Confession of a Crypto-conservative Woman
This is my town: It's a small, affluent community in a very liberal part of a Blue State. Houses are spacious and well—maintained. Nature is beautiful and abundant. Streets are clean and safe. Children are everywhere, and they are healthy, attractive and well—loved. Neighbors always wave hello and, if they have the time, stop and say a few words. Soccer is omnipresent, and soccer moms form close bonds (mostly through equally omnipresent car pools). Schools are excellent, and every school bond vote passes. It's Heaven.
This is also my town: On the eve of last November's election, a six year old girl who lives around the corner ran up to me chanting, 'Bush is evil! Bush is evil!'
I was at a party last year when a woman I know suddenly burst out, 'I hate Bush. He's evil. I wish he'd just drop dead' — and everyone around her verbally applauded that statement.
At a lunch with some very dear friends, the subject of the Iraq war came up and one of my friends, a brilliant, well—read, well—educated man, in arguing against the War, announced as his clinching argument the 'fact' that 'Bush is an idiot.'
An acquaintance who had to go to the Midwest for business commented with wonderment, 'They're different in the flyover states. They don't think the way we do.'
A woman apologetically explained that, although her husband votes Republican, 'he's very nice.'
The elementary schools, without parental permission, have their students send petitions to Washington protesting the Iraq War; or to Sacramento, protesting Stanley 'Tookie' Williams' imminent execution.
SUVs and other large, luxury cars (mostly foreign made) drive around the streets bearing the usual bumper stickers:
'Jesus was a liberal.'
'Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.'
'No war for oil.'
'Give peace a chance.'
'Kerry for President.'
'U.S. out of Iraq.'
This is me: I grew up in this same liberal environment and was a life—long Democrat. Who cared who the candidates actually were? I just voted a straight Democratic ticket. The very first vote I cast was for Jimmy Carter in 1980. I never questioned my liberalism.
Democrats used government money (lots of it) to make people's lives better; Republicans hoarded money to keep themselves — and only themselves — rich. Democrats wanted everyone to be treated fairly (with lots of government help); Republicans wanted to make sure that women, gays and minorities were kept in perpetual medieval servitude. Bottom line: Democrats were good; Republicans were bad.
So you see, I totally understand those in my community who unquestioningly view conservatives as irremediably evil.
And then things changed: Although I realize that my journey to the right began before 9/11, there is no doubt that 9/11 was my moment to cross the Rubicon. I won't detail that decision, both because that's not the point of this article, and because so many others have done it better than I (some good examples being David Horowitz, Michael Medved, Cinnamon Stillwell and David Gutman. Suffice it to say that I suddenly had to confront the fact that I was a neocon living in one of the bluest of Blue corners in America.
How did I react to my change? With silence. You see, having lived a lifetime on the Left myself, I instantly realized that my new outlook would not be greeted as an intellectual curiosity, to be questioned politely and challenged through reasoned argument.
Instead, I would be deemed to have gone to the dark side. After all, if Bush is evil, his followers must be evil too. And while liberals are strikingly unwilling to confront real evil, mostly because it emanates from those whom they regard (wrongly, usually) as downtrodden, a middle class American conservative is fair game.
I also knew from my years on the Left that the debate wouldn't revolve around facts and the conclusions to be drawn from those facts. It doesn't matter that there appears to be a direct correlation between the President's modest tax cut in 2001 and the rebounding American economy. It doesn't matter that there appears to be a direct connection between America's twenty—two years of self—abnegation and weak responses to terrorist attacks (beginning with Jimmy Carter's abysmal response to the Iran hostage situation), and al Qaeda's perception in 2001 that America was a paper tiger.
It doesn't matter that, since government welfare programs began in the 1960s, poverty has become intractable in many African American communities, with the middle class in those communities having entirely disappeared. It doesn't matter that we seem to be winning the ground war in Iraq. All that matters at the rhetorical level is that conservatives are evil, and everything they espouse is correspondingly evil.
It's the futility of argument and the personal animus behind political argument in Liberal communities that results in something I call closet— or crypto—conservatism. I further believe that this is a syndrome especially prevalent amongst women (and among Jews in Beverly Hills).
Although Lawrence Summers was brought to his knees for saying this,
I'm going to say it anyway: Men and women are different. And one of those differences is that women like to get along. In a woman's world, you don't earn any social points for staking out an extreme position and defending it against all comers. Men might garner respect for doing so, and experience the exhilaration of battle along the way; women are more likely find themselves on the receiving end of some serious social isolation, and to find the road to this isolation stressful and frightening.
Did I mention how nice my community is? And how child oriented? I enjoy being well—integrated into this community, as do my children, and neither the kids nor I would function well in light of the inevitable social repercussions that would occur if I were to admit that, well, I kinda, sorta, well, yeah, I voted for 'that man — that evil man.'
It's entirely possible, of course, that my silence is merely an act of individual cowardice on my part. However, as I already noted, in Beverly Hills, a town that raises to an art form both backstabbing and making nice to people's faces, an amazing number of Jews were apparently crypto—conservatives in the last election. In other words, these voters made nice in a world peopled by Barbra Streisand and Whoopi Goldberg, but did some significant backstabbing in the voting booths.
I've also managed to confirm through talking to a few other conservative women I know who also live in liberal communities that they too keep their mouths shut about their politics. All of us share stories about listening to anti—Bush tirades at parties without rebutting them, or of smiling wanly at yet another laugh—a—minute comparison between Bush and a puppet, or Bush and a chimpanzee, or Bush and a Southern slave master, etc. We all feel that, while it's important that we vote conservatively so that larger issues are resolved in a conservative way, it's equally important that, to the extent we live in a community, we espouse those community norms. This is our own version of all politics being local: if the local politics are flamboyantly liberal, that's the world in which you live, and that's the face you show.
The question I struggle with is whether I ought to elevate my political principles over my day—to—day needs. Currently, I don't believe there is any benefit, large or small, moral or practical, to such a step. While I may not agree with my neighbor's politics, they are not practicing the type of evil conduct that requires all people of conscience to speak out (as one would be obligated to do, for example, if they were preaching racist genocide).
Instead, they are simply on the other side of the party divide, in a functioning democracy's two—party system. They and I have access to the same information on the news, in the internet, and through community forums. I've simply drawn different conclusions. It's not my job to proselytize, nor is it my wish to alienate myself from my community. For now, it's enough that I smile wanly, blog ferociously, and vote conservatively.
Bookworm publishes the weblog Bookworm Room. Her identity remains a closely—guarded secret.