December 4, 2010
Young and Conservative in ManhattanBy Drew Belsky
In the early 2000s, it was hard to be anything but a lefty coming out of New Jersey -- especially for a kid.
No surprise, then, that I grew up liberal, spending my formative years as I did in a progressive Jersey private school. My science classes got me worried about anthropogenic global warming (taught in terms a kid could understand), and I wanted a fuel-efficient car not for the savings, but for my carbon footprint. "Catholic" to me meant "Bible à la carte," and I venerated a woman's right to choose once I was old enough to think about such things. (Remember, I came of age before the Kevin Jennings era.)
I started tilting right in my sophomore year of high school. It had a lot to do with my burgeoning desire to be self-sufficient, to drive a car and work a job and distinguish myself on my own. And the more politically aware I became, the less I saw of that self-determined spirit on the left. My transformation was complete by November 2004, when I jubilated over W.'s photo finish and lost half my friends.
It must have been the ghost of my liberal consciousness that spurred me to Manhattan after high school, but college only intensified my rightward drift. I sat aghast in a "world cultures" class where the TA told us that America is as corrupt as Nigeria (nodding heads all around); I pinched the bridge of my nose as the hoary-headed white professor exalted the Marxism of the authors we had to read and expatiated on what a bitch Condoleezza Rice was.
But that's to be expected from a liberal university, right? When my classical mythology professor decried the evils of the Iraq war (classical mythology!) or my calculus professor tried to justify the bank bailouts (calculus!), I let it roll off my back. These academics, I figured, were beyond saving -- no sense stoking frustration over them.
My fellow students, on the other hand...well, that's where I got exasperated.
I once got into a debate with four or five people over gun control during a late-night poker game. One girl bubbled over with ad hominems and utter nastiness -- to the exclusion of any substantive argument -- until I had to drop the discussion. She explained to me later that she supported gun control because she had a tragic family connection to firearms.
In October 2008, I had a long discussion with my liberal older brother about the election. I implored him to at least research the candidate he so stalwartly supported before pressing the button. But he didn't want to get into "nitty-gritty details," he said, lest he become "cynical." How could I respond to that?
With every one of these and similar discussions, I grew more dispirited and disillusioned. Weren't universities supposed to be bastions of free thinking? How could I convince these people of anything when their positions were born of emotion...or worse, when they outright refused to inform themselves at all?
And things have deteriorated post-graduation. My friends talk about Sarah Palin like it's still September 2008. When I ask if they've read any of the thousands of words she's written since then, I have to endure some quip. "She can write?" One friend told me Palin's accent makes her sound too stupid to take seriously and then labeled all criticism of Obama's ersatz southern drawl racist. Another friend and I sustained a four-hour debate over Risk, and he agreed with me on a lot of points...but I knew how he'd vote in November 2010. I leaned hard on my girlfriend (bless her for putting up with me), and I exulted when she conceded that the duplicitous Kirsten Gillibrand seemed pretty unsavory. But we know how the midterms went in New York, and I won't ask my girl how she voted. I'm afraid to.
Yes, it's far from a picnic sometimes. As a young conservative living and working (and getting taxed to death) in Manhattan, I have plenty of days where I feel like this city is out-and-out irredeemable. Between the Ground Zero mosque threatening to arise not ten minutes from where I live and the recent coronation of Prince Andrew, it's hard to put off a political depression.
But I've been thinking -- and maybe this will offer some comfort, especially to my kindred spirits tearing their hair out in Berkeley, in Houston, in St. Paul. Me, I've never stopped in the middle of a political debate and said, "You know what? You're right. I'm going to change my entire political outlook now." Have you?
So what happened to me to derail fifteen years of liberal inculcation? No one out-debated me into conservatism. No fire-eyed Glenn Beck converted me from the Barad-dûr of Fox News. My enlightenment happened slowly, after a lot of introspection and life experience. I realized that I was pro-choice out of cowardice, that I believed in AGW out of laziness. No one told me these things -- I discovered them on my own. Hell, I shocked myself.
With that in mind, I'm starting to put away my scorecard, to pay attention more to the means than to the end. Maybe someday, the combination of my friends' experiences will give them pause, and something I said will be the breeze that nudges them rightward. That's what I'm thinking about now -- not so much about the winning, but the fighting -- and it gives me heart.
No, I can't count on converting everybody, or even anybody. But I also can't help keeping that old Gretzky quote close.
Drew Belsky is the new associate editor of American Thinker.