“If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. And if you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no head.” – Winston Churchill
Like one of my blog buds, PalMD, I usually don’t discuss purely political issues on this blog. After all, I have my niche, and I’ve become quite good at blogging within that niche, if I do say so myself. Also, let’s face it: Political bloggers are a dime a dozen, by and large, while few do what I do, and I like it that way. Still, sometimes something happens that makes it impossible for me to help myself and I can’t resist. After all, anyone who blogs fancies himself or herself a pundit to at least some extent, and I’d be lying if I said I were somehow different.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to hang out with a very old friend of mine for the first time in nearly a decade. This is a guy whom I first met in fifth grade and who’s been my friend ever since. About 10 years ago, he accepted a job in Dallas, and, although I keep in touch by e-mail and the occasional phone call, I haven’t seen him since then. It turns out he was in town last week visiting family, and he gave me a call to see if I wanted to go out to dinner; so last Saturday night we met and headed out to a local pizza joint and later retired to my home to hang out a while.
One thing you need to know about my friend was that, as long as I can remember, he was very, very conservative politically. In college, he was a big fan of Ronald Reagan, except that he thought Reagan wasn’t conservative enough. Not surprisingly, this viewpoint was generally outside the mainstream of political thought on campus, particularly at the University of Michigan, which is not called “the Berkeley of the Midwest” for nothing. He did it all, though, joining the Republican Party and becoming active in the Young Republicans. He was incredibly soft spoken, but he was never apologetic and never backed down from a political argument.
I’ve alluded before to the fact that I used to be a lot more conservative politically than I am now. Even so, I was nowhere near as conservative as my friend. I never actually joined the Republican Party, although I usually voted Republican. (Well, I did once vote for John Glenn for Senate when I was living in Ohio, but he was about as Republican a Democrat you could imagine.) The other thing that might shock some readers of this blog is that I retained these political views until fairly recently. Indeed, I detested Bill Clinton and was happy when Newt Gingrich overthrew the old order in 1994.
What began the sea change in my politics was, as it was for so many, the invasion of Iraq. That may not be too surprising to my readers, but what shocked me was what happened when the topic of politics came up over pizza and beer last Saturday. That was when I heard something that I never thought I’d ever hear coming from my friend. That’s when I heard something that floored me so hard that I felt that I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and close my gaping mouth.
That’s when I heard my friend tell me that he was planning on voting for Barack Obama.
It turns out that my friend, who had been more conservative than I for longer than I, had come to the same conclusion as I: That George W. Bush is the worst, the most incompetent President that either of us could remember and that the invasion of Iraq was the biggest foreign policy fiasco in either of our lifetimes, and arguably in the last century. Indeed, he may have been even harsher on the whole misadventure than I was, pointing out how it’s bankrupted our nation, strained our Army and Marines to the breaking point, and diverted the attention of our military from where it should have been all along, namely Afghanistan, the nation from which al Qaeda had launched the 9/11 attacks against us. This war had resulted in the deaths of thousands of our best and bravest young people in the service of, it turns out in retrospect, doing Iran the biggest favor any nation has ever done for it, remembering that we both came of age during the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970s, and that was the crucible that forged our political orientation.
We also both lamented how budget surpluses had almost overnight turned to record deficits, thanks to the Republican Congress spending like drunken sailors, spurred on by Bush himself. We both lamented the cronyism, the unrelenting attack on civil liberties in the wake of 9/11, and the general incompetence of the whole operation. When I asked him, “Did you ever think that we’d hear our government arguing about the definition of ‘torture’ and whether what our nation was doing to prisoners constituted ‘torture’?” he just shook his head.
I ended up telling him that I hadn’t yet decided if I was voting for Obama yet simply because I was worried that he was too green and because his heart-on-sleeve religiosity disturbed me. On the other hand, McCain, whom I had quite liked in 2000, had turned his back on everything I liked about him eight years ago. In his lust to become President, he went from being a maverick to having his nose permanently imbedded in the posterior of the religious right.
As the evening wore on, and our conversation ranged among many topics, it always seemed to keep coming back to an expression of utter amazement. It was an expression of utter amazement that we both shared. We simply could not believe what had happened to both of us or how. We had both been so sure for so long in our political orientation. From being rather bemused at being so different when we were in college to maturing into adults, we had both been so firmly in the Republican camp for so long that before George W. Bush neither of us could imagine our ever changing. Neither of us could imagine not voting Republican. We Neither of us could imagine voting for an inexperienced, relatively liberal Democrat.
But, then, neither of us had ever encountered a Republican President as bad as our current President. It turns out that only one man was capable of changing us. Only one man was incompetent enough in office. Only one man could screw things up so badly that we had no choice but to change our deepest political tendencies.
Maybe Bush is good at something after all.