Right to Left: An Ideological Journey

We are all shaped by events in our life, as well as the books we read, the people we associate with and the people we align ourselves with. Few people stay ideologically the same through their entire life. My life began in 1965 – my earliest newsworthy memories include the moon landing, stories of POWs and Watergate. As I entered my teens I remember high gas prices and what seemed to be a ship of fools running the country for who appeared to be a decent man, President Jimmy Carter. The Iran hostage crisis was the major event I recall as the 1970s drew to a close. Early memories of national pride on the moon were followed by the disaster in Vietnam, a disgraced President, and nation and period of inflation and weakness in the eyes of the world for my country.

President Ronald Reaga

President Ronald Reagan

Only sixteen during the 1980 Presidential Election I felt that the country was weak and being played “The Fool” by the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian students nightly on the network news. I was staunchly in Ronald Reagan’s camp. I remember being something of a strict literalist that never looked beyond the obvious – I supported the firing of the air traffic controllers (which even in hindsight I still support[1]), I shared my nation’s love affair with war in 1983 when we over ran Grenada, supported the United Kingdom in 1982 in the Falkland Islands War[2], and when we blew up targets in Libya in 1986. Like a pre-pubescent boy flexing in front of a mirror these incursions made me feel big and like a man, even though they were relatively safe and had guaranteed outcomes. The United States of America is not to be messed with. I was proud to vote for Reagan in my first Presidential vote in 1984 (what would Orwell say?)

I further entrenched myself while a student at liberal Salem State College. I am pretty sure I was the only person on campus in 1984 with a Reagan button and certainly the only Ray Shamie for Senate button.[3] Was I really that conservative? Part of me thinks yes; I loved being associated with books by William F. Buckley (I subscribed to The National Review) and George Will and the pipe dream of intelligence by association. At this age I adhered to the notion that anyone who did not work hard and go to work every day was a lazy sloth. Another part of me thinks I was a bona fide contrarian. This is Massachusetts – everyone is a democrat, everyone loves the Kennedys, hell, this is the only state that Nixon lost in 1972 – and if everyone is thinking that way, well then I am going to be the opposite. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

As the Reagan Presidency tired I tuned out the things I did not want to hear – namely the Iran-Contra affair. Moving from college to the labor force I continued to glide along as a Republican and gave less thought to the key issues of the day. I woke up a bit during Gulf War I – more out of a fear of having to join the armed forces and go and fight than any other reason. I continued my long history of “never voting for a Democrat” thru the 1990s, giving two votes to the campaigns of H. Ross Perot (don’t worry – the two votes were not in the same election.) A dislike of Al Gore and John Kerry led me to twice vote for a man I did not like, admire or trust, President George W. Bush as “the lesser of two evils.” I did gain a measure of respect for how he handled the nations situation immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The salient issues that really got me to drop my “never a democrat” mantra were my tiredness of the extremity of the GOP’s positions on social issues and particularly the clamoring to the religious right. Granted, I am not in the market for an abortion, I never pray or believe, and no one is forcing me to go to a fundamentalist church of any religion or sect. The idea that the United States could be labeled as a “Christian (or any other theology) Nation” is repulsive to me. I find the Republican pandering to these groups disturbing, even if it is only done on a superficial level to get votes. I witnessed Bush/Cheney doing what they thought was in the countries best interest though many did not support the escalation of the Gulf War into Afghanistan. The use of torture and the increases in executive power[4] and decreases in personal rights through the Patriot Act are troubling. Terrorism is a terrible thing to have to deal with, but eviscerating the rights of citizens as a short cut to and elusive end game does not jibe with the Bill of Rights or the ideas that built this nation. We are Americans and we should to take the high road.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

What caused me to vote for my first Democrat, Deval Patrick[5] and ultimately Barack Obama? Human compassion and a belief that as the economy improves our nation will improve. Government has a role to play in regulating corporate greed, stimulating growth and providing health care. Regrettably there is a role in providing bail outs – remember the post-9/11 airline bail outs too – they are not just for failed derivatives pushers. Abandoning the poor will continue the cycle that has no hope of being broken – people need a push start. This differs from a never-ending handout. Eliminating or reducing entitlements will cost our society more in the form homelessness, crimes, prisons and lost human resources that would be instrumental in sustaining a growing economy. Immigration reform and enforcement is needed, and was hopefully not campaign rhetoric – but not at the expense of the human and civil rights of people trying to make a better life (like mine, and maybe your ancestors); and certainly not at the cost of harassment of legal Latinos and Native Americans. Torture and the death penalty degrade and debase our society and should not be a part of our country. The United States cannot be at the forefront of human rights (if we even are) while existing with these hypocrisies. Torture does not to work reliably and the death penalty is not a deterrent, is not sentenced equitably and costs more than imprisonment – far too many mistakes are made –one is too many – have been made in executing the innocent. These liberal positions and ideas moved my allegiances away from the Republican Party. The abandonment of moderate republican views for the sake of the fundamental right, the derision of intellectualism and the tabloid tactics of the Fox News pundits and their ilk dissuaded me from associating with conservatism.

NOTE: An excellent comment on this thread led me to pen an addendum to this post – that post is HERE.


Thank you all for your continued readership – I am approaching a staggering 1500 individual reads in my first 6 weeks – the feedback and comments have been great. You can easily subscribe(hell – it’s free!) to Symptom of the Universe by submitting your e-mail in the box on the right of this page. Thanks again! Mike


[1] In an unusual position for a liberal I am not a big supporter of organized labor in most cases. A prior career painted a very up close and ugly picture of organized labor, fixed elections and collusion with the corporation.

[2] Interestingly, even at age 16 I knew enough to question how the Falkland Islands War and the tacit US support of the UK jibed with the Monroe Doctrine.

[3] Shamie ran two unsuccessful bids for the US Senate – 1982 against Edward M. Kennedy and in 1984 versus John Kerry.

[4] This is truly a non-partisan issue – every Chief Executive wants more power and less regulation upon himself – Obama is no different.

[5] A no win situation that had more to do with not liking Kerry Healey’s campaign than any great ideological platform.

Reagan image from – http://burdickeight.wikispaces.com/file/view/ronald-reagan-picture.jpg/31659845/ronald-reagan-picture.jpg

Obama image from – http://www.dallasvoice.com/instant-tea/wp-content/uploads/obama3.jpg


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10 Responses to “Right to Left: An Ideological Journey”

  1. mk Says:

    I too was a huge Reagan supporter….and Republican…growing up in a Republican household with a Mom who volunteered for the republican party…and a hubby who is a HUGE republican and aerospace engineer, who is convinced that unless we all vote republican he will lose his job. But I have found in the past 7 years or so that I have grown up in my political views, thank goodness. Is it because I am living in Claremont, home of trees and PHd’s (and democrats) or have I really started paying attention to other peoples views and begun to analyze them in my own mind? Who knows….I do know that we as a people have given up on others in their time of need and in your words do need a PUSH START in the right direction. We have been wasting money on an unnecessary war(s) that we are stuck finishing…and don’t even get me started on the death penalty! OY Do we blame the republicans or ourselves for letting it happen????
    We have been so used to the country being run by a ship of fools, that anything would be better than the Bush years….but hopefully if we keep speaking up as a nation SOMEONE will listen. Love your posts, they are brilliant!

  2. Al Says:

    welcome into the light! What too k’ya so long?

  3. Heather Says:

    This whole article troubles me somewhat and I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s the description of your past beliefs and political affiliations as I find myself going through the psychological reasons you seem to be offering- feeling that war, violence, and the lack of compassion for other human beings made you feel manly. It troubles me that our society encourages these feelings and worries me that failing to free ourselves from traditional gender roles will only result in more war and unneeded suffering. You say you woke up a bit out of fear of going to war which rings of a kind of selfishness that almost defines hypocrisy (yeah war! *manly roar* wait.. you want me to go? no way!). I suppose what troubles me is knowing how many people think and act just this way and, whether or not they eventually come to see reason, that way of thinking is currently destroying the country in terms of human rights, animal rights, and the economy. I suppose I don’t really understand how you really came to liberal ideals. You mention a few things- not wanting to go to war, the Bush tortures, and separation of church and state and then you go on to describe other liberal beliefs but these couldn’t have been new could they? What caused you to go from supporting Republicans to being against the racist based immigration laws? How could you go from thinking poor people were just lazy to “Abandoning the poor will continue the cycle that has no hope of being broken”. Every liberal I know with these same beliefs were *always* compassionate and understanding- something that almost every Republican/Conservative/Libertarian seems to lack.. how do you gain such a trait? Was it someone talking to you that opened your eyes? Was it researching or hearing personal stories? It doesn’t seem gradual.. a change that happened in four years (from voting to Bush in 04 term to voting for Obama in 08). Another blog which really outlines the transition would be great.

  4. Addendum to: Left to Right: An Ideological Journey « Symptom of the Universe Says:

    […] ORIGINAL POST […]

  5. sapblatt Says:

    Heather – further clarification


    Take care

  6. Karen Says:

    Very well written. Keep it up! You’ve put a lot of thought into this.

  7. Dan Holway Says:

    The basic cause of your shift was “Human compassion and a belief that as the economy improves our nation will improve”? The first part suggests that you and those you agree with possess human compassion, while those with whom you disagree lack compassion. (If you don’t see why I find that problematic, imagine how you’d react if I suggested that our politics differ because I have honesty and intelligence.) You don’t define compassion other than to suggest that the expansion of governmental power is compassion in action, yet I’d argue that ever-growing government leads to economic stultification and suppression of individual rights and war, and I’d argue that history supports my position more than yours.

    As to the idea that “as the economy improves our nation will improve”, well, does anyone disagree? How is that a “left” thing and not a “right” thing? (The “left” used to consider the saying “What’s good for GM is good for the country” to be the height of idiocy whether considered generally or specifically, but I guess that has changed.)

    I wish I had time to write more. I’d like to.

    • Heather Says:

      Dan, I live in and grew up in North Carolina with a brief stay in rural Pennsylvania- both incredibly conservative and republican states (or at least areas as NC has now shifted closer to blue) and, though it may upset you, I have found that most Republicans due indeed lack great compassion. Not to say that they don’t have any- they’ll still get a little teary at those animal abuse commercials (sometimes) for instance and they have great compassion (sometimes) for their friends and family.. but it generally doesn’t extend beyond that. Different people have different monkeysphears (the number of people that you can care about on a personal level) and I’ve noticed that conservatives have smaller ones. (I have an article on what monkeysphears are if you’d like to read it- it has nothing to do with politics, just an interesting read). For example, Republicans tend to be against women’s rights- that lacks compassion. They tend to be against gay rights- that lacks compassion. They tend to be against animal rights- that lacks compassion. They tend to be somewhat racist (towards a variety of races, not just one)- that lacks compassion. They tend to be against things that would help a huge number of people like universal health care, social security, medicaid and medicare- that severely lacks compassion. Many think that non christians don’t have a right in this country and should put up with discrimination- lack of compassion. And I’m not going by the politicians- almost all of them are oily and there’s no way to tell what they really believe in.. I’m talking about day to day people. Look at a democratic rally and a republican rally.. look at what they’re against. A democrat may rally for sep. of church and state, for universal health care, to stop war, to save the environment, etc while a republican may rally against universal health care, gay marriage, for religion in government, etc. Do you even remember the last presidential race? Republicans rallied with signs like “if Obama wins will it still be called the “white” house?”. So I’m sorry but I will absolutely say that liberals have more compassion.

  8. sapblatt Says:

    Dan –
    Thanks for reading and entering the fray.
    By compassion I am referring to a lot of things that are more liberal than conservative. Of course everyone has compassion on paper. Conservative positions (in my opinion only – they would argue otherwise on some them)such as pro-life, pro death penalty, anti health care for all, anti any entitlement, etc. are not compassionate and work to further the chasm between haves and have nots.
    I have not seen any evidence that letting large corporations run amok and free has helped anyone but themselves.
    I know your honesty and intelligence is just to make a point, but I do not think that either position is right for everyone. There are intelligent positions on either side and each sides core ideas are not the best ideas for everyone in the country. I choose to align with the ones that I think are the best, and I often base those on social issues, not solely economic. The point of both essays was that I have not seen the trickle down, laissez faire ideas work over the long haul – of course you could debate that the liberal ones have not worked in the long haul either and that the back and forth is important to the development of the country. I do not think you beleive that social and civil progress would have occured naturally without government intervention.
    I would add that I think your position is difficult to ascertain a lot of the time – libertarian? slightly right of center? contrarian? not a problem – just not sure.
    Please write more when you can and enjoy your vacation.

  9. Gil Gillon Says:

    I just tripped over your site tonight, and share some of your journey from right to left. The idea is not that your beliefs changed so much as your party did. (Reagan- I did not leave the Democratic party; the Democratic party left me.) There has not been an abandonment of the concepts of individual responsibility, initiative, or personal freedom: indeed, they are alive and robust! What has been lost is the optimism and idealism which characterized the Reagan presidency, supplanted by the surly dominion of all-powerful collectives whose ownership is the only core difference from their Soviet equivalents. The values of privacy and individualism are neither liberal nor conservative but at the core of our constitution. Remember…we have the RIGHT to PURSUE happiness: there us no guarantee that anyone will catch it.

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