April 19, 2009 by D Stack
“A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”
– Conservative saying
I was born in 1971. I remember during advent of 1979 praying for the hostages in Iran. I remember believing Ronald Reagan made our country great again. Watching Morton Downey Junior on tv, cheering Oliver North on tv. I was a firm believer in unregulated free market economics and in small government. Low tax rates would stimulate the economy. I voted for Bush, Dole, Bush, and Bush in presidential elections, though the final time hesitantly.
Today… I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU, a registered democrat, and was a big Obama supporter. If I have any concerns it is he is doing too little with regard to the economy and not raising taxes enough.
How did I make that rather odd journey. Isn’t it supposed to be in the oppisite direction?
It was a long journey and I think the first step of it was actually in August of 1987, shortly after the Oliver North congressional hearings. There was this whole joking “Ollie North for president” movement. At the end of the summer I was helping my high school, Sacred Heart of Waterbury, get ready for textbook sales prior to the start of classes. I was about to start my junior year of high school which put me just under 16 years old. We spent one morning unpacking and organizing boxes of textbooks. We were waiting for pizza and a bunch of us were joking about the Oliver North hearings. I was of an ends justify the means persuasion. I made a joking reference to “Ollie for president”. One of the faculty, Rev. John Meaney, called me out on it. He explained how the man had broken the laws he had sworn to uphold, regardless of what goals he might have. I had Father Meaney a year later for a religion class – I don’t think I was one of his favorite students as a result of that, but that man could make you think. It didn’t prevent me from becoming a Republican and conservative, but it was one of those things that kept coming back to me, year after year. Maybe I’m a slow learner. But beware the faith of the convert…
In any case I went through my adulthood as a conservative. Perhaps more of the libertarian bent, as the whole pro-God, anti-gay part of the movement never really appealed to me. I had gay friends in college. And despite being a practicing Catholic, the whole grabbing God and thrusting him in the public square never appealed to me. (Besides, a lot of evangelicals in the conservative movement had a special place reserved for Catholics – I believe they call that place hell…)
Then came 2000. It was a year of change for me. I’d always been interested in history and began consuming history books like wild, learning a lot about the formation and evolution of our country. My wife and I purchased a house. I changed jobs, trying my luck at a startup named Cereva Networks. And I became involved in the campaign of John McCain. Now I don’t buy for a second that McCain is a closet liberal. But what he said really resonated in me. He hearkened to Republicans being the party of Teddy Roosevelt. I’d been reading about Theodore Roosevelt, how he broke up trusts, instituted the inheritance tax, and recognized a need to protect the environment. It reminded me there was a time that republican and conservative did not mean the same thing. And I saw the primary campaign that Bush ran against McCain. It was ugly. Horribly ugly.Ugly enough that I changed my party affiliation from republican to independent. I still voted for Bush. I think it was out of habit. It should be noted that I also, much to my surprise, found myself voting for Ted Kennedy in the Massachusetts senate election, over Jack E. Robinson. When I moved to Massachusetts in 1996 I believed voting against a Kennedy would be one of the benefits of being a Massachusetts resident.
2004 came along. I believed then that Bush believed the intelligence on Iraq, that they had WMDs. And I believed Kerry was a horrible candidate. I still do believe he was an awful candidate to tell you the truth. I held my nose and voted for Bush, though I was extremely unhappy about the choice. And to be honest, I quickly regretted it. My life by this time had changed massively since 2000. Cereva went out of business in 2002. My first daughter was born in 2002 as well. We faced serious medical conditions in my family. And lots of political debates, primarily over IM, with my extremely liberal brother.
Second terms are when the scandals come out, for members of either party. Watergate. Iran-Contra. Monica Lewinsky. And Bush had a bunch of them. Warrantless wiretapping. Incompetence before, during, and after Katrina. The Scooter Libby mess. Debate over what constituted torture (to paraphrase Jon Stewart, if you are debating whether it is torture, then the answer is it is torture…) Illustrations of incompetence in rebuilding Iraq, where an appointment would be based more on a candidate’s stance on abortion versus their actual qualification for the job.
It sent me on a lot of soul-searching. What are we as a society? As a university student I’d read Ayn Rand, learned all about the “virtue of selfishness”. And I found I could not accept that. We’re not a society of animals. Why form a society at all if all we are worried about is looking out for number one? We do have an obligation to our fellow men and women. We should care about the dignity of others: even those who break our laws to enter this country still have a human dignity. And while I’d grown tired of liberal complaints about the “richest one percent”, figuring there always had been a richest one percent, I learned the source of the discontent: the economic boom after World War II was shared by most Americans. Since 1973, while there has been massive growth in the economy, the median income, if it has improved, has improved marginally. While the richest one percent have seen a return to Gilded Age status.
Was this the society I wanted? No. And Father Meaney’s words came back to me about the law. I grew to understand his point, that the ends are the means. That we do have an obligation to each other in society. Intelligent men and women of good conscience can disagree on how to meet that obligation, but it is there. And I grew to appreciate even more our nation’s constitution and the rights granted under the Bill of Rights. By the end of 2006 I emerged from this soul-searching a liberal, eventually registering as a democrat. I became a member of the ACLU. I proudly supported the Obama campaign. I welcome the return to the United States following its own laws. I don’t think you can torture “bad people” without being transformed by the experience. And I don’t think much of a society that tolerates that. We do have an obligation to each other. I’m not talking communism. But in the aftermath of World War II America had a society where economic gains were largely shared. I think we are far from that today.