Detox: Five Reasons Why I’m Not a Conservative Anymore
Jason Bradfield counts down the reasons that he went from an Ollie North loving young conservative to diehard progressive.
Countdown, Jason Bradfield, Feb. 16, 2005
by Jason Bradfield
Throughout the 1990s I was an active young conservative. In high school I held signs at Ollie North rallies and wrote award-winning essays on cutting Medicare. In college I was an active College Republican, founded a conservative discussion group, interned at right-wing organizations, and helped edit the conservative campus paper. Now I am a committed, diehard progressive and proud of it. I have been asked numerous times by liberals and conservatives alike: Why the change?
Here are the five main reasons for how and why I evolved:
1. A growth in spiritual values. After the 2004 election, I was distressed to hear all over the media that progressives were out of touch with America’s spiritual yearnings because the first substantial change in my political worldview occurred after I carefully read the Gospels. What I concluded was that Jesus was far more rebellious and subversive and willing to critique the status quo than conservatives would want us to acknowledge. In fact, his harshest criticisms were reserved not for adulterers and thieves, but for the sanctimonious Religious Right of his day, the Pharisees. Reading the Gospels convinced me that the supreme spiritual value is not in blind obedience to religious traditions, but in loving one another. I also learned that it is the conservative religious authorities who do the most to undermine genuine spiritual values. The battle that Jesus fought against the Religious Right continues to this day as liberals battle against religiously-inspired bigotry against gays, women, and people of different faiths.
2. Experience in the workplace. The conventional wisdom has it that college students are naturally liberal because they have yet to experience the “real world.” Older people are conservative because of their experience actually working for their money. Right? Wrong. In reality, my experience in the workplace had just the opposite effect. It convinced me of the sheer lunacy of right-wing economic theories that suggest the existence of an economic fantasyland where the “free-market” takes care of everything and government is never needed.
The workplace reality I found was one dominated not by rationality, but by the desire to get ahead regardless of the consequences. My first job out of college was at a major management consulting firm where I observed families put under enormous strain as husbands greedily pursued fat paychecks. The work we did involved advising companies on their pension plans and I saw otherwise ethical people putting forth tremendous intellectual energy to help corporations make money at the expense of future retirees.
After a few years of this I quit and worked in low-paying working class jobs to get away from the excesses of corporate America. However, right-wing economic policies have poisoned every sector of our economy. At a factory where I worked in my hometown, I saw the desperation of working class America as one young man described to me how thrilled he was to have his new job despite being paid $8.15 per hour and commuting four hours a day just to work in a factory. After the factory, I worked at a bookstore and met mothers who had to work two jobs and go without healthcare for their families despite putting in 60+ hours a week.
It is progressives who understand the reality of economics because they grasp the complexity of the business world and understand that society needs social safety nets to protect working families from the violent vicissitudes of the marketplace. It was the fairy-tales preached by my right-wing economics professors that were out of touch with reality, not the ideas promoted by progressives fighting for economic justice.
3. War and the Neoconservatives. Even when I was conservative I was opposed to the neoconservative agenda, which is fundamentally at odds with both America’s conservative and progressive traditions. After observing how the conservative movement stood up and applauded the neocons’ mindless pursuit of war I decided that I could never again identify myself as a mainstream conservative. The warmongering of the Right was what finally made me reject conservatism.
4. Progressive Thought . After losing all respect for the war-obsessed American Right I began reading more progressive pro-peace literature. As I continued to read, I started gaining a better understanding of the progressive worldview. As I read anti-war web-sites I started following links to progressive publications such as The Nation, CounterPunch, and The Guardian. On these sites I discovered reasonable and nuanced articles on social and economic issues.
I discovered that many progressive scholars address the concerns of average Americans far more effectively than anyone on the Right. For example, when it comes to family values it is diehard progressives who are fighting to restructure our economic system to allow for more family time. When it comes to opposing our cultural decay, it is progressives who are opposed to the materialistic values promoted by the advertising industry. Progressives are thoughtfully addressing the major issues – it is just our messaging capabilities and political discipline that seem to be lacking.
One of the most significant motivations I had for being a conservative was that social conservatives took seriously our cultural malaise. But after reading Adbusters, I realized that conservatives were pointing the finger at some fictional villain, the debauched “liberal elite;” not the true culprit – a completely unregulated marketplace where commerce, not culture is king. In contrast, Adbusters provides a vibrant, fascinating, and highly sophisticated progressive critique of the same cultural problems but in a way that made far more sense than the conservative obsession with turning back the clock. It helped me realize that progressives are seriously concerned with our national cultural decay, and that we have a serious response to it.
Of course, any serious ideological transformation can’t just be wholly summarized in five easy points, but distilling the core reasons for my change is important. I hope it encourages other progressives to realize that all conservatives are not necessarily locked into their beliefs, many are open-minded and willing to change.
From my own experience, I know that the best way for us to change minds is not to cave-in. When I was conservative, I had only contempt for progressives who sought to backpedal at every opportunity just to get people to agree with them. I had the most respect for the progressives who were unyielding and uncompromising, who had thoroughly researched the issues and were willing to respectfully debate me.
Progressives need to engage young conservatives in a battle of ideas on college campuses. It is only by fighting this battle with conviction that progressives can beat back the conservative ascendancy.
Jason Bradfield is a 27-year-old former conservative activist who is now in the Washington, DC area trying to build a progressive governing majority. His blog is at jaybradfield.blogspot.com. Comments, critcisms, and suggestions are highly encouraged and may be addressed to email@example.com.
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