Note: This three-part series originally appeared on my blog Zoominac.com on January 14-16, 2009 (Part I, Part II, Part III). I wanted to include this on my RS blog to give my readers a more personal sense of my own political journey.
I think the most lacking part of political discourse is that people don’t explain what principles they stand for and why. Sure, everybody is more than willing to say what their position is on issue x, y, and z, but they never explain what’s really driving them. It seems that people just assume everybody is affixed a certain viewpoint and political party at birth, and therefore must follow the line for every issue. When this happens, politics just degrades into a screaming match with two competing sides that refuse to be persuaded. All political decisions, including at the ballot box, seem to be riding on who will do the most for me, rather than who is providing the most reasoned, logical arguments.
As you can tell, I am on the conservative side of the spectrum, with a libertarian bent. But I wasn’t always that way. I want to tell the story of how I went from a moderately liberal, fiercely loyal Democrat, to a pro-freedom, pro-limited government conservative.
I was born in New York state, an obviously heavily democratic domain. My parents fit the bill. Both were loyal blue-staters (although my mother would sometimes stray, as she would vote for Jeb Bush for governor in 1998 in Florida). Throughout my upbringing, my parents would have 60 Minutes on and eat up the stories of big business and their evil republican allies. I would pick up on the snippets of politics my parents would drop about the ills of violence and gun ownership, the greed of business, and the need of government to step in to help people. To a child, and even as a young adult, this all seemed hunky dory, and I quickly learned to despise republicans, and to a lesser degree, big businesses. As for the wealthy, I wouldn’t say there was any animosity on my end, but I definitely felt like there were so many people that were simply given a better shake than I. Growing up my family wasn’t poor, but we struggled an awful lot. It was easy for envy to creep in and drive my emotions and the way I viewed the world, especially in high school when my friends had cars that had AC (a must in Florida) and could successfully exceed 50 mph.
Yet for all of my parents’ railing against conservatism and siding with the big-government types, they were, as most democrats are, a walking contradiction. While on one hand my father would not set foot in a Wal-Mart and vote for redistributionist politicians, he was the single hardest-working person I have ever met, encountered, or even heard of. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do or any burden he wouldn’t bear for his family. When he was laid off at the end of the supposedly blessed Bill Clinton era, he took on a paper route to make ends meet, and continued it even when he found work. My father would put in around 80 hours of labor a week for several years out of his sense of responsibility. To give him help or a handout was an insult. My father also was not fond of the police, and would be the loudest complainer if a government agency were to interfere with his burn pile or building a porch. Helping out with the paper route in middle and high school and working beside my father on our 5 acres would foster my liberal leanings, but it would also instill a strong work-ethic and sense of personal responsibility that I hope is my father’s proudest legacy.
My mother was also an ardent Democrat and went through a signifigant Al Gore phase, where saving the environment and stopping global warming were her missions, and even bought a Honda Civic Hybrid and had a Live Earth house party. She’s politically-correct to a T and is, like my father, an avowed enemy of Wal-Mart. Development, big business, government contractors, war profiteers, and gun owners were the favorite targets of my mother’s politics, and for the most part I carried this over to my own view. Yet my mother, with her Catholic faith grounding her, was rooted in traditional values, honored her marriage vows with utmost seriousness, and was unabashedly pro-life. From her I would impart a sense of compassion and selflessness, respect for family and morality, and a deep suspicion of power.
It was in this environment that my political intellect began to take shape, and I took an early interest into the workings of elections and government. I remember being a kid and being very impressed with an ad from Ross Perot: “I love America, and I love you!” Being proud that a former Buffalo Bills quarterback had been selected as a Vice Presidential running mate, and then being dismayed upon learning that he was one of the evil Republicans. Skipping school the day after the infamous 2000 election watching the news and hoping all the way to December 13th that Gore would pull it out. Trying to “shop responsibly” with envrionmental and nationalist concerns in mind. Watching Farenheit 911 at the only theatre showing it and taking its talking points hook, line, and sinker. Doing a woefully under-researched paper in my first college English class entitled Hurricanes and Global Warming (thank God for liberal educators – thanks for the A+ Mrs G.!). I had proudly registered to vote on my 18th birthday and of course checked the box for Democrat. Yet, little did I know, my journey towards conservatism had already begun.
I suppose my somewhat conservative leanings had always been there. I was personally conservative and looked down on lying, cheating, sexual promiscuity, drug use, and sloth. I had always been generally pro-life, and initially supported the war in Iraq. Yet I remained antagonistic towards the wealthy and big business. My view of conservatives and Republicans in general was somewhat of a caricature. I suppose the vision in my head was similar to when Tina Fey likened Bush supporters to those who, “believed Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church,” on Weekend Update. I saw those on the right as intolerant, racist, greedy, stupid, war-mongering, religious-fundamentalist, anti-Darwin zealots. Pretty assumptive for a teenager who had never met a real conservative, much less discussed or researched conservative principles. To me, conservatism could be summarized as: “I like money, I like God, I hate lazy people on welfare and I hate fags.” With this kind of skewed mentality, its not hard to see why I was a democrat – who wouldn’t be?
Ironically, my view of liberal Democrats was equally skewed, although in the opposite direction. As I got older, I appreciated capitalism a lot more, and I viewed the Democrat party not as enemies of the free market that they are, but as the guardians of it. Capitalism was great, I reasoned, but its excesses can create problems and inequality, and of course the Democrats could come to the rescue. Global warming was a very real threat, just like Al Gore warned, and I recycled with fervor, regardless of the gas I used to drive our cans and bottles over to the recycling center. I was doing my part. Welfare recipients were simply those who had fallen on hard times, and government programs were just a one-time temporary bridge. The rich were mostly lucky, and used their wealth and power to control the masses with lobbyists and advertising. While the Republicans used every dirty political trick in the book, the heavenly Democrats simply searched for common-sense answers. Every problem had a possible government solution, unless the blood-thirsty republicans tripped it up, of course.
My mindset was obviously a ridiculously unrealistic bubble, and it would pop sooner than I knew. My political path was irrevocably set to the conservative side by, ironically, my father. When I was sixteen years old, he gave a book to me called The Millionaire Next Door. This book literally changed my life. While the book had nothing to do with politics, it totally changed the way I viewed the world, and from where else do our political leanings spring? For those who haven’t read The Millionaire Next Door (you should read ASAP), it chronicled Americans with a net worth of over $1 million, more specifically who they were, how they acquired their wealth, and how they spent it. Instead of reinforcing my popular view of millionaires as lazy robber barons who cashed out when their parents kicked off, the book made the contention (with volumes of statistical backing) that:
“Most of America’s millionaires are first-generation rich.” (p. 15)
Through a steady diet of case studies, statistics, surveys, and simple logic, The Millionaire Next Door showed that wealth (and more generally success and happiness) are more a product of hard work, planning, sacrifice, and personal decisions rather than luck and circumstance. A few more statistics about millionaires from the book:
- More than half never received as much as $1 in inheritance
- 91% never received, as a gift, as much as $1 of the ownership of a family business
- Nearly half never received any college tuition from their parents or other relatives (p. 16)
I became convinced that success in life was formulaic, and that if I made the correct decisions and planned, I could be there too. More consequentially, it was probable that most of the rich had not attained their status through greed and deception, but rather through hard work.
After my misconceptions of personal wealth had buckled, my misgivings of big business were next to go. It became apparent that in a true free market, the only way a business could get rich was to provide the absolute best products for their fellow man. This was true even when it violated my sense of fairness and right and wrong. For instance, I had been brought up to never buy anything you didn’t need, and to only return it if it was defective. Yet, when I began working at a large retailer in college, I saw that they would return nearly any product for nearly any reason, often without a receipt. Many times I saw that even when a “big business” was totally justified to tell a consumer to screw off, they wouldn’t, and in fact would provide whatever they could to the consumer in pursuit of their own self interest. It was clearly apparent to me that capitalism used the only reliable human instinct, self interest, to provide the most goods to the most amount of people in the most efficient manner.
Yet even as my faith in free-market solidified, I remained a Democrat still, as I mentioned above that I saw the party as the guardians of fair capitalism. What really began to erode my trust in the Democrat party was, of all things, the war in Iraq.
I was still in high school when 9/11 hit, and to say it shaped those in my generation is an understatement. It is very hard for young people to envision a world without a terrorist attack on home soil on our mind. It has shaped a huge portion of our lives. On that fateful Tuesday morning I, like the rest of the country, watched in shock as 19 murderous fanatics executed a coordinated attack on American soil, in the heart of our most prominent cites. With the loss of 3,000 of our brothers and sisters, it was clear that we were at war.
We all know what happened next. Our leaders in Washington pontificate about unity and patriotism. The country briefly bridges the partisan divide as we go into Afghanistan and knock out the Taliban. Next up is Iraq, where we make the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Then, something strange happened.
The problems with the Iraq war are well documented. We went in with half-ass numbers, were not greeted as liberators, didn’t find what we went in for, and the efforts of our troops were tripped up by an incompetent defense secretary and an isolated president. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that things began to break our way. These are all legitimate concerns, and there were voices from the left and right that were against the invasion from the get-go. But as the 2004 presidential election rolled around, the Democrat party saw the political oppurtunity of a lifetime.
Slowly but steadily, voices out of the Democrat party began to denounce the war, and then to say it was all based on a lie. “This whole thing was a fraud,” as Ted Kennedy put it. Immediately the left went into whining mode, and I think for two reasons. One, was that I think a lot of the former hippies saught to relive the Vietnam war and have one last battle before they went out to pasture. Two, without an unjust war brought on by Dubya The Terrible, the party had little issue-wise to go with. Ever since Reagan had taken Mondale to the woodshed in ‘84 (for the record, that’s 49 states to 1, with a 525-13 electoral college), the liberals had looked like the Detroit Lions of the political world. Now Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and company saw their chance, and said that big bad Bush and Cheney had lied to them, and the public ate it up. In the 2006 and 2008 campaigns, they began calling for an unconditional withdrawl. That’s when this Democrat began to get suspicious.
The Democrats can say what they want about how we never should have invaded Iraq, how it was all a lie, there were no WMD’s. And hey, they may yet be correct. But I would offer the old saying that whenever you point a finger, there are three more pointing right back at you. This was not George W. Bush’s war. This wasn’t even the Republicans’ war. This was a war initiated by a strong coalition of both parties. But don’t take my word for it. Take Bill Clinton’s in 1998:
“If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”
Or these folks:
· “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.” -Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998
· “There is no doubt that … Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.” Letter to President Bush, Signed by: — Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), and others, Dec 5, 2001
· “We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” — Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002
· “We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.” — Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002
· “I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force — if necessary — to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.” — Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002
· “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members … It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.” — Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002
· “Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein.” — Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003
So when it comes down to it, there were only two ways to expain the inconsistency of the Democrats. One, that those in power commited the resources of the United States and the lives of thousands of Americans in error because of the lies of one man (in which case I guess Dubya is a hell of a lot smarter than we make him out be), or two, that they cast those votes in good conscience and still agree, but seized upon a political strategy to portray Bush as a liar for electoral gain. So either the Democrats were mindless idiots or treasonous panderers. Looking back, both seem so plausible that I have yet to figure out which one it is. And both are reason enough to throw their butts out of office. No, Senator Kennedy, the “fraud” was not the war, it is the way your buddies like to rewrite history. If the Democrats had any dignity, they would put Dennis Kucinich in as house majority leader and run Noam Chomsky in ‘04. But of course they didn’t.
The final straw for me, foreign and defense policy wise, was when the Democrats began calling for unconditional withdrawl from Iraq. Even if the invasion was a mistake, giving up was madness. Just because getting knocked up at prom was a mistake doesn’t justify an abortion at 8 1/2 months. And trust me, with Iran waiting in the wings, leaving Iraq would make Darfur look like a freaking birthday party. And what about our responsibility to the International Community that the Democrats seem so concerned about? What is more of an injustice, removing a tyranical killer who slaughtered his own people, or removing a tyranical killer who slaughtered his own people and leaving the place in chaos before cleaning up the mess? The only one left was Joe Biden, who, in my waning days as a Democrat I supported for president in ‘08. He rightly reasoned that leaving Iraq would be condemning our grandchildren to return. But boy did he ‘change’ his tune when he got put on the Obama Hope-o-rama. I could only laugh when he said John McCain was “not who he remembered.” I guess they injected the botox a little too deep, Joe.
With my trust in the Democrats as a party shattered, I had to cast my eye on their principles. As I said in parts I and II, I had gained a healthy confidence in free-market principles. As I began to consider the ideas of thinkers like Adam Smith, Calvin Coolidge, Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and others it became apparent that a free market and an interventionist government were mutually exclusive. That is, one cannot exist with the other. The reason is simple; a dollar left in the free market can literally create another dollar. That’s right, throw the law of conservation of mass and energy out the window. That’s because someone in the private sector acting in their own self interest will use a dollar to buy some apple seeds and start a fruit stand. Wealth is created. With government, they use that same dollar to buy apples to be eaten by those who can’t or won’t produce, and the money is gone long before the private sector could have multiplied the dollar (and apple supply) many times over. The two cannot coexist becuause the government has to get that dollar from somewhere. The truth that the liberals and Keynsians refuse to see is that every penny spent by the government has to be taken from the private sector where it could have generated a better return. Yes, some will end up with a disproportionate amount of wealth, but if inequality is the price of prosperity, its worth every penny.
But there is a more sinister side to the argument.
While in my liberal intellectual-larva stage, I began dating a wonderful, beautiful, smart, and talented girl (hey folks, she’ll probably read this:) ). There was just one drawback – she was one of the evil conservatives. Not only did she despise welfare and government control, but she came from a family of active Republicans. She had a ‘Viva Bush!’ sticker on her car, and the first time I came to her house, her faithfully Republican mother had none other than FOX News on. What am I getting myself into? I remember thinking. Her mother was a smart-as-a-whip 4′11″ woman who had emigrated from Mexico at age 13. While she never completed high school, she knew more about politics and government than most people know about the alphabet. She would playfully mock Democrats, welfare, and any arguments that I had supporting either. I came to realize that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But what stuck with me was a view that I had (embarassingly) never encountered. Looking me in the eyes, she said that welfare was no help to those in need; to the contrary, welfare was no more than a mechanism to force the poor into government dependency and foster political constituencies.
The free market is the best and only weapon ever devised by nature to liberate humanity from poverty. For almost the entire history of our species, in every country, community, and era, people have lived in poverty, sickness, famine, and oppression. And let it be clear, freedom is the exception, not the rule. In the few instances where free markets have been somewhat allowed to reign, that is where systems maintain private property, fair and consitent tort law, limited government and abolition of force, there have been explosions of population and living standards. At times, entire groups of people have gone from near stone age level to full development in a single generation. With advents in communication and information technology, this pace will only quicken. When people are allowed to act in the full measure of their economic self-interest, wealth has been created by entrepreneurs who made higher standards of living accessable to the masses. Everything that you and I own, without a single exception, began as a luxury for the super wealthy, upper crust, top 1%, etc. Through innovation, hard work, decentralized decision making, and unrepentant “greed,” producers slaughtered poverty, crushed infant mortality rates, and empowered millions by bringing luxury to the people. Where people are allowed to innovate, decide for themselves what to buy and sell, and amass personal wealth, there is prosperity. Where the inventive are constrained, where decisions are centralized by the powerful, and where people are not allowed to reap the benefits of their labor, there is misery, death, violence, and oppression. No student of history can deny these facts.
As I had these revalations, I made the decision that I was finally going to leave the Democrat party. They obviosly were interested only in making victims out of people and winning elections. But it was too much for me to swallow to become a Republican or call myself conservative or even libertarian. I was satisfied to remain independent. During this time, I got my hands on a very good book by Neal Boortz entitled Somebody’s Gotta Say It.With example after example, Boortz pounded into my head the fact that not only were the Democrats and statists against the free market, but they saught to destroy the concept of the free individual and control every aspect of our lives. Our country, our freedoms, and our way of life were very much under attack, and to sit idly by was nothing short of betrayal. I realized I could not sit on the sidelines. I had to get involved, speak out, and vote in primaries.
I disagree with Republicans on some issues like the seperation of church and state, gay marriage, and some foreign policy, and sometimes the party is a willing accomplice to the Democrats’ assault on freedom. But in the real world, one side or the other is going to win elections, and Republicans by far stand more for freedom and personal responsiblity than Democrats. I owe it not only to myself but the millions who have not yet escaped despair and poverty to preserve freedom and capitalism. I am proudly an active and vocal conservative Republican. To summarize my journey from Democrat to Republican:
When I thought that welfare and government helped the poor, I was a Democrat.
When I saw that welfare and government did not help the poor, I was an Independent.
When I realized that welfare and government hurt the poor, that was the day I registered as a Republican and vowed to advocate for free minds, free markets, and free souls. Anything I can do, from voting, to becoming active, to getting the word out (such as this blog) will be my charge to continue the revolution began over 200 years ago. For that was when men put their names, lives, and fortunes on the line to declare that people were free, that we exist as sovereign individuals, that our rights are a natural endowment and cannot be divorced from us by force, and that government must be constrained, its poweres ennumerated, and its mandate from consent.