Jan. 2, 1943
'Opposed to the same things' Linda Seebach (Northfield, Minn.) is a retired editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. She describes herself as a "small 'l' libertarian and a small-government conservative." Seebach was studying mathematics in college in the 1950s when she discovered Russian-born novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.
"It wasn't so much that I was swept away by objectivism - I don't think Rand had even named it - but it inoculated me against any sort of collectivist or socialist stuff with the belief that
it won't work. It's not so much that I'm in favor of the things Rand was in favor of, but that I'm opposed to the same things she was."
ABOUT THE BOOK"The Fountainhead," according to its author, is about "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man's soul." When it was published in 1943, a
New York Times reviewer wrote, "Good novels of ideas are rare at any time. This is the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I can recall ... You will not be able to read this masterful work without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our times." To date, the book has sold more than 6 million copies. https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
'Raised Republican' Thomas McGranahan (Maryville, Ill.) grew up in Shreveport, La., during the long presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which started in 1933 and ended with his death in 1945. McGranahan's Catholic parents raised him a Republican, stressing "individual responsibility" in the face of what he calls Roosevelt's "big government can solve all problems" liberalism.
There was another thing keeping him Republican in those days. "All the Southern Democrats I knew were racists," he says. "Our family knew such behavior was immoral and inhuman and made for bad government."
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
'A boot stamping on a human face -- forever' Jim Gilpatrick (Duluth, Ga.) is a telecommunications software systems architect born in 1955. "I'm conservative, with libertarian leanings," he writes. "I really hate crony government -- from either party."
Gilpatrick absorbed his conservatism "from my parents and my father's Midwestern family. I had a great-aunt who refused to lick a stamp with 'that man's' picture on it -- meaning Franklin Delano Roosevelt."
Gilpatrick was twelve when he read George Orwell's novel
Nineteen Eighty-Four. "Reading it had a huge emotional impact on me," he writes. "I was too young to get all the nuances, but I was very aware of the Cold War and the oppression of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. The image of 'a boot stamping on a human face -- forever' as the essential summation of the end of the progressive road stuck with me. I did not want to go there, and still do not."
ABOUT THE BOOKSince it was published in 1949, Orwell's novel has been embraced by right and left alike as an uncannily prophetic depiction of a society poisoned by totalitarianism, thought control, surveillance and war. It is the source of the "Big Brother" character (as in, "Big Brother is watching you!").
his essay "Why I Write," Orwell pointed to his "desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Early paperback edition (
Mar. 30, 1980
'Terrified that he would die' Terresa Pace is a church secretary in Levelland, Texas, and identifies herself as a Tea Party Republican. Asked to describe an influential moment in her conservatism, she points to March 30, 1981 -- the day President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Washington Hilton hotel.
"I voted for the first time in 1976 and I am ashamed to say I voted for Carter because I knew that was who my parents were voting for," Pace writes. "I knew little of nothing about politics. I got married in 1977 and had a child in November of 1979, right in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis. I saw the failings of President Carter and thought that there must be a better way. I voted for Reagan in 1980 simply because he wasn't Carter. I knew little about him. I kept up with the news and grew to like him more and more. He seemed to embody all the things my parents taught me growing up. The day he was shot, I was terrified that he would die and our country would suffer. My prayers were answered with his recovery. I would never vote Democrat again."
No 'epiphany' moment
"I was not a non-conservative at one point and a conservative at some point thereafter, as in an epiphany," says
Robert Powers (Canton, Mass.), a Newt Gingrich supporter during the primaries. "My conservative world view is a result of family, upbringing, reading and my ongoing personal evaluation of the ideas and ideologies I've run across along the way."
Asked about influential books, Powers says "the first that comes quickly to mind is Eric Hoffer's
The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, which I read when I was much younger. It helped me to the understanding that there are 'whys' that motivate and sustain beliefs, and those can be as important as the beliefs themselves." In the book, Hoffer warns that the most passionate defenders of a cause may be motivated first by a need for certainty - for a piece of solid ground to stand on. "The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle," Hoffer wrote. "He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness or holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold onto."
ABOUT THE BOOK"The True Believer," published in 1951, was the first of 10 books by Eric Hoffer. In 2003, 20 years after his death, conservative economist Thomas Sowell wrote of Hoffer, "How many people today even know of this remarkable man with no formal schooling, who spent his life in manual labor - most of it as a longshoreman - and who wrote some of the most insightful commentary on our society and trends in the world?" President Dwight D. Eisenhower, writing in a letter to a veteran in 1959, quoted from "The True Believer" and referred to it fondly as the "little book about which I have spoken on several occasions." Close to two dozen editions of the book have been published.
'Never looked back' William Krebs (Santa Rosa, Calif.) had a strong reaction to President Jimmy Carter's energy summit in 1979, which was followed by his "Crisis of Confidence" speech. "President Carter had declared that the energy crisis was 'the moral equivalent of war.' To me, that meant specifically that some values would have to be sacrificed [for the sake of conservation]." Krebs wasn't convinced by Carter's pitch. His response: "I registered as a Republican and never looked back."
Krebs was one of the many people we talked to who pointed to President Carter's proclamations and policies on energy, but he was the only one to point to Pope John Paul II's deeply influential encyclical,
Evangelicum Vitae (Latin for "The Gospel of Life"), the late Pope's 1995 statement that forcefully addressed "right-to-life" issues - from abortion to the death penalty. It was the issue of abortion that Krebs responded to most.
"It was then that I realized that I opposed abortion and that there was a
moral component of society that required conservation," says Krebs. Once a libertarian, he now describes himself as a "strong conservative." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
'It was lying in the street' Tony (Winchester, Mass.), an attorney who asked that we not use his full name, recounts a story from his early teens. "I literally stumbled across a copy of J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It.
"The hardcover book was lying in the street. This was the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Sputnik and I was interested in the threat of communism. I picked it up and started reading. I was fascinated. That was the first conservative reading I had done."
ABOUT THE BOOK"This book does not pretend to disclose a body of material known exclusively to the FBI," wrote that agency's most famous director, J. Edgar Hoover, in this 1958 book. "What it does express is the hope that all of us may develop a shared body of rudimentary knowledge about communism: a body of knowledge that we dare not be without."
'My father's bookshelf'
"On Christmas break of my junior year of college, I found Russell Kirk's book
The Politics of Prudence on my father's bookshelf," writes Chadwick McCune, (Allen Park, Mich.), a Romney supporter who says the former Massachusetts governor is not as conservative as he would like, but conservative enough. "I dusted it off and began to read. It was written in a way I had never read before: clear, eloquent and passionate. I found that the conservatism Kirk espoused fit perfectly with my Christianity - there was an emphasis on first principles, on absolutes, on history."
ABOUT THE BOOK"The diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology," Kirk wrote in "The Politics of Prudence," published in 1993. Part historian, theorist and critic, he had already written two-dozen books (his first was published in 1951). In this one, he wrote about 10 fundamental conservative principles, including: "The conservative believes that there is an enduring moral order;" "the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity" and "the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions."
First edition cover
Raised by 'Roosevelt Democrats' Ron Bingham (Sunnyvale, Calif.), a retired engineer who describes himself as "an open-minded conservative" and a Mitt Romney supporter, discovered Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater's influential book, The Conscience of a Conservative, early in his conservative journey. "My grandparents, who raised me, were Roosevelt Democrats," he writes. "But when I read Goldwater's book, it appealed to me. I believe the society that provides its citizens the most choices or freedoms will have the most prosperity and power. I don't see myself as an ideologue - a great deal of damage has been perpetrated in the world by zealous idealists."
ABOUT THE BOOKThe
New York Times best seller was ghostwritten in 1959 by William F. Buckley Jr.'s brother-in-law for Goldwater in advance of his now-infamous presidential run. The book had sold 500,000 copies by election day in 1960 and has been credited with launching the modern conservative publishing movement.
"I have been much concerned that so many people today with Conservative instincts feel compelled to apologize for them," Goldwater wrote in the first chapter, "Or if not to apologize directly, to qualify their commitment in a way that amounts to breast-beating."
'The big-haired women with southern drawls'
"I used to be a progressive. I voted for George McGovern and Jimmy Carter and thought Ronald Reagan was stupid. Pat Buchanan's 'Culture War' speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention alienated me," writes
Heidi Szrom (Valparaiso, Ind.), vice president of a landscaping business she has owned with her husband for more than 25 years.
"Then, somewhere in the middle of the Clinton administration, listening to a friend plead for me to vote for Clinton again 'so that [my daughter] can have an abortion someday,' and mulling over the difference in the feminist left's treatment of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and President Bill Clinton, my crossover from blue to red began.
"Later, while watching
The Last Abortion Clinic, a 2005 PBS special on efforts to close the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, I instinctively connected with the sophisticated, college-educated clinic operators. They belonged to my 'tribe' - they spoke my language, so to speak. But the big-haired women with southern drawls, protesting outside the clinic, I realized, spoke the truth that my former 'tribe' assiduously avoids: Abortion is homicide." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Opening shot from The Last Abortion Clinic (
'Something very primal' Sherwood "Duke" Brooks (Lewes, Del.) was a Herman Cain supporter and has a history in broadcasting. He describes a primal experience from his childhood in Queens, N.Y.
"I was born in Manhattan, and I remember when I was about 5 or 6 -- this would have been '60 or '61 -- there were people, literally on soapboxes, who were excoriating virtually every feature of life in the United States.
"There was something very primal about it that really got to me and really offended me. My outlook is that my country is the most excellent country that there is in the world and that the proof is all around us."
'With one single quote'
Asked about the writers and thinkers who most influenced him,
Robin Munn (Dallas), a U.S. citizen who spent his childhood and early teens in France, says it "was C.S. Lewis, with one single quote."
Here is that quote, from Lewis' 1987 essay, "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment."
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
ABOUT THE ESSAYThe Belfast-born essayist, novelist and poet is best known for his fantasy novels, like the seven-part children's series, "The Chronicles of Narnia" and for his plainspoken defense of Christianity in books like "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters." His best-known essay is the one quoted above. "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" was published in an Australian academic journal. In it, he urges "a return to the traditional Retributive theory [of punishment for criminals] not solely, nor even primarily, in the interests of the criminal.
"You may ask why I send this to an Australian periodical," he wrote. "The reason is simple and perhaps worth recording; I can get no hearing for it in England."
Jan. 1, 1964
'The kid that I was then' Isham Martin (Woodstock, Conn.) has worked as a staffer for the U.S. Congress and has held local government office. "I'm 62 years old now. I remember vividly being alone at home, watching on television the Ronald Reagan speech in support of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater's campaign for president. I was probably 15 and it all just made sense to me. I haven't listened to it since, but I am sure the themes of freedom and personal responsibility just sounded true to the kid that I was then."
ABOUT THE SPEECHRonald Reagan was known to Americans as a film and television star when he gave this televised speech in 1964 - a performance that failed to push Goldwater over the edge, but served as a defining moment in Reagan's transformation in the American imagination from celebrity to serious politician. "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny," he proclaimed. "We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness." Reagan would be elected Governor of California two years later in 1966.
'Simply show up' John Pickering (Queens, N.Y.), a consultant in the hospitality industry and the Washington, D.C., organizer of Veterans for McCain in 2008, was in his mid-20s and going to college in Utah when a professor - also the former Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City - talked him into attending his neighborhood Republican caucus meeting. It was a congressional election year and, as Pickering tells it, "I was the only one who showed up to the meeting and I was the one who became the delegate to the county and state nominating conventions. That taught me one of the greatest lessons of life - the first step to making a change is to simply show up." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
'It would have saved their lives' Deborah Campbell (Patchogue, N.Y.) is a consultant on medical malpractice lawsuits and a Romney supporter whose primary-season preference was Michigan congressman Thaddeus McCotter. She says her conservatism goes back as far as her earliest childhood memories. She remembers her parents arguing over candidates John F. Kennedy and candidate Richard Nixon, and reading influential conservative books before puberty.
A decade later, President Richard M. Nixon announced of the Cambodian Campaign. The announcement was followed by four days of protests against the Vietnam War's spread into Cambodia, which culminated in the
Kent State University shootings, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on students, killing four. Deborah Campbell didn't agree with the anti-war camp's rejection of President Nixon's stated motives, and she still doesn't. "I was 13. Kent State students, encouraged by some members of the faculty, went on a rioting spree that virtually closed down the town of Kent. Merchants couldn't operate their businesses, there were bonfires in the streets and students were endangered when protestors set fire to a university building where a student dance was in progress. That was my defining moment. While most my age were cursing Nixon, I blamed the students' deaths on university administrators who should have expelled the students immediately. It would have saved their lives." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
A map of the Kent State shootings (
'Watching with horror'
"I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992," writes
Sandra Budd (Baltimore). "I became a conservative after watching with horror the way that Democrats responded to the Monica Lewinsky situation. I could not believe the duplicity and hypocrisy of these people who, only a few years ago, had been so eager to ruin Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court pick. People tied themselves up in knots to defend the indefensible." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Cover story, Aug. 10, 1998 (
'I would have been a Tory' Jessica (Bedford, N.J.) says she is a "conservative Republican" and asked that we not identify her any further. She writes: "I knew I was a conservative when, in middle school, we were studying the American Revolution and I realized that had I lived then, I would for sure have been a Tory." Tory's were on the side of the British Crown.
It's a conversation that comes up from time to time - Which side would you have been on? Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton asked William F. Buckley Jr. that question on "Firing Line" in 1973.
"During the revolution of 1776, which side would you have been on?" Newton asked.
"I think probably I would have been on the side of George Washington," Buckley replied. "I'm not absolutely sure, because it remains to be established historically whether what we sought to prove at that point might not have improved by more peaceful means. On the whole I'm against revolutions. I think as revolutions go, that was a pretty humane one - I feel that if King George had captured George Washington he would have had the right to hang him."
Watch the exchange between Newton and Buckley in 1973
Jan. 1, 1983
'I disliked Ronald Reagan' Keyvan Rafii (Schaumburg, Ill.) teaches at the Illinois Institute of Art and describes himself as a conservative Republican. He points to Ronald Reagan's famous 1983 Evil Empire speech before the National Association of Evangelicals.
"When Reagan, whom I did not support in '83, got up and denounced the Soviet Union as an evil empire, liberal Democrat though I was at the time, my reaction to Reagan was 'Well said, Mr. President, you've got it exactly right.' I had been a liberal Democrat ever since I first became aware of politics in 1968 at eleven. In '83 I disliked Ronald Reagan and largely bought into the caricature of him as a brazen cowboy. For some years prior, however, I had been indulging a personal interest in Eastern European history and culture, having a particular fascination with Poland, its literature, its 1,000-year-history and its art. The horrific nature of Communist tyranny in that region became increasingly clear to me."
ABOUT THE SPEECHIn his speech before the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan played to his audience with talk of prayer and a joke about an evangelical minister and a politician at Heaven's gate (punchline: "You have to understand how things are up here. We've got thousands and thousands of clergy. You're the first politician who ever made it." He talked at length about the rights of unborn children. Then he turned his attention to the Soviet Union -- and the "aggressive impulses of an evil empire" -- the part of this speech that won it its place in the history books. From
"Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness - pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world ... I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man."
Watch the last minutes of Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech. (
'A form of subversion' Jonathan Miles (Houston) is a lawyer who remembers watching conservative thought-leader William F. Buckley Jr.'s television talk show Firing Line as a child throughout the 1970s. He found Buckley's conversations fascinating. "By the time I was a teenager and then as a college student, expressing conservative views was a form of subversion that scandalized teachers and professors. I was appalled by what seemed to be the pastel patriotism of prominent liberals, and the disdain for America and its principles that I saw on the left."
ABOUT THE SHOW"Firing Line" had its debut in 1966 and ran for more than 30 years. Buckley was already a published author and editor-in-chief of National Review, which he founded, but it was his rigorous interviewing style and penchant for booking guests with whom he had profound ideological differences that most Americans remember. The seminal conservative thought leader died in 2008, nearly a decade after "Firing Line" went off the air.
Watch the Feb. 4, 1973, episode of "Firing Line," which focused on the
challenges for conservatives that year
'A world of hurt on your brain' Jack Burton (South Padre Island, Texas) calls himself a "constitutional conservative," and has a conversion story to tell. "It was 1986 and I was stuck driving a delivery van on a 300-mile route with an AM radio that only received one radio station - KFBK, with a nut job named Rush Limbaugh. I was 40 and a straight-ticket Democrat at the time. I had been shocked when Reagan won; I did not know anyone who voted for him.
"Once I stopped throwing up, Rush made a lot of sense. I'm still listening after all this time, with one minor caveat: I only listen when I am driving - never at home. Hell, that boy can work a world of hurt on your brain so that you can't get nothing done around the house. Everything stops when Rush is on. But when I've done my chores, I visit Rush everyday on his website and read everything."
ABOUT THE SHOWRush Limbaugh's now-ubiquitous radio show started in 1984 as a limited audience affair on KFBK in Sacremento, Calif. Before that, he had a stint as a disc jockey spinning Top 40 hits. Limbaugh, of course, needs no introduction -- not to his many millions of listeners and not to the rest of America, for whom he has been a household name, both famous and infamous, since his national show began its ascent in the late 1980s.
Watch Limbaugh in 1988, reviewing his broadcast career
to date on public access television in Conn.
April 1, 1975
'It took my breath away' Roz Kohls (Glencoe, Minn.) is a retired journalist for a regional newspaper chain in rural Minnesota who describes herself as a "far right, right, right conservative." It wasn't always that way. Abortion is a driving issue for her, and it goes back to a phone call she made in 1975 when she was in her twenties and newly married. "I had a pregnancy test that was a false negative, so I didn't realize I was pregnant until I was into about the fourth month. I thought I was really overdue for getting a prenatal exam -- I thought you needed to get it before you were three months along and I was already four months along. I called the clinic to set up an appointment. The nurse who answered the phone, she said, 'Are you going to get an abortion?' And I was just absolutely shocked. I think my jaw just hit the floor. Up until that moment, I had never considered what legal abortion on demand meant. I had been a Democrat before that - I voted for George McGovern in 1972 - and switched to Republican after that incident." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Jan. 1, 1988
'A magazine to read at sea'
"After graduating from high school I had joined the U.S. Navy and was serving on the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy," writes
Stephen Cobbs (Waynesboro, Pa.), a "conservative Republican and a free market populist" and a Newt Gingrich supporter.
"I picked up a magazine from a bookstore to read at sea. It was
National Review. I was a registered Democrat but not tremendously political. I had never been exposed to conservative ideas, and the ideas in the articles I read made a lot of sense. I subscribed, and never really looked back."
ABOUT THE MAGAZINERichard Lowry, current editor-in-chief of National Review, the magazine founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley Jr., wrote on the magazine's website that
he discovered the profoundly influential magazine through "Firing Line," Buckley's television program. "I spent a good part of my high school years watching it obsessively and rewinding at certain points to make sure I'd followed the argument," Lowry wrote. "But when I picked up a copy of National Review, it was a revelation, as it has been for so many people." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Ronald Reagan on a 1980 cover
of National Review
'It was an epiphany'
"It was the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter was president. Inflation was high and getting higher. I watched 'The Phil Donahue Show' and economist
Milton Friedman was his guest," says Mark Warfield (East Windsor Township, N.J.), who describes himself as "a conservative who votes Republican and who has libertarian leanings." In Friedman, Miles saw "a person who could, with humor, drill down to the essence of the liberal argument and lay it bare. That was my turning point. It was an epiphany."
ABOUT FRIEDMAN"The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy." So said the best-selling author, Nobel Prize winner and monstrously influential economist Milton Friedman. His 10-part television series, "Free to Choose," which aired on PBS in 1980, got millions of Americans talking about fundamental economic principles. The series was based on a book by the same name, which he wrote with his wife, Rose Friedman.
Watch Donahue's 1979 interview with Friedman
'Good intentions aren't enough' Carol Bertilson (Minneapolis, Minn.) describes herself as a "non-reactionary, thoughtful, compassionate conservative."
She was raised in a liberal family, but she writes, "During my college years, I read A book that changed by whole perspective on my liberalism. The book was
Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture., by Herbert Schlossberg. Frankly, it scared me at the time to consider I might be wrong - I was afraid that I would become a hard-hearted, uncompassionate person if I became convinced of conservatism. What I learned was that good intentions aren't enough, and that many well-intended liberal policies have unintended harmful consequences. No policy or system of government will bring about utopia. Perfection is not possible through government - liberalism is naive about the brokenness of the world."
ABOUT THE BOOKHerbert Schlossberg was touted as an heir to the evangelical Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer, whose 10-part 1976 film series "How Shall We Then Live?" caused a political and religious conversion experience for Minnesota congresswoman and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann. The president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an organization in Washington, D.C. "dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy," called Schlossberg's book "an acute description of the crisis of virtue that is the domestic issue of the 1990s."
First edition cover
Jan. 2, 1979
'America is nothing special and probably a menace' John Vecchione (Falls Church, Va.) describes himself as a conservative Republican and points to the influence of Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had been a lifelong Democrat when President Ronald Reagan tapped her as a foreign policy advisor, then as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
"I was in an AP history class in Greenwich, Conn. I was a Democrat. My history teacher was a Marxist whose every assigned reading was revisionist history (some quite good) -- all of the 'America is nothing special and probably a menace' variety. Over the course of the year I became increasingly hostile to the indoctrination. At some point I came across Jeane Kirkpatrick's essay,
Dictatorship and Double Standards. In those days the Democrats of New England could be more hawkish than the Republicans. It encapsulated a lot of what I thought about foreign policy."
ABOUT THE ESSAYIn the 1979 essay, published in
Commentary magazine, Kirkpatrick wrote:
"In the thirty-odd months since the inauguration of Jimmy Carter as President there has occurred a dramatic Soviet military buildup, matched by the stagnation of American armed forces, and a dramatic extension of Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean, matched by a declining American position in all these areas."
Kirkpatrick was herself a Democrat. However, she insisted that "Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism, and need not be incompatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest."
Defending her country against "a posture of continuous self-abasement and apology
vis-a-vis the Third World," Kirkpatrick wrote: "The United States is not in fact a racist, colonial power, it does not practice genocide, it does not threaten world peace with expansionist activities. In the last decade especially we have practiced remarkable forbearance everywhere ... We have also moved further, faster, in eliminating domestic racism than any multiracial society in the world or in history." Kirkpatrick published a book bearing the essay's name in 1982. https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
Kirkpatrick's book, "Dictatorships and Double Standards" (
'I resolved to give him a month' Angela Cross (Athens, Ohio) was born in England, and says the politics of the person she was when she arrived could be described as Christian Socialist. "One day, I was hiking with a friend from Ireland and I made a sarcastic comment about Rush Limbaugh," writes Cross. "She gently suggested that I actually listen to him before commenting about him. So I did. It was around 1994 - President Bill Clinton's first term. Like most people who disdain Limbaugh, I hadn't actually listened to him. I resolved to give him a month. That was the beginning of my journey into conservatism." https://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/american-public-media/1465d5562096/conservatives-put-yourself-on-our-timeline
'A 14 percent mortgage' Kurt Anderson (New Hope, Minn.), who describes himself as "conservative and lower-case 'l' libertarian," was a devoted Democrat until President Ronald Reagan came along. "In 1980 I was 20 and working as a building trades union member. The union gave me my voting list for the election and I voted straight liberal Democrat - from local elections on up to Jimmy Carter."
At the same time, he explains, "I was getting married and building my first house with a 14 percent mortgage. Inflation was well over 10 percent. Over the next four years, I saw what President Reagan did for the economy and my ability to support myself. Though I was a union member for many more years, I never voted liberal again."
Campaign poster, 1980 (
'Walking through a supermarket' Brett Trent (Duluth, Minn.) is a libertarian retail executive who supported Herman Cain "for his business acumen." It was the writing of Newt Gingrich that helped shape his conservatism.
"I was walking through a Pathmark supermarket in South Philadelphia at 2 a.m., looking for a snack and just generally bored," Trent writes. "I stopped at the bargain book bin and saw a copy of 'To Renew America,' by
Newt Gingrich. It was marked down 85 percent. I'm not sure why I picked it up - nothing better to do on a Saturday night, I suppose. I went home, opened it up and didn't put in down until the sun was up and I'd read to the back cover. I loved the writing style. It assumed that I was at least marginally intelligent, not something you feel reading newspapers or watching television. The ideas made sense to me, but they weren't things I'd thought about before. It left me wanting to know more."
ABOUT THE BOOKPublished two years after the 1994 "Republican Revolution" that elevated the Georgia congressman to Speaker of the House, "To Renew America" is prescriptive in nature, with whole chapters organized around lists like "Six challenges for a prosperous, free and safe America" and "Eight steps to improve opportunity for poor."
"Part of the American genius has been that, at every level of society, people can improve their own lot," Gingrich writes in the book. "We have no caste system, no class requirements, no regulated professions, no barriers to entry. Despite the best efforts of modern elites to discount upward mobility and to argue that America is no different than Europe of other class-dominated cultures, the fact remains that we are an extraordinarily fluid society."
Gingrich's official U.S. House of
Representatives portrait (
Jan. 2, 1980
'My evangelical conversion' James Lung (Greensboro, N.C.) is a North Carolina magistrate who describes himself as an "evangelical Catholic." He supported Rick Santorum and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann during the Republican primary season. "As a law student in the mid-1970s," he says, "I wrote a paper on the involuntary euthanasia of handicapped newborns, and struggled with the notion of the sanctity of human life," Lung says.
Ethics at the Edge of Life, published in 1980, had an impact on me. Ramsey argued that having thrown nascent human life to the wolves in Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion), infanticide would follow. This led to my evangelical conversion in the early 1980s. My conservatism is based upon the inherent dignity and worth of the human person."
ABOUT THE BOOK"What [Ramsey] has to say must be of compelling interest to everyone concerned with the moral problems of medicine, life and death and not merely to those who share his faith," wrote Alasdair MacIntyre in The New Republic when Yale University Press published the book in 1980. "This is ... probably the single most important text in the area of medical ethics written in modern times ... It is a book that cannot itself be summarized; it has to be read."
First edition cover
'A punch in the gut' Bruno Strozek (Minneapolis) was in his early 50s on Sept. 11, 2001, and "a lifelong lefty." In the weeks and months that followed, his politics changed.
"I was appalled by the reaction of my 'comrades' to 9/11: Blaming the United States; blaming the victims; blaming the architecture of the Twin Towers; blaming everyone but the radical Islamists who committed the deed. The disconnect was a punch in the gut.
"My cognitive dissonance compelled me to seek out alternative information outside of my comfortable liberal cocoon. I found a kindred soul in
Christopher Hitchens - another lifelong lefty who departed the fold over the suicidal insanity of political correctness in the face of radical Islamic fascism."
"Bruno Strozek" is a nom de guerre. The source requested anonymity because "I work and live in a liberal environment and I don't want my car keyed or job threatened."
ABOUT CHRISTOPHER HITCHENSOnce a stout and sharp-tongued ally of the left, Christopher Hitchens walked away from his work as columnist for
The Nation magazine in 2002. " I have come to realize that the magazine ... is becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that [U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden. (I too am resolutely opposed to secret imprisonment and terror-hysteria, but not in the same way as I am opposed to those who initiated the aggression, and who are planning future ones.) In these circumstances it seems to me false to continue the association."
In the decade that followed, until his death from cancer in 2012, Hitchens derided and debated activists and intellectuals on the left while simultaneously positioning himself as a famously outspoken and evangelical atheist with his book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."
Hitchens on Charlie Rose in November 2001, after returning from
a reporting trip to Afghanistan
Feb. 1, 1980
'Old enough to pay attention'
Neil Hanson, like many people we heard from, says watching Reagan's first term unfold was a formative experience. Hanson is a retired Army intelligence officer from Acworth, Ga. He now works as an IT consultant for the defense industry.
"I grew up watching events of national humiliation," Hanson says. "Watergate, the fall of South Vietnam, the Iranian Revolution and the the hostage crises, rampant inflation...
"I was not old enough to vote, but I was old enough to pay attention. Reagan's message in the 1980 election appealed to me. He promised to rebuild the economy and restore American stature on the world stage. By the time I was old enough to vote in 1984, he had done what he had set out to do."
Watch as Reagan accepts the 1980 Republican presidential
'You would think I could explain'
Start With Why, published in 2009, changed my life," writes Mac (Minnetonka, Minn.), who asked that we not identify him further because, in his work, he must be apolitical.
The book is not about conservatism, it is about leadership -- and it echoes what the longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote about the "whys" that motivate a belief being as important as the belief itself.
"After 20 years of listening to conservative talk radio shows -- from Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved and Dennis Prager -- you'd think I could explain why I was a conservative, but I couldn't," Mac writes. "I began to see that what makes me a conservative really goes to what I feel about other people and things; to my perception of others. I rejected affirmative action not because I was a racist, but because I truly believe in the capability of others. There really isn't any other way to truly show someone that you believe in their capabilities, other than giving them the chance to succeed or fail."
Watch Simon Sinek's talk from TEDxPugetSound