Thursday, October 14, 2004

How a black Greater Clevelander became an arch-conservative.

First, let me say straight off that I am not going to tell you how to vote. My only advice on voting I ever give is what I said to my usually conservative friend Mark B. who was contemplating voting for H. Ross Perot back in 1992. Make sure you know well the person you're voting for, but if you do, then vote not for the person who's going to win, not for the person who can win, but for the person who believes and thinks the most like you. Do that, and you have never cast a wasted vote.

So how does a young black man from a 90% Democrat pro-union household end up "slightly to the left of Pat Buchanan" as my friend Mark M. put it once (before, IMO, Pat flew off into space?) (By the way, that's not a typo. I have a conservative friend Mark B. and a moderate friend Mark M. who are among the privileged few with whom I actually discuss politics.)

It starts with Ronald Reagan. I am probably the only conservative my age who never voted for Reagan. I was voting age right around the time Reagan ran against Carter. Always a tad rebellious, I registered as an independent, not because I disagreed with Democratic policy, but simply because I prided myself on being a free thinker. (The fact that now that I am a conservative, I get called "mindless robot" continually is extremely ironically amusing.) My family predicted dire things if Ronald Reagan became president, including the rollback of civil rights gains made over the previous decades. Well, despite my vote for President Carter, Reagan became president. Midway into his first term, I worked at my first radio station. One of the guys on payday was marveling how Reagan said he'd lower his taxes and by gum, his taxes were lower.

This was a revelation to me; a politician keeping a promise, especially since the house was Democrat at the time. Reaganomics was widely ridiculed, but a funny thing happened on the way to Reagan's second term; the economy improved. This was still not enough to move me, and I voted, without enthusiasm, for Walter Mondale and his nuclear freeze. For some reason, that never sat right with me as the way to deal with the Soviet Union. Probably because I knew too many kids who would say "I'll stop punching you if you stop punching me," only to find that once you stopped, they clobbered you. But I digress. In Reagan's second term, Reaganomics caught fire. On the broad strokes of what he said would happen and what he wanted to do, it worked. And I am too much the rational thinker to dismiss it all as pure coincidence. So when George H.W. Bush said he'd "stay the course," he became the first Republican I voted for. (Strange fact: the only presidents I have ever helped elect were named George Bush.)

Rush Limbaugh burst upon the scene right then and while he was (and is) primarily an entertainer, some of the ideas expressed on his program just made sense, including a rather bizarre one (on the surface of it) that affirmative action was counter to what Martin Luther King was striving for. If you listen to the meaning of the "I have a dream" speech, Dr. King wanted his children judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, by who they were and what they did as individuals. My first hiring in radio was tainted by the fact that it was at an "all white" station that was coming up on license renewal. I hated the fact that no matter how much talent I had and how well I did, someone could comfort themselves with the story that I got the job not on my merit, but to fill a quota.

I decided that I wanted to be in the party where if I had a seat at the table I earned it and would be taken seriously, rather than being given a seat and ignored. And so I became a Republican. It was only after I had done so that I found out that my grandfather was one (as many blacks of his generation were) and that my family converted after a nasty event that supposedly occurred during a Republican National Convention. While my mother was alive, I tried a couple of times to confirm the story or prove that it was a malicious rumor, but no one outside of my immediate family had ever heard the story. Now that my mother is dead, it doesn't matter and I won't repeat it here, because even if it were true, it is no longer relevant.

My story is a journey that I am not sure means anything to anyone but me, but I just felt like telling the tale. Back to our normal insanity next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, James, for this true-life-tale. For this person, at least, it gave some hope.