First off, let me state clearly and for the record that I think way too much energy is spent on partisan politics in this country. Heck, if all of us would spend more time concentrating on what makes us alike instead of what makes us different, it would solve a whole bunch of problems. CNN and Fox News would join forces to create a program about how swell our government is. Al Gore could quit using the word "snippy." And I wouldn't have to feel conflicted about being a red-state voter in a blue-state county.
According to the latest self-help books stacked up in the bookstore window, we are all products of our upbringing. (I also learned that apparently I am from Mars and my wife is from Venus, which explains why our thought processes are about a world apart.) This goes a long way to either explaining or excusing my modern-day conservative political leanings. I grew up in a household headed up by my father, a man who went to work every day wearing a blue Air Force uniform. The tie-dye crowd considered him a tool of the military-industrial complex, but all I knew was he brought home cool pictures of B-52s blowing stuff up. My parents never really talked much politics at home, though, so I grew up with the political awareness of a poodle.
Until high school, when Reagan required all of us snot-nosed, new-wave, MTV-generation punks to register for the draft. Boy, nothing makes you a liberal quite as fast as the prospect of compulsory military service, especially since being shot at definitely wouldn't be as much fun as stealing beer from the old man's fridge and sneaking out on Friday night. I didn't know of lot of things in high school, but I knew I didn't want to shoot in the foxhole.
I think this was an important phase in my development into a salty conservatism; it's good to be liberal when you're young. Otherwise, nobody would probably ever try hallucinogens, take philosophy courses, or play hacky-sack. These are the years to explore our creative sides, and to try to score with hippie chicks by pretending to give a flip about the whales, Tibetan politics and patchouli. I sat on my fair share of shag rugs, drinking cheap beer and listening to REM records. But as my erratic college education progressed, and a degree became more inevitable, I realized that Socrates and Jim Morrison never really had to face the reality of a day job or paying rent.
This epiphany coincided perfectly with what became known as "Morning in America," the great Republican love-in that was the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan. Here I was, a struggling college student riding a bicycle to my crappy minimum-wage job because I couldn't afford gasoline, eating ramen noodles with bologna thrown in for a sort of Grapes-of-Wrath stew, watching the Great Communicator on my stolen cable feed tell me about how great America was. My pitiful paycheck was decimated by some guy named FICA, and Reagan was telling me that he didn't want me to pay so many taxes. This struck a resonant chord in me, as I didn't think I should be paying so much in taxes, either. Greed was glamorized on Wall Street, and yuppies were driving Corvettes, snorting coke and dating glamorous supermodels. America was rattling the Communists' cage, and GI Joe was kicking butt and taking names again. It didn't take long for this struggling Arts and Sciences major to figure out that this was the wave of the future.
My friends and I became dazzling young Republican Turks, in our Izod shirts with the collars flipped up defiantly, eschewing the proletariat angst of unemployed artists and socially dependent hangers-on. We never thought twice about whether we were abandoning our fellow man or surrendering our social idealism. All we knew was that given the choice of wearing Birkenstocks, eating tofu and growing our own vegetables, or parlaying our human capital into better houses, better cars and better girlfriends, we opted to pursue the dreams of our grandparents, who always seemed to be drinking high-quality scotch.
Personal experiences aside, the Reagan years were pivotal in the nation's history. A whole generation of impressionable young people, tired of living in the shadow of the overrated '60s and being told how we could never be as significant as them, spun on our collective heels and embraced the system that our parents had distrusted. Of course, many chose the alternate path, and decided to sacrifice material pursuits for the betterment of social hard cases, endangered bugs and political isolationism. But as for the rest of us, we worked the system and rushed headlong into demanding careers, overextended mortgages and chemical dependencies.
It's worked well up to this point for this squinty-eyed pragmatist. The system rewarded my faith in it, and now I can only wonder why others haven't adopted my general philosophy of hard work for big rewards. But then, I am sometimes haunted by the fact that I am the guy that screwed America up. I am a successful white male, that most venal of all citizens, the one who is given everything while giving little. I sometimes cautiously reflect on this fact, like somebody checking all the measurements over and over before cutting the lumber. Am I successful because I'm a crotchety old conservative, or am I a crotchety old conservative because I'm successful?
There's really not that much difference between conservatives and liberals, when you get right down to it. Both parties are wildly imperfect. Democrats spend the treasury like drunken sailors and wreck the economy with bloated social programs, increased taxes and foreign aid; Republicans wreck the economy by subsidizing big business and blowing hell out of foreign governments. Conservatives generally support a strong military, which gives us the best air shows to attend anywhere in the entire free world, which really ticks off France, which is another good reason to be conservative.
But I digress. Whatever your political leanings are, it does good to recognize the path you've traveled to get there, and to stop to look back. After all, if you don't know where you came from, how can you have any idea of where you're going? Or where all those cool Izod shirts went? And just where in heck does Grandpa hide that scotch, anyway?