I often write about political change and changers. It’s almost axiomatic that most political change occurs in the direction of left to right rather than the other way around, with the caveat that in young adulthood there is quite a bit of change from right (or center) to left, and even from left to more left.
On that latter point, I remember in my own larger (non-nuclear) family, I had some distant relatives whose parents were pro-Soviet but whose young adult offspring became pro-Chinese Communist during the late 60s, and this created a remarkable amount of discord within the family.
But I digress.
Recently a reader alerted me to Jeremiah Goulka’s right-to-left change story. It’s hard to say whether his tale is representative of most right-to-left change, since I’ve read so few stories of that nature, but on reading it I think it’s fairly easy to see why he was susceptible to that particular transformation.
Goulka’s Republicanism was an inherited one, rather than having been arrived at through independent thinking. He was a Republican through osmosis, having absorbed his family ethos. A great deal of early political orientation is like that, so Goulka is hardly unique in that regard. But questioning one’s political inheritance often begins in college or even high school for many people; Goulka seems to have had a delayed political adolescence and rebellion.
Note the prevalence of the word “we” when Goulka describes what he thought back when he was a Republican. He’s talking about his family and himself as though they were a single entity. I’m not sure of his age when he had his political conversion from right to left, but he seems to have been a college student intern for Denny Hastert some time between 1995 and 1998, and then reports that Abu Graib (2004) was a special turning point for him, which would probably place him somewhere in his mid- to late-20s at the time. Also, he says he voted for Kerry that year “out of spite,” which indicates both immaturity and emotionality.
Goulka’s description of his family’s Republicanism reads like the left’s caricature of Republicanism (although he makes it clear they were not racists). It’s almost like it was designed to make the Salon audience feel good about themselves and have their stereotypes about Republicans validated. (Not that he’s lying about it; such people do exist in the GOP):
We believed in noblesse oblige, for we saw ourselves as part of a natural aristocracy, even if we hadn’t been born into it.
Another turning point for Goulka was Katrina. Note again the emotionalism with which he looks at the issue, plus the parroting of MSM reporting and liberal talking points (such as, for example, Bush’s callousness):
I had fallen in love with New Orleans during a post-law-school year spent in Louisiana clerking for a federal judge, and the Bush administration’s callous (non-)response to the storm broke my heart. I wanted to help out, but I didn’t fly helicopters or know how to do anything useful in a disaster, so just I sat glued to the coverage and fumed — until FEMA asked federal employees to volunteer to help. I jumped at the chance.
The piece goes on to describe more of Goulka’s previous naivete (“Not having experienced it, I had always assumed that government force was only used against guilty people.”—this is someone who’d gone to law school??) Whether this guy was a Republican or a Democrat, in each incarnation he was a lightweight as a thinker.
Goulka went on to spend three weeks in Iraq during the surge, and was shocked to discover the American war effort was imperfect! Naive doesn’t even begin to cover it. Now Goulka seems to assume that all Republicans are as naive as he was:
Today, I wonder if Mitt Romney drones on about not apologizing for America because he, like the former version of me, simply isn’t aware of the U.S. ever doing anything that might demand an apology.
Goulka describes himself in the following passage, but he assumes (naively; old habits die hard) that he’s describing Republicans in general:
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.
The idea that the foundation of Republican thought is a belief the world is a perfect moral meritocracy is odd, to say the least. Goulka seems never to have heard of the idea that one can have compassion for a person’s plight and yet not think that throwing more and more money at that person, and encouraging more and more helplessness, dependency, and entitlement is the best way to be of assistance. In other words, he seems unfamiliar with the underpinnings of conservative thought.
And of course the commenters at Salon congratulate Goulka for finally seeing the light and entering the reality-based community.