From Liberal Democrat to Conservative, My Political Journey

From Liberal Democrat to Conservative, My Political Journey

People who have known me a long time are surprised by my conversion to conservatism, so I want to share how I came to embrace conservative principles as the best political framework for our country’s prosperity. The story of how I came to be a conservative best begins with the story of how I first came to be a liberal.

I grew up in a liberal, union, democratic household in the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents are registered republicans, but that is a technicality. In an earlier time they may have been called Reagan Democrats. They appreciated the Cold War foreign policy of Reagan, but also happily supported a big government with a robust social safety net. In many ways they also credited my father’s union for the quality of life we enjoyed, and perceived policy positions held by republicans to be deliberate and malevolent attempts to undermine collective bargaining rights.

My political awareness began with the Clinton administration. I was too young to vote for Clinton, but in our household we definitely championed his election and reelection. I suspect my parents probably had an affinity for Clinton as someone of their generation, but he also came across as a non-ideological pragmatist. Clinton’s critics would probably call him more of an opportunist than a pragmatist, but this was the lens through which the Jackson household viewed his administration during the 90’s. So this was the environment I grew up in, and it was very easy for me to enter adulthood as part of the liberal consensus of the Bay Area that I had been raised in.

I maintained my Democrat leanings during my college days at the Naval Academy and throughout my military service. If anything I became more fervently partisan. Truth be told I enjoyed being contrarian, and in political discussions often found myself being the lone Democrat voice. The first presidential candidate I had an opportunity to vote for was Al Gore, and I was devastated when he lost.

Throughout my 20’s during the Bush Administration I remained a committed and partisan Democrat. I believed, and still do, that President Bush and the D.C republicans that supported him were hypocrites. President Bush said he wanted a “humble” foreign policy, yet he inserted our military into two nation building missions. He said he believed in a limited government, but he never encountered a problem that he didn’t have a government solution for (see Medicare Part D, TARP, and the creation of the Homeland Security Department as examples). Plus he was just generally incompetent. The events of the Bush years were self-affirming for my liberalism. Nobody on the right was challenging the power of the government to do the things it was doing, politics was just about picking the beneficiaries of the government’s largesse, and as long as that was the case, I was voting with the democrats as the party of the “little guy” as my father would have put it.

As a consequence I was firmly in the bag for then Senator Obama in 2008. I contributed what I could, and both my wife and I proudly wore our Hope and Change T-shirts. My goodness how naïve we were. I quickly became disillusioned. Here was my President, the man I had voted for, using the power of the government to compel Americans to buy the government’s preferred products from its preferred corporations. This is what the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) does. Whatever your opinions on health care policy, imagine how this power could be abused by future presidents. If you think there is too much money or lobbyist involvement in politics now, wait till they start throwing money around to get the government to levy taxes against consumers who don’t purchase their products!

This disillusionment was the initial catalyst for my conservative conversion, but it would have ended with mere disillusionment had it not also been accompanied by education. It was right at this time that I entered law school. As I began to study the law, I developed a renewed appreciation for the founding generation and their wisdom. They experienced tyranny first hand, and with the benefit of historical hindsight were able to anticipate how government might be abused by the special interests (Madison called them “factions”). I read the federalist papers, all 85 of them word for word. I was enthralled. I began to read other writers of the founding generation and the writers that influenced them. I read Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689) and Blackstone’s Commentaries (1769), and Burlamaqui’s The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1750). I read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The Rights of Man. Then I read the authors who came latter, having been influenced by America’s founding generation. I read Bastiat’s The Law (1850), and de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1840). And many more.

Several key themes emerge from these works. We are all created equal, and should be treated that way by the law. Our human dignity means we are all entitled to unalienable fundamental rights. We do not owe our rights to our government, we had them before we created the government. And the unalienable nature of our rights means our government must be one of limited powers, possessing only the powers which we could freely delegate and obligated to respect and defend our fundamental rights.
This is what conservatism means to me. I now realize that “conservative” is not synonymous with “Republican,” and the choice between big government D.C. democrats on one side and big government D.C. republicans on the other side was always a false one. I’m for human dignity and liberty. I’m a conservative.

2018 Update:  Re-reading this nearly 5 years after it was first written I realize I was remiss in not mentioning one other factor in my political conversion.  Liberal progressive politics don’t work for the very people they are intended to help – the disadvantaged.  Since LBJ’s Great Society government assistance has failed to move the needle on poverty and only increased inequality.  It took being newly skeptical about the Democrats and their agenda to appreciate that empirical data.