instead. Maybe it was the ears.
I don’t know exactly when I began to rebel. Maybe it was when I was a teenager and decided that God didn’t make much sense, or that Bill Clinton didn’t really seem like a good, or scary, representative of the antichrist, or when I discovered drinking alcohol didn’t automatically open the earth and allow Satan and his minions to drag me into the fires of hell.
To be honest I remember one special moment that stands out in my mind as the moment that I finally broke away from my upbringing and decided to walk my own rocky path. I was a freshman in college, early 1997, and it was raining. I was bored and decided to walk through the stacks of books in the college library when I came upon a particular volume that caught my eye. I don’t know why it caught my eye. Thinking back it didn’t seem particularly shiny, and it didn’t have a provocative title, or pictures of scantily clad women on its spine. I don’t know why I grabbed that book that started my journey to left-wing idiocy, but grab it I did and the rest is history.
It was a volume of poetry of Allen Ginsberg. I remember sitting on the floor of that library and flipping through pages of the most vulgar, inflammatory, diabolical language I had ever set my eyes upon. I loved it. I loved how he seemed to put his middle finger up to society and revel in that which might be considered perverse or anti-establishment. It echoed my own need to rebel. From that I read more of the beatniks. I read Kerouac and Burroughs, then moved to more classic literary works by Rimbaud, Voltaire, and Rousseau. I dropped acid and snorted coke. I called myself an atheist. I gave the finger to the world and explained in several nonsensical expletives what God, America, and everyone else could do with themselves.
But, no matter how much I enjoyed Ginsberg and rebellion I didn’t have a worldview, a philosophy on society or life in which to ground myself. I discovered that shortly. I was a history major in college and soon discovered, with the help of the beatniks, the countercultural rebellion of the 1960s and its alliance with socialism. The idea of collectivism, communal property and wealth, the redistribution of that wealth and the idea of making mankind not only equal before the law, but economically equal as well appealed to me. I don’t really understand how I moved from a fierce sense of individualism to such a belief in collectivism and forced equality. I think it was pure jealously. I was raised poor and discovered depths of poverty in college that I previously didn’t know existed. It was a battle for me just to eat (though in hindsight if I had just spent less on beer and pot and maybe, just maybe, obtained a part-time job,, which didn’t occur to me at the time…or maybe it did and I was just freaking lazy, that I would have had more). I envied wealth and those who had it. I wanted what I didn’t have and felt that life was unfair, that that ridiculous God was unfair, the universe was unfair to cause me to be born to a poor, southern family. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to be from New York or San Francisco or London. I wanted what I couldn’t have and if I couldn’t have it then no one should have it. I began to read more and more and more and soon found myself a card carrying member of the Communist Party USA.
I was encouraged in this journey by my history professors. They gave me articles to read about communism and encouraged my educational pursuits. I set up several independent studies with various professors on organized labor and socialism. They gave me kudos when I wore an t-shirt with the anarchy symbol or wrote a research paper on how the evil United States conspired to snuff out the glorious life of the great Che Guevara. They told me that the Soviet Union was more moral than the USA and I agreed, wholeheartedly. Several things, however, caused me to find myself not wholly in the circle of the intellectual socialist elites that I had surrounded myself with. I didn’t feel comfortable with the level of anti-semitism I found around me. At best it could be anti-Israeli sentiment, but there was a definite, marked allegiance to the Palestinian cause. I personally felt that Israel was morally justified in dealing with the terrorists around them with extreme force. Rather than go against the herd, I kept my mouth shut. I also didn’t feel comfortable around some of the anti-American protests I witnessed on television or on documentaries. These protestors were often parroting the same slogans that I was rattling off to friends, family, and faculty, but the lengths they were willing to go to show off their disdain for America or what they perceived as their enemies was deeply troubling. I felt, at the time, that America was more wrong than right, and would frequently compare it to a modern slave owning society that oppressed the working class and terrorized other nations with unjustified belligerence. But spitting on the flag? Burning the flag? Something deep inside found this disturbing. But I kept my mouth shut.
Three things caused me to reevaluate my opinion.
One of my professors taught a class on the history of women in the United States South. I figured I would make myself more understanding of how women were oppressed in this horrible nation of ours and would gain insights in how best to push for equality of the sexes in the racist, sexist United States of KKK. In this class I learned many things, like how Andrew Jackson was a mass murdering racist sociopath, how Robert E. Lee participated in genocide and should have been hung, and how the Civil War was not fought over slavery or economics but over differing interpretations of the place of women in the home by the North and South. This was ridiculous, even for me, and I dropped the class. This was tough because I truly respected this professor and she was one of my biggest supporters, but I began to see her as sort of a loon. The other professors began to seem just as bad, or worse, their clever Ted Rall cartoons pasted to their door notwithstanding.
I began to broaden my reading of history at this time and took a class in the history of the United States from 1945 to the present. The professor that taught this class was a bit more moderate, though a left-wing whacko was to the right of me at the time. In the course of the readings I learned how the Soviet Union crushed any opposition to their tyranny in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and I also learned that the Communist Party USA, of which I was a member, supported this crackdown. I was troubled by this. I thought we were supposed to believe in equality, freedom, and the right to stand up to the man, and here American communists had supported the brutal crackdown of the dissent of everyday workers in those countries. I was shocked. I was shocked to see us apply a certain morality to China and its oppression of Tibet. We would never have allowed the United States to escape ridicule or protest if they did the same thing, and here was the Soviet Union participating in tyranny and we were their loving patsies. I decided tyranny was tyranny no matter if it flew the Stars and Stripes or the Hammer and Sickle. I promptly revoked my membership in the CPUSA and never looked back.
The 2000 primaries were heating up and McCain and Bush were locked in a tight race. It was then I nearly had a heart attack and tore out my own throat. Of all the evils and terrors that I could have subjected myself to I never thought that I would find myself a Republican that I actually admired and, gasp gasp, liked. John McCain was that man. I don’t know if I truly agreed with every policy position he advocated, but there was nobleness and integrity in McCain I liked. I appreciated his attempts to buck the establishment and speak out against Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. From this new focus on the election I began to watch Fox News. I did this because they seemed more cutting edge, more hip than the other, older networks. I remember especially finding myself liking Bill O’Reilly. He gave the Clinton administration the middle finger and railed against corruption in government and seemed to actually care for the common man, the common worker that I too greatly respected. I actually sent 25 dollars to the McCain campaign. His campaign was one I could support because of his often-mentioned maverick tendencies. I still had not let go of some of my more socially liberal positions but more and more the idea of the free market, while still partially anathema to me, began to find some appeal as well.
Was I still a communist? Was I still a socialist? More and more I found myself drifting away. No longer did forced equality or collectivism make sense to me. I remember an example of colonial America that continuously stuck with me and that was the early colonists of Jamestown practiced almost a communal living, where everything grown was disbursed to the individuals in the settlement. The colonists began to starve. This persisted until Captain John Smith arrived and said that you eat what you grow. The colony began to prosper. This was an important example of the power of capitalism and free trade in my mind. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It seemed as though a thorough reading of history led one to agree that socialism was a failure. I read biographies about Che and Fidel and saw how the Cuban economy fell apart after the revolution. I read of how Russians starved after the revolution. Millions of Chinese died after the revolution. Socialism began to seem more and more to be an ideology of death and destruction, and not of equality.
One book changed me forever. One day I was walking through the local Barnes and Noble (what was it about rainy days and walking through stacks of books that led me down particular paths?), when I picked up a book with an interesting title. I had never heard of the author and I thought the title was speaking more in support of the cause of radicalism than against it. I needed affirmation of radical socialism but instead I found something entirely different. Inside I found an insightful story of a man who once believed as I did, and how he changed and found himself moving rightward. It was Radical Son by David Horowitz. This was an important book for me. It was a story of reevaluation and of how someone could move from such a far left-wing ideology to embrace standard conservative values. I found a kindred spirit. My open questioning of various socialist or liberal ideas had begun to alienate me from some of my own friends and, many times, I found myself defending America and various conservative leaders. It wasn’t long after this that I found myself reading Dinesh D’Souza’s Letters to a Young Conservative and the National Review.
I remember one subject that always, from the very beginning, put me at odds with my fellow leftists: political correctness. I disliked how certain terms were off limits, or that one had to always show caution when discussing controversial topics. I thoroughly enjoyed being controversial or shocking, I especially delighted in making sudden, politically incorrect comments to gain some amount of shock-value from listeners. I felt that this was in the spirit of the individualism that I believed that socialism was supposed to represent, but I found more and more that they were not interested in individualism but only individual submission to the state. How did I get it so warped? How did I naively enter into accepting this ideology in an attempt to express my individualism, but found myself defending and supporting statism? I found myself increasingly unable to combine the two. One cannot sustain the other, they are forever at odds. At some point I knew I was going to have to make a choice, and for me that choice was clear: individualism. My inherent desire for freedom of the self overrode any desire to support statist forced equality. I no longer felt comfortable in these radical leftist circles.
In 2000 I voted for Al Gore. Even though I admired McCain greatly I didn’t feel comfortable, yet, in supporting the traditional conservatism of George W. Bush, or what I saw as traditional conservatism. Even though I had come to support some measure of capitalism, I could not let go of my socially liberal views. At the time they were still very important to me. I read more about Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and came to to agree with the strange tenet of democratic capitalism, or Keynesian doctrine of government intervention in the free market while still retaining the basic structure of those free markets. I was a typical liberal Democrat: free markets with government regulation; pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun regulation, and so on. In many ways I had moderated my views. The earlier adolescent foray into radicalism had begun to dissolve as I entered the real world, post-college, and found that those tenets were no longer tenable, they could not hold up as one began to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and structure a budget to pay the various bills. What I once looked at as appropriate was no longer so. I once believed that the rich should pay their fair share of the taxes in order to support the country that had given them so much, and that their money should then be distributed downward to those who were less fortunate. This concept began to change when I looked at my paychecks and saw the payroll taxes being taken out at ever-increasing rates as I made more and more money. This concept began to change when income tax season rolled around and I received nothing back from the government, but my various loutish relatives enjoyed large sums of money disbursed to them as a reward for not working. It no longer seemed fair or appropriate. I could justify such redistribution because I was not affected. It is always easier to support a concept if its consequences are distant from yourself.
About this time I also found myself being baptized into the Roman Catholic church. How did this happen? How did this unrepentant and outspoken atheist find himself accepting the baptism of a church once derided as fascist in nature and supportive of social oppression worldwide? One professor helped me along the path. I have already detailed how the vast majority of my professors were left-wing loons who were only too willing to support my descent into radicalism, but I remember that one professor was different. He was quick to ridicule the left as others were of the right, pointing out how ridiculous collectivism and political correctness were. He argued loudly, always with a sly smile, with the indoctrinated students who attempted to classify this nation as racist, sexist, and fascist. At the time I disagreed with him, but still found him a breath of fresh air and I thoroughly enjoyed the debates that erupted in class. No longer were we all cut from the same cloth, but instead found ourselves sparring with a conservative counterpart. More often than not he won the argument. He was sharp. Now, a few years later I found myself thinking back to a statement he made in an American social history class, and it was that if anyone is right, in Christianity, then the Catholic church is right because they go back to the beginning. Tradition, tradition, tradition. This phrase echoed with me at the time because I had entered a crisis of faith, or of unfaith.
Two books caused this crisis: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. My grandmother had for long attempted to reconvert me to the Christian fold but she largely was unsuccessful. Looking back she made a major error in her attempts: her appeals had been to reach out on an emotional level. This would never work on someone like me, only an intellectual appeal would suffice. She, knowing I was a voracious reader, would often give me books by Billy Graham, Lee Strobel, and John Hagee, but I found them wanting. Then one day I discovered an intellectual case that I found impossible to discount. I was a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy books and so, of course, was also a big fan of Tolkien and Lewis. After finishing the Chronicles of Narnia I found myself desiring to read more from Lewis and so found myself picking up a copy of Mere Christianity. Its intellectual defense of God and Christianity resonated strongly with me. How does conscience or morality develop if it did not originate from an absolute moral principle handed down to humanity by an absolute being? These were questions that my naive belief in atheism could not combat. Atheism seemed empty, without purpose, and seemed more and more untenable as I began to see that the gray areas that radical leftism loves to promote are actually wanting, that a reductionist or Manichean understanding of the world is much more true. The world is a struggle between good and evil and it originates beyond an empty belief in its origination in human psychology, but by a struggle within the spiritual world between that which is good and that which is evil.
I then moved to a contemporary of Lewis and that was G.K. Chesterton and his masterful work, Orthodoxy. In it I found a man which, much like Horowitz in Radical Son, was detailing his journey from unbelief to belief. Man is searching for truth, I was searching for this truth, and again much like morality originates within God then so does truth originate in God as well. We are creatures struggling to understand the world around us and find truth and it is only in God that we find this truth. Sometime I felt as St. Augustine, living my youth in relative hedonism bewitched by secular humanism or those practices in opposition to Christianity, but at some time having to face the truth that without God this world and humanity make no sense. At some point one has to let go of pride and admit that they cannot go it alone. They need the salvation and succor that can only be found in Christ Jesus.
This was a revelation to me and I soon began to research Christianity and attempt to find my place in it. My love for history and tradition soon led me to the Roman Catholic Church and I was baptized in a memorable Easter service in 2002 soon before I was to leave for the United States Army. The world was, and is, a dangerous place and I felt that it was imperative before I joined the military that I must put my soul in order and so this led to me joining the Catholic Christian fold. I have never looked back. My belief in life and traditional value was only further enhanced by the birth of my son a few years later. I held this life that so many choose to snuff out without even giving a chance to experience this world. I held this life and understood that I did not want him to grow up in a world absent of morality, values, or love of life and God. If I do not believe in life and values then how do I impart to him the important lessons that will help forge him into a functional member of society?
My decision to join the United States Army and the reasons for that decision as well as my experience therein finalized my joining of the vast right-wing conspiracy. September 11, 2001 was a major event in my life and all of America and the world. The belief that we were always insulated from outside threats was forever destroyed and I found my love of nation to be deepened as it had never been before. I wish I could say that I loved my country long before this cataclysmic event, but I didn’t. I didn’t appreciate the wonder of this shining city on a hill until a concerted effort of monsters attempted to take it away from me. For long I had disparaged America and focused on her flaws. Then 9/11 happened and all that changed. The best example I can think of is America was like family. You may bicker and argue with your relatives. You may tell your relatives that you hate them and never wish to associate with them, but when some outside force attacks your relative, you respond with fury and loyalty to your family. They are your family and no one is going to touch them. That is how I felt about America. Watching the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center and hearing about the heroic sacrifices of so many Americans I learned patriotism. I learned how to love my country. I guess in many ways I was like Irving Kristol, a liberal mugged by reality.
I wanted to prove that my generation could be just as self-sacrificing and patriotic as the World War II generation, and so in early 2002 I departed for U.S. Army basic training. It was there that I learned discipline, loyalty, integrity, and sacrifice. I felt like I was part of something bigger than self, bigger than the individual. I was part of my country and was willing to lay my life down in her defense. I was proud to salute the flag every single morning and afternoon, and I was appalled at the emergence of the protest movement that arose in response to our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. I could not believe that these people would actually oppose any attempt to bring to justice those who planned and supported the horror of 9/11. I was dismayed to see the Democratic Party actually turn against our President and the promotion of the most important struggle of our generation: the struggle against radical Islam. I believed deeply in this cause and I still do. As I stated before, the world is a struggle between good and evil and at some point we all have to choose sides. Do we choose to stand with good, or do we choose, whether directly or indirectly, to stand with evil? The choice should be clear and it was clear enough for me.
The common thread through this was why I accepted certain tenets of a particular ideology. My move towards conservatism was one of methodical research and a careful examination based upon common sense and a personal examination. My previous acceptance of liberalism was more naive, based upon emotions of envy and conformity. I guess that is why Churchill made his famous quote (okay, it might not be from him but it is commonly attributed to him): “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” From having to enter the real world and its workforce, leaving behind the safe confines of academia, to being confronted with the terror of 9/11 and the wondrous life of a child, conservatism made sense, it filled my desire to possess a worldview that made sense of the world and our place in it, and, even beyond that, how best to live within it as well.
I offer this up as not only an explanation of how I came to be here, but also as a testament to various young liberals, or even supporters of Obama, that change, while difficult, is always possible. I would also like to recommend that they conduct a thorough examination of themselves and the world around them. Are they driven by class envy? Do they truly believe choice overrides life? Do they truly believe that morality can be relative and still remain moral? Do they truly believe that penalizing wealth would be beneficial to the economy? Research. Think. Ask yourself if anything you believe seems right and true. If not, maybe you too should weigh anchor and take a little odyssey of your own into the desert and find yourself.