The Day I Became a Conservative ...
Actually only a couple of those things happened, but the rest of this story is almost true.
My father is a Republican. My grandfather, an uneducated man who literally worked himself rich, was a Republican. Like my great-grandfather was. My great-great-grandfather enlisted in the Illinois cavalry shortly after Fort Sumter, and fought to rid the world of seditious Democrats. Or slavery, or some bad thing like that. He was a Republican, too.
So it was only natural that I should escape this nest of I-Like-Ikers and go off to school, to immerse myself in the likes of Mikhail Bakunin and Andre Breton. Some kids rebel by dying their hair orange and punching holes in their bodies. I went straight to Lenin's State and Revolution, after a brief stop at Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I scored some very pure Marx from a visiting German professor, who pronounced "Kant" as if the great philosopher were a portion of female anatomy. "Some of you may have encountered Kant during your time at university," he told us. Being the humorless Orwellian bug that I was, I didn't laugh even to myself. My idea of fun was explaining Susan Brownmiller's "All Men are Rapists" theory in bars and watching people go magenta. Come to think of it, that's still good for a laugh.
The Lincoln genes did assert themselves here and there. Being raised a Christian, I knew how poorly anti-Christian friends understood it. About as well as Heinrich Himmler understood the Kabbala. Having worked full-time in the summer since I was 13, I understood way too much about proletarianism for my own good. I couldn't go along with popular theories about Ronald Reagan's plot to rule the world, which made astrology look like common sense. And in my heart, I knew the Sex Pistols sucked. And so on.
So I exaggerate when I focus on this one small stretch of the Road to Damascus, but I think I was ready to put on my conservative heart on my sleeve when I took a course in Criminal Law (taught by a liberal, of course) and read about the case of a woman in Massachusetts who killed her husband.
Lawyers might be familiar with this case, which I can no longer remember the name of. A Massachusetts woman left her abusive husband and took up residence elsewhere, taking her two children with her. The husband showed up at her new home and demanded to be let in. When she refused, he started to break down the door. The woman took her children and tried to hide in the basement. Her husband appeared at the top of the stairs and told her, "If you don't come up here and face me, I'm going to come down there and kill you, and then I'm going to kill the kids." When she refused, he started down the stairs. He made to the bottom the hard way, however. Halfway down she shot him in the chest with a .22 caliber rifle and killed him instantly.
Damn straight, thought I. The ultra-enlightened Commonwealth of Massachusetts thought otherwise. They indicted and convicted the woman of second-degree manslaughter. The basement had another exit, and Massachusetts has an infinite retreat rule. If a person is in your own home threatening to kill you, you may not harm them unless you have no exit to flee through.
Now, presuming that this woman could have outrun her husband (with two children in tow), where could she find safety? If she sought refuge in a neighbor's house and he followed her in, all the occupants of that house would have to flee, too. In theory, one guy could push an entire Boston borough into that polluted harbor of theirs. Presumably police officers do not have to run away from criminals, but in Boston it's hard to tell.
None of this "speculation" impresses Massachusetts liberals, of course, who are determined that a woman may not use a firearm to defend herself, for the same reason that she may not drive a car in Saudi Arabia - it's just against their damn silly rules, that's all. The sillier the rule is, the more the liberal must insist upon it's strict observance, and the more stridently they must call down hellfire on anyone who disagrees with it.
Now both liberals and conservatives believe in rules, of course, especially (we hope) the Rule of Law. But it occurred to me then that rules take on very different meanings across the political spectrum. Conservatives, I believe, view rules much the same way that ordinary non-political folk do. Most people follow rules, though they don't generally love them. They agree with rules that work in harmony with the everyday currents of their lives, and that preserve that harmony. They approve of rules that they know are for everyone's good, and they at least feel guilty if they break them. But they do not expect laws to endow them with values, and they do not want legislators to work against their values. (They can mostly handle the legislators, though they can do little against judges who pull the same stunt.) Finally, for most people the rules - even the Law itself - are not the highest authority in the universe. And if someone is threatening to kill your children, you don't stop to consult the rulebook.
The liberal view of rules is more complicated. Or, as they say in the rule-choked Old World, sophisticated. Slathered with Nuance, the exciting new fragrance with the fresh smell of fertilizer. Fertilizer is an appropriate metaphor, for liberals often lay down rules on people as if they wanted to grow new people in their place. Rules are not just to prevent bad things from happening, but to make good things happen. Liberals theorize that with new rules, you can make a whole new country. They further postulate that we actually need a new country, really bad.
Liberals especially like rules that make a social statement, which means that they screw somebody. The idea that rules are for everybody's good is just nuts to a liberal. Where's the fun in that? Liberals tend to assume that everybody is screwing everybody. Life is one big Hobbesian cluster-copulation, and liberal rules are just payback. In the war of life, they jump out of the bushes and brain their enemies from behind. Liberals are not interested in taming social conflict, they just want to get their licks in. There is no such thing as a pointless political battle to a liberal. If a particular battle has no worthwhile objective, and is in fact totally counterproductive, they fight twice as hard. Their morale skyrockets and their double-edged battleaxes cut down friend and foe alike. This berserker behavior is more easily understood when you realize that liberals are often not fighting to win the current battle, but to avenge their loss in the last battle. Since liberals are good at starting fights but not so good at winning them, their list of "Things to Avenge" goes back to the 16th Century.
Vengeance is a very important concept to liberals. Once you understand that you are a victim and that liberals are eager to avenge you, all will be made clear to you. You'll never have to make a tough voting decision again. I would call "Get Revenge for X" the first and most important principle of Post-Kennedy Liberalism, and I don't understand why they don't explain that in grade school textbooks.
Not that they like all rules, of course. They often don't think much of other people's rules, like the time-honored rule that people who break into your house and threaten you can be met with lethal force. Mind you, liberals are well aware that most people approve of what that Massachusetts woman did. In fact, liberals look deeper into our dark hearts and see something even scarier: The fact that very many people think that men who beat and threaten to kill their wives and children deserve anything they get, legal or not. (Not because the Law means nothing, but because the Law is not the highest social value.) In the same fashion, liberals are painfully aware that most people approve of extra-legal means of dealing with terrorism.
Far from being discouraged by this, it seems to flood them with dopamine. Now the liberal (whose kid is out breaking windows at the INS office) mounts the Law and Order Pulpit in earnest. This is why the world needs liberals, he would say. Far from ignoring the public's distaste for liberal hyper-regulation, liberals greatly exaggerate it to wild proportions. The more exaggerated their view of our latent anarchism, the more exaggerated their attempts to stifle it with more rules. No rule is preposterous if it makes lots of people angry - that just means it's working.
Liberals might object to the notion that their rules are not for the good of all. They would be good for all people who live the way liberals want them to live, in a society that meets with liberal approval. Does this mean that some individuals have to be sacrificed on the way to the Good Society? Did that woman in Massachusetts go to jail because she couldn't understand that her life and the lives of her two children were a small price to pay for the liberal principle that people may not defend themselves with firearms?
Right-wing propaganda, they retort. And if people keep guns in their homes, they're likely to end up shooting members of their own family. And this case just proves that, doesn't it?