Growing up in America in the seventies and eighties, I really had no concept of geography or international relations. My public and private school educations managed to avoid the whole concept of the world outside of the United States, with the exception of England and the Soviet Union. I was aware that France and Canada existed, to be fair, and I had heard of Mexico. However, I was taught about other things, like the coming Ice Age, recycling, and how overpopulation would have so outstripped the food supply by the year 2000 that most people would be retarded due to malnutrition. Somehow, the teachers managed to sneak basic arithmetic and a reading list into the curriculum mandated by the government and assisted by the teacherís union, so I grew up a functional citizen. My extracurricular interests included reading, girls and cars. I continued through college, marriage, running a business, fatherhood, divorce and remarriage, blissfully ignorant of the larger context of things.
It wasnít until 9/11 that I started to wake up to the world of geopolitics. The morning of 9/11 I received a call from my stepfather saying, "Theyíve flown a plane into the World Trade Center." I thought he was kidding, but I turned on my TV and sat with my wife in shock, watching the soon-to-be familiar image of the first plane hitting the tower. My shock turned to stupefaction as the second and third planes found their targets.
It was clear that this was not an accident. Who would do such a thing? Who could do such a thing? Who would dare? Within hours, Osama Bin Laden was on my TV screen, looking grim and prophetic. "Who is he?" I thought, and "Where the hell is Afghanistan?" Since I was running a business from a desk, and had an internet connection, I started to read. I went to the Drudge Report site, and was able to access and read every newspaperís analysis of events. After about a week, I started to notice that different papers had different viewpoints. In some cases, widely divergent opinions were put forth as the truth. What was this? Wasnít the news objective?
My first lesson was that the news is far from objective. I found myself reading the Wall Street Journal and nodding my head in agreement. I could follow the logic. It made sense and bore a relation to how reality worked in my experience. When I read the New York Times I found my head spinning. The logic didnít hold and the premises were bizarre. The conclusions were twisted versions of reality.
I gradually came to realize I was a Republican. I found myself a partisan, not because my parents or my University professors indoctrinated me, but because what the crazy Right Wingers were saying made sense. I looked around at my friends, family, and acquaintances. All of the people I knew who were happy and well-adjusted were Republicans. All of the self-professed Democrats were unhappy people with grievances to nurse against religion, government and their parents. The system had failed them so it had to be changed, by any and all means. These people were a religious, so morals were flexible and could be adjusted to fit the situation. Moreover, their atheism or agnosticism made them unable to value themselves or others. If there is no God, nothing is sacred.
I tried to talk to my friends and family about all of this, and some of them understood what I was saying. These were the same happy and well-adjusted Republicans as above. They did not engage in name-calling, character assassination, lying or complaining, and none of them were on Prozac. Some people, though, did not understand, and I found myself under withering fire from people I loved, who just could not understand how I could be so wrong, and tried their best to correct my thinking.
Their attempts at correction, however, all failed, largely because they sounded the same and used the same rhetorical techniques. I soon learned of the concept of "talking points." I also learned that when the talking points have been exhausted, if the opponent (me) is still talking reasonably and making sense, then the Democrat only has a few options. If I didnít agree after the standard litany of apologetics, I was subjected to a guilt trip, the end of the conversation, or a rapid-fire change of subjects designed to baffle me. It wasnít long until Iíd compiled my complete list of Democratic talking points and rhetorical styles and I stopped trying to talk to them. I started reading Thomas Sowell, Ann Coulter, Tammy Bruce and Bill Buckley. I watched the Fox network. I felt free and clear, but I alienated a lot of people before I learned to nod and smile when they started talking about the President of the United States of America as if he were a combination of Evil Genius and Village Idiot. I learned to bite my tongue when people spouted off about Global Warming, fascist Neocons, and of course, "that bitch Ann Coulter." I ignored the self-satisfied little smirks, the knowing looks and the bumper stickers.
I think they really mean well. They want things to be better. The trouble seems to be that they want to make somebody wrong as much or more than they want to improve things. Placing blame can alleviate some bad personal feelings for a short time, but it does not go very far towards finding solutions. Today, Iím a quiet Conservative in a very liberal state. I think that left and right can come together and make this country a better place. I would like to see America working together for a common purpose, rather than feuding about politics. Still, Ann Coulter is funnier than Al Franken.