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I Haven’t Changed

Over at Stonekettle Station, retired Navy officer Jim Wright wonders how someone like himself, who started out as a traditional conservative, has become a liberal. And realizes that he hasn’t changed at all, the labels (the little boxes we put people in) have changed.

Take the issue of gay rights. Once upon a time, conservatives believed in the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Nowadays, people who claim to be conservatives sport bumper stickers that say “Tolerance is for the person who has no conviction.”

When did conservatives become assholes? And when did these assholes start getting away with bullying everyone else?

Wright brilliantly documents his journey:

I attained the age of majority during the Carter Administration. Back then I was defined as a traditional conservative. Balanced budget. War only when necessary. Mom. Apple pie. Conservatives were doctors, engineers, scientists, the guys with the buzz cuts and white shirts who worked at NASA and got us to the moon and back. They smoked Pall Malls and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon. They worked on the assembly line at Ford and GM and they BBQ’d in their backyards in the suburbs on the weekends. You didn’t have to ask, you knew they were veterans. If they went to church on Sunday, that was their business – they never talked about it. They were Boy Scouts and Little Leaguers and members of the Elks Club. Live and let live. They were the folks who said “I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll die to defend your right to say it” and they meant every word of it.

By the time Reagan came along, people dropped the “traditional” and just referred to my position as just “conservative” with a lower-case “c.” Most everybody I knew was the same. The first warning signs came when people started referring to something called compassionate conservatism. Compassionate? As a opposed to what? Condescending conservatism? Intolerant conservatism? Screw you conservatism? Seriously, why would you have to qualify a political position in a such a manner? Unless of course, there was some indication that your beliefs were increasingly less than compassionate. Unless, you yourself, believed that your ideology was increasingly one of selfishness.

Eight years later when George the First took office, people had added the prefix “moderate” to my version of conservatism. Moderate? Again, as opposed to what? Extremism? Yeah. Funny thing, that, as it turns out…

Clinton took office and the noun “conservative” disappeared altogether leaving me with just the modifier like fractional division where certain values just cancel out. That’s what happened to me, I got cancelled out right out of the Republican party.

When George the Pinheaded ascended to the throne, we moderates were relabeled “progressives.” I thought that was an improvement. Progressive. Progress. That’s a good thing? Right? Yeah. Funny thing, that, as it turns out…

And now, under Obama, I am, of course, a homo-lovin’ red-commie anti-capitalist liberal-traitor rat-bastard who hates America (insert the label of your choice here, Fatty, Fag, Geek, Nerd, Retard, Stupid, Ugly, Loser, and so on. Go on, you know the words) – as are all Americans who don’t cling to their guns and their bibles and their militia uniforms. The entire republican party has shifted right and thrown people like me over the fantail into their wake. You’re either with us or against us. Conservatives who used to be the serious men in white shirts and buzzcuts, the men who got us to the moon and home safely again, the ones who once taught science and engineering and medicine in the colleges, are now the party of Creationism and Rapture and screw you I got mine. Live my way, or don’t live at all. I don’t agree with what you say, so I’ll have to kill you until you’re dead dead dead because you have no right to say it. None.

My views have not changed. I’m still the same guy you used to know.

I stood fast, firm in my conviction and the war flowed around me and the battle lines shifted like flowing mercury.

One day I looked up and realized that I was on the other side.

And you know what? I’m just fine with that.

I feel the same way, except that for as long as I remember I’ve always thought of myself as a moderate. Or more accurately, a pragmatist (the best policy is the one that actually works and to hell with ideology that doesn’t).

And yet I appear to be a unrepentant liberal, even though I still believe in the constitution (yes, that includes the right to own guns) and free markets (although a market that is controlled by a small number of big corporations is in no sense free).

Wright’s rant struck a chord with me. I haven’t changed; the world has gone crazy.



  1. Mountain Man wrote:

    Boy does this strike a chord! I was a registered Republican for over 20 years. One day, about the time the Supremes overturned the popular vote and handed the country to Curious George, I woke up and discovered that my party had abandoned me. So now I’m just a “moderate.” Since there don’t appear to be any of them in the Republicant party anymore, I guess that makes me a Democrat. Funny how that worked out.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  2. Dan wrote:

    He forgot “Parasite” something I’ve called when I make a point that has no comeback. It’s amazing how quickly they resort to name calling when cornered. They think anyone who doesn’t agree with them is living off the government.
    I’ve taken that journey, My first vote was cast for Jerry Ford, but now I’ll never vote for someone with a “(R)” behind their name, problem is, I’m beginning to feel that way about people with the (D) also.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  3. Michael wrote:

    Posts like this are exactly why I come here, although I do have a very different background. I became legal to vote just in time for the ’94 takeover, splitting my ballot (though I remember voting for Lugar). By the time the ’96 elections rolled around, I found myself voting more and more blue. Yes, my views on specifics changed (that kind of happens at that age), but my general values (belief in the Constitution, free markets, etc.) remained consistent. Part of the reason I voted for Clinton is because I felt that the constant scandal probes, the conspiracy theories (Whitewater, Vince Foster), religious pandering, and all this other stuff was both annoying and counterproductive.

    Looking back, all I see from the GOP is efforts to up the ante and take those tactics to the next level of extremism. “You’re with us or your against us.” Really? Just because I thought invading Iraq was a bad idea, I’m suddenly a terrorist sympathizer? (I actually had a cousin that told me that if it weren’t for the fact that my mom had just died–weeks before the Iraq invasion–that he would punch me in the face for hating my country. Love it or leave it, damnit.)

    So, yeah, I look back to a lot of politicians from the past, and there are many Republicans I would have voted for. Now? Everyone that I would consider seems to be pushed out of the party.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  4. Patricia wrote:

    Thank you for posting this. Now I won’t have to check into the “lunny bin.” I thought I was imagining it all! (Ironic statement!)

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  5. Don in Waco wrote:

    Nice post, plenty agreement here. So, anyone care to share why stonekettle station pings the porn filter for the high sheriff of my interwebs?

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  6. IK: I’ve been saying this at you since Political Irony started, though no where near as well as Wright just did.

    The only difference is that the shift pushed me over to the Progressives because I was always a bit left of conservative. (I didn’t believe in “free” markets, but in intelligently regulated ones, for instance. Capitalism with a solid watchdog to prevent the return of the robber barons.)

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Filing wrote:

    I wonder what accounts for some people staying relatively constant while others fundamentally changed as the political world shifted to the right?

    Like the responses above, I feel like I’ve changed little, just wobbling around left of center feeling myself to be fairly moderate. On the other hand my brother was a moderate pro-choice Republican and was socially libertarian. In the Nixon to Reagan years he was embarrassed by the Republican party pandering to racists and fundamentalists and social conservatives. He still claims to be a moderate but his rants about Mexicans and Muslims betray the racism and xenophobia that have taken over his heart. He once read widely differing views, now he believes Fox is the only unbiased mainstream media source. He thinks Newt Gingrich is a genius and that poor people are almost all lazy. Ayn Rand was spot on in his current world view. Here is a highly educated man who once took pride in conservation and caring for the environment who now believes the entire scientific community is conspiring to promote global warming.

    He’s my brother yet I have no idea why he has changed so dramatically. It’s like we live in different realities since we can’t even agree on facts. Outside of politics he seems sane. He’s not alone. How did this happen?

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  8. Scott wrote:

    A Facebook Friend recently posted the old Churchill thing about, if you weren’t a liberal at 20 you had no heart, and if you weren’t a conservative at 40 you had no brain. When I commented I preferred people with a combination of the two, the Friend and his cohorts jeered me quite vigorously. ????

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  9. Arthanyel wrote:

    Truer words have never been spoken, and Jim Wright sums up exactly what happened to me – I was in the same boat, labelled a conservative (and registered Republican) in 1978 and labelled a “commie bastard flaming liberal” in 2008 despite having not changed a significant position on any political issue.

    The extremists are taking over, and our choices are all too often between unpalatable extremists. We must act, act now, and try to return to rational conversation and pragmatic problem solving or we run the risk (growing every day) that we could actually end up with another civil war, shooting or otherwise.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink
  10. Jeff wrote:

    Great post. I went to the website, read the whole thing, and was completely blown away. Great insight, all around.

    Glenn Beck wrote a book on this kind of thing, called “The Overton Window”. Of course, he’s claiming that the shift is going the other way, and that we’re all becoming more liberal. But the idea is the same. It bothers me to think that we are slowly becoming more and more conservative over time. I look at the things that are being said by mainstream politicians, and I think “they couldn’t have gotten away with that ten years ago.”

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Sammy wrote:

    Thank you for that look into the mirror.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  12. Jim Wright wrote:

    Sailor. Not soldier. I’m a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer. Though due to the nature of my job it was sometimes hard to tell the difference.

    Thanks for the kind comments and thanks for dropping by Stonekettle Station. //Jim Wright.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  13. Hassan wrote:

    @Iron Filing, different people react differently to changing situations, some people change labels but keep same positions, some change positions to keep same label. People ego can come into play in both scenarios.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  14. Jim Wright wrote:

    @hassan, true. You have to decide what matters more, your convictions or how people label you.
    I know far too many folks, like the fellow with the bumpersticker in my original post, who are horrified to be called anything but conservative – so they changed conviction to maintain the label.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  15. Sammy wrote:

    I believe there has been a “push” by some groups (financial and religious) to redefine “conservative” over the years and it’s been slow and subtle enough that many people have almost unknowingly been brainwashed into this shift in beliefs, with right wing radio and Fox News helping to pave the way. I know an old high school mate in Alaska whose beliefs have become so right wing I think he’s lost all sight of true conservatism and true Christianity. He has a former friend who actually IS a preacher who told me they used to share similar Christian/conservative beliefs, but he (my old classmate) went off the deep end with his views.

    I see this phenomenon in a lot of people with whom I come into contact.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  16. Iron Knee wrote:

    Sorry about the “soldier” label, but I need some educating. To me, the term sailor doesn’t imply being in the military. I used to own a boat and would call myself a sailor. I wanted to indicate that you were a former military person, so I used the term soldier as a generic term. I guess that doesn’t work for the Navy. I updated the article (to “Navy officer”, but that only works because you were an officer). I have no idea what the right term would have been.

    And welcome — thanks for making good comments, and for your excellent article.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  17. Jim Wright wrote:


    Retired Navy Sailor.

    Squid if you are a vet of one of the other services, the Marines in particular. 😉

    I’m just picking nits. There’s no insult in being called a soldier.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  18. ebdoug wrote:

    @Michael,remember Richard lugar accompanied Obama to Russia and encouraged him to run.

    Fascinating quiz in Christian Science monitor of the 5th. Only one I totally agree with is Huntsman. And, yes, Obama was included. He came in second on my list.

    Karl Rova shares none of the conservative values, he just backs them to get people to vote against themselves.

    I am being a victim of an Iraq vet. While waiting in court, my lawyer asked “Are you a Republican or a Democarts?” “NO”. That startled him.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  19. Beauzeaux wrote:

    “yet I appear to be a unrepentant liberal, even though I still believe in the constitution”

    The two are not incompatible. Every liberal I’ve known has believed in the Constitution.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  20. Michael wrote:

    @Ebdoug, I didn’t mean to imply that Lugar has gone nuts with the rest of the party. Quite the contrary. He’s one of the very few that I would still consider voting for, primarily for his work on international nuclear non-proliferation. I’ve never seen him resort to culture war tactics or any other false dichotomies. And I like Huntsman, too, though I disagree on some issues. I’d be curious to see that quiz.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  21. GreatWhiteNorth wrote:

    This article is also true from my view of the north (Canada). Things are sliding to the right and people are confused that the old labels don’t match anymore.

    Canada tends to lag a few years behind our southern neighbours, and unfortunately our “conservative” federal government is currently pushing a new crime bill through to law that has many key points taken from a Texas model.

    Ironically, the same Texas legislators who pushed it through are now saying it didn’t work. Do you think our government pays attention to that? ;(

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  22. ebdoug wrote:

    Michael, I tried to find the link to the quiz on-line, maybe you can find it.

    Lugar is one of the good Republicans left.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink
  23. starluna wrote:

    To second Micheal’s comment, it is posts like this that I spend my scheduled procrastination time here. I am fascinated by this idea that people modify previously held positions, values, and perspectives to be ideologically consistent with the redefined label. It’s kind of an interesting thought. I wonder, though, whether it is more complex than this.

    The hijacking of the label “conservative” is taking place in a culture that is particularly sensitive to branding. This redefinition also serves the material and power interests of those who know how to effectively manipulate this aspect of US American culture.

    This is also taking place in a time where several other social transformations that threaten the identity and social position of the people in those social groups that heretofore had self-identified as Republican or conservative. Those groups that Wright mentions in his post. The “doctors, engineers, scientists, the guys with the buzz cuts and white shirts who worked at NASA and got us to the moon and back.” These people were mostly white men and who benefited from centuries of race privilege – even when they came from poverty or the working class.

    And then there are major changes in social norms (women choosing to work and expecting men to lump it and contribute to the household), social opportunity (now you have to compete with all of these “others”), and changes in the economy (deindustrialization, deregulation, more occupational opportunity in the middle classes for women than men, and visible economic inequality).

    Add to this a very long history of finding and obsessing over scapegoats (the majority of whom have always been not Anglo-Saxon, or protestant Christian, or men).

    Taken together, it seems like there is a lot more to this manipulation of the self as a consequence of the redefinition of conservative. It seems to me like those who changed when the label was redefined may have quite a bit invested (socially, psychologically, materially) in how the label defines their identity and their social position. Or perhaps they are simply afraid of being left without a community of belonging.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink