Winston Churchill's oft-quoted dictum holds that:
Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has
not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is
Which I suppose makes me the Tin Man. Well, except that, with two reflexively liberal parents (my Dad even voted for Dick Gregory), I did support Hubert Humphrey briefly in 1968, even took a picture of him on TV with my little Brownie camera. But then at school for our mock election in Mrs. Rueman's 2nd grade class I was made Richard Nixon's campaign manager and never looked back.
It of course helped that like any normal young boy I thought that War was Man's greatest endeavor and that at that point the Left was rioting in the streets to avoid going to Vietnam. I still get a warm fuzzy thinking about those New York City hard hats wading into a crowd of protesters and busting heads, a moment of visceral joy topped only by the tough love administered to those spoiled brats at Kent State. Add in the race riots in Newark (from our yard we could see the smoke rising), and the racial harassment we white kids faced at school, and you had the makings of one pretty darn conservative little kid.
Attending a predominantly black inner-city elementary school and then a half Jewish/half Catholic High School, I emerged with a significantly different understanding of race than one might expect. I did not develop a greater sensitivity to the plight of downtrodden minorities. First, I realized that racism and religious bigotry were, if anything, more prevalent in minority communities than in the WASP world. Second, I observed first hand that performance in school had little to do with the color of a person's skin, their socio-economic background or their religious beliefs and not much to do with the quality of the schools. Smart, motivated kids got a decent education regardless of who they were and despite some pretty awful teachers and an education system geared towards dog marching stupid kids through twelve years, rather than towards challenging and teaching the kids who actually care.
Thanks to these early life experiences, I not only became a conservative--believing that the individual is responsible for himself--I also managed to avoid the pangs of guilt that seem to plague so many others. The most significant factor in white liberal guilt must surely be the romanticized view that they sustain of the poor, the laughable belief that society's less successful members are mere victims of a repressive system that prevents them from realizing their full potential, no matter how much they yearn to achieve. Spend some time with the underclass and you'll soon realize that their failures come from within, not from without. You'll find that whether or not folks are willing to accept responsibility for their own lives, they certainly are responsible for what they've made of them. But I am conscious of the fact that not everyone is lucky enough to spend their formative years as a racial and religious minority, and to have their guilt burned away by the cold flame of ethnic animosity. One of my great pleasures in later life is to watch the gradual transformation of friends, family and pundits as they work their way out of the iron bonds of guilt and tentatively embrace conservatism.
Harry Stein, whose terrific baseball novel Hoopla I've long been a fan of, has written a very funny half polemic/half memoir about his own journey from Red-diaper baby to surprise member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Stein wrote the Ethics column at Esquire for many years and, inevitably for someone addressing ethical concerns, had periodically stumbled into conservative positions, but as late as 1992 he volunteered for the Clinton campaign. The real turning point in his life came when his wife had their first child and announced, to his initial shock, that she would be staying home from now on to raise the baby. Nothing in the book is more revealing than the reaction of friends and colleagues to her decision. They were almost uniformly flabbergasted at, some were even hostile to, the idea that she might give up her career to be a full time mother. As is so often the case, when forced to examine political questions through the prism of parenthood, Stein too found his own views becoming increasingly conservative:
...something odd began to happen--mainly to the country,
and incidentally to people like me. As
These nascent flickers of rightward leanings were soon fanned into a genuine conservative flame by both the spectacle of the Clinton Administration and, even more so, by the frequently vicious reaction that his rather mild apostasy provoked at the workplace, in his social circle, and from readers. He was brought face to face with one of the ugliest aspects of modern liberalism, the intolerance for dissenting opinion and the willingness to demonize anyone who strays from liberal orthodoxy. By the time of the impeachment scandal, Stein realized that he was no longer a liberal Democrat he had become a Republican, albeit a pretty moderate one.
Here is the amusing checklist he provides to help you determine whether the same thing might be happening to you:
How to Tell if You've Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
* You hear someone talking about morality and you
no longer instantly assume he must be a
* You're actually relieved that your daughter plays with dolls and your son plays with guns.
* You sit all the way through "Dead Man Walking"
and at the end you STILL want the guy to be
* You understand that the homeless guy who mumbles
to himself and stinks of urine is not
* Watching network news, you notice that the person
opposing affirmative action is identified as a
* Christmas season rolls around and it hits you that there may be a religious connection.
* Black history month seems to last from February to July.
* At your kids' back-to-school night, you are shocked
to discover the only dead white male on your
* And by the end of the night you realize the only teacher who shares your values teaches phys ed.
* Someone's going on about how fantastic San Francisco
is, and it suddenly hits you that's one
* Try as you might, you just can't get yourself to
believe that cheating on your mate qualifies as an
Alongside the account of his political trek, Stein launches into short polemical riffs on issues like abortion, affirmative action, religious freedom, gay rights and so on. To anyone who follows Republican politics and the Conservative Movement, most of this will be familiar, perhaps too familiar, but Stein does bring the zeal of a convert and it's always fun to watch the scales fall from someone's eyes. The best stuff in these sections is his personal experience with political correctness, which adds immediacy to his tale, and a seminal theory on why the French love Jerry Lewis.
My one quibble with the book is the same as I had for William Henry's fairly similar In Defense of Elitism. Lingering pangs of liberal guilt lead Stein to attack certain easy targets on the Right, even though it's not terribly clear how he differs with them, and given his own evolving views it's really hard to see how the attacks make much sense. For example, though he remains relatively pro choice, he does say that he believes that the fetus is a living being. In the next breath though he attacks pro-life absolutists as unreasonable. My own views on abortion are not dissimilar to Stein's, but having conceded that abortion takes a life, I don't see how I can then turn around and say that those who oppose all abortions are being extremists. Their views are actually consistent, it is mine which are morally flaccid. I'm the one who supports taking a position for reasons of social expedience; who then am I to pretend to be morally superior to those who simply extend my own views to their logical ends? Of course it's still early days for Stein and as he gets acclimated over here on the Right one assumes he'll lose the psychological need to curry favor with former fellow travelers by dissing his new comrades.
At any rate, it's an immensely enjoyable book, one that I recommend heartily. Welcome to the Dark Side, Mr. Stein.
-WIKIPEDIA: Harry Stein (author)
-ESSAY: My Father, Fiddler, and the Left: Joseph Stein’s comic circle and the transformation of American popular culture (Harry Stein, Summer 2014, City Journal)
-ESSAY: Meet Reggie (Dr. Jekyll) Jackson (Mr. Hyde) (Harry Stein, July 1977, Esquire)
Book-related and General Links:
-BIO: Harry Stein: biography (Third Age)
-EXCERPT:Presidential Fantasies (Third Age)
-ESSAY: SUMMER READING; BASEBALL ON THEIR MINDS -- THE LURE OF THE DIAMOND, THE PLACE OF THE PLOT (Harry Stein, NY Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON DIARIST: NOT SO SMART (Harry Stein, New Republic)
-ESSAY: Pulling the Plug (Harry Stein, City Journal)
-INTERVIEW : with Al Leiter (Harry Stein, American Spectator)
-ESSAY: Cultural Criticism and the Politics of Selling Out (Michael Bérubé)
-ESSAY: The liberal conversion (Marianne M. Jennings, Jewish World Review)
-SHORT REVIEW: of How I Accidentally Joined ... (Allen D. Boyer, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Right at Last : Harry Stein sees the light (Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard)
-REVIEW: 'Vast conspiracy' claims another liberal convert (John Leo, Staten Island Advance)
-REVIEW: How I Accidentally Joined ... (Mark Rembert, Book Page)
-REVIEW: How I Accidentally Joined ... (Harry Thomas)
-REVIEW : of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (And Found Inner Peace) by Harry Stein (Wlady Pleszczynski, American Spectator)
-REVIEW : of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace) by Harry Stein (Ronald Radosh, Commentary)
-REVIEW: OLD-FASHIONED LIBERAL WHO GOT 'LEFT' BEHIND (ROD DREHER, NY Post)
-REVIEW:(Book Reviews for Men, menstuff.org)
-REVIEW: of Infinity's Child by Harry Stein (Harriet Klausner, Book Browser)
-REVIEW: of One of the Guys The Wising Up of an American Man By Harry Stein (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of One of the Guys The Wising Up of an American Man By Harry Stein (Anthony Astrachan, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Eichmann in My Hands By Peter Z. Malkin and Harry Stein (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of HOOPLA. By Harry Stein (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
-BOOK LIST: Hoopla by Harry Stein Reading between the lines : An all-star lineup of baseball books (Todd Leopold, CNN.com Books Editor)
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