Conservative Moments

an Interactive History
By Jeff Severns Guntzel

"I laughed out loud when I read that you biased liberals are making a claim that you want to understand conservatives. It's been written thousands of times by you liberals. Your question should be, 'How do conservatives treat the wounds on their hands since they're all dragging their knuckles as they walk?' I'm still taking voice lessons so I can perfect my low grunting sounds. I know, I know... You don't hate me as an individual. But you hate everything that conservatives represent - you hate the way we talk, our lifestyle, our religious beliefs, our penchant to 'cling to our guns and religion' - the Bitter Clingers. You should rename us the 'Cling-Ons.' I hope you have fun passing this around the water cooler and making fun of another conservative."

Sincerely,
Mr. Variwicome (Vast-Right-Wing-Conspiracy-Member)
View Timeline »

That is, in fact, Pat McLaughlin of Bettendorf, Iowa. We heard from him in response to a series of Public Insight Network questions published on the conservative website Power Line last winter.

More than 300 of the site's readers took the time to answer questions about their beliefs and formative political experiences. We heard also from more than 100 self-identified conservatives already in the Public Insight Network.

McLauglin was not alone in his cynicism, but we listened anyway - and heard some great stories - about stumbling into conservative heroes on their parents' bookshelves or in supermarket bargain bins or discovering them on television or the AM dial. They told deeply personal stories too - about love and loss and family squabbles and how these things shaped or fed their conservatism.

The timeline we built from those stories is interactive and multimedia. There are early television appearances by Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. There's William F. Buckley, Jr. interviewing Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton on Buckley's show Firing Line, Mike Wallace interviewing a young Ayn Rand and Rush Limbaugh on public access television in 1988.

If you consider yourself a conservative, I hope you'll see yourself somewhere in this timeline. Whether you do or don't - but especially if you don't see yourself - please submit your story. You can do it inside every timeline entry by clicking the red "Submit your story" button. Or you can answer our questions right here.

This project is about getting to know a broad, complex and sometimes fractious community - and it's about creating a venue for American conservatives to tell the story of American conservatism in their own voices, from their own experiences. But these stories aren't just for conservatives and they aren't just about conservatism; they are about the things that shape us.

They are the epiphany moments that divide our lives into before and after, and the tiny revelations that stretch across our personal timelines.

"Conservative" itself is not a terribly useful label to stick on a person's politics. It's too simple and needs a word or five before it or after it (or both). Conservatism - like any thriving movement or ideology - is a continuum with distinct extremes and a thousand shades in between. The thousand shades are lit up bright right now if you are willing to look and listen.

So here we are. Help us build this thing. If you see a hole in the timeline, let us know. If you have a story that can fill that hole, we want to hear it.

Help us share it too. Pass it around to anybody you think might be able to help make the thing what you think it ought to be. Thanks for stopping by and thanks especially for your help.

Sincerely,

Jeff Severns Guntzel
Senior Reporter, Public Insight Network
American Public Media