“It’s never been about me. It’s never even
been about you. It’s been about our country.”
–Fred Thompson. January 19, 2008
Exit stage right.
Officially or not, Fred Thompson is done. Political junkies will debate within the footnotes as to whether he truly ever was there to begin with. For me, yesterday’s dissapointing–but predictable–third-place finish in South Carolina was a sad day, and as Fred Thompson’s candidacy petered out with an impassioned whimper, so did my own ideological metamorphosis.
This past evening, staring at the returns and wondering, foolishly, if he could make up seven percentage points within the final 20 percent of returns, it struck me not only that I now have to compromise my own beliefs, ideals and values in picking a candidate to support, but that my own sea change of the past seven years has finally come to an end. In the 2000 presidential election, I bought into the idealist nonsense, the empty promises and same old populist cliches put forth by the Gore/Lieberman campaign. Now, I feel a deepening sense of frustration as, after all of this time and all of my reading, writing, discussing, debating and learning, the very candidate who embodied the end result of my ideological transformation is going home empty-handed.
Now that I’m in a bit of a reflective mood, and seeing that this Web site is still very young, maybe it’s time for a little bit about myself and my political transmogrification:
In November of 2000, I didn’t know squat. Earlier that year, while working for a small daily paper in the Upstate of South Carolina, I was completely over my head and out of my element when George W. Bush, John McCain and the rest of the Republicans came to town for the primary and accompanying circus. I didn’t know anything; I had never really paid attention.
When it came time to vote, I picked Al Gore. The Clinton years were great, right? Shoot, I was fourteen years old when Bill Clinton took office, I didn’t really know any different. That election night, interested but still not fully conscious of everything going on, I went to bed dissapointed after Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert called the election for Bush. The next morning, I was excited when it turned out that the shuffleboard crowd in Florida didn’t know their rear ends from their butterfly ballots.
The following summer, shortly before the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., I picked up and in the course of a rainy afternoon read through a copy of Bias, by Bernard Goldberg. I may not have understood politics, but I understood media. I quickly became aware that my ideological underpinnings, as weak and uninformed as they may have been, were only there as a result of my environment — high school; college; the newsroom.
My eyes opened as a direct result of Bernie Goldberg’s book. I never would have understood the books that litter my home office today, the Jeffersonian idea of federalism or the merits of the line-item veto, but to shine a light on the mainstream media was a way that I could understand and be introduced to the problems at hand.
Gradually, I picked up more and more. The Federalist Papers, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, books by Mark Levin, John Lott, Harry Stein’s How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. The full list, though I cannot remember them all, reads like something that would guarantee a Dan Rather heart attack. The mere mention of Michael Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental Disorder might be enough to cause Keith Olbermann to toss himself off of a bridge.
I emerged with only two question marks — gay rights and abortion. Two ultra-divisive issues, never easy to confront or discuss, so why not just get them out of the way now…
The six weeks’ premature birth of my daughter, coupled with her tiny, frail, yet strangely wide-eyed and alert roommates in the Neo-Natal ICU, made it extremely difficult to come to grips with my own personal ambivalence toward unborn life in the past. Shortly thereafter, a baby born in Florida at 21 weeks finally went home from hospital, healthy. That was it for me. While I firmly believe that the legality of abortion should be for the states to decide, I hope and pray that given the chance, each state would come down on the side of life.
With regard to gay rights, I’m not sure that I’ll ever line up with traditional conservative values, and I’m fully willing to take whatever criticism comes in my direction regardless of where my life goes from here (i.e. public office). I’ll be the first one to tell you that I think our culture is going down the crapper in a hurry, but I consider it an enormous stretch to find a cause/effect relationship between the degradation of our culture and the extension of the benefits of marriage to a pair of people that love each other. For a while, my Catholic upbringing made it difficult to justify calling such a union a “marriage” but, after all, it seems that the traditional notion of marriage as a sacrement is itself no longer held in such high and holy esteem. At the very least, like the aforementioned debate about abortion, it’s an issue for the individual states, not our federal government.
My primary concern–and it should be foremost in the minds of all Americans–is the threat we’re seeing from fundamentalist Islam. With the lack of audible, prominent protest from so-called “moderate” Muslims regarding the perversion of their faith, I cannot help but wonder for how long we’ll really need the adjective. I firmly believe that the threat from Islam will be the defining struggle of not only our generation, but our children’s as well. I see how quickly the European countries are falling into the jihadist trap through the permeation of destructive political correctness, I’m beginning to see it here, and I worry about how long it will be until such behavior completely crosses the Atlantic and we simply hand over our own severed, infidel heads on a platter. In the meantime, however, our country is instead embroiled in a gigantic, power-driven political debate from which, save for a miracle or an awakening of enormous proportions, I fear we’re going to emerge in a much weaker state.
The latter is why, as I watched the television and listened to Fred Thompson thank everyone and say “God Bless You” before leaving the stage and undoubtedly political life, my heart sank to the floor and I was overwhelmed by a profound sense of desperation. After all these years and yet just in time, I seem to have finally found the answer for myself and, with it, a reason to be optimistic about the direction in which the country is headed and the future of Western civilization as a whole — now, perhaps the greatest available catalyst for the needed change has been forced out of the running.
The moment my daughter was born and I held her five-pound body in my hands, a change came over me and I wept. Somehow, as flawed and incapable as I am, I was entrusted with the life and health of this beautiful girl. I immediately became overprotective. As it turns out, I may be grossly incapable of a whole lot of things, but I would give my life without second thought to prevent her from sustaining any harm whatsoever. Yet, out there well beyond my grasp are some of the most terrifying things imaginable, threats I cannot intimidate, cannot fire upon, cannot stop, and I feel helpless as I sit on the sidelines watching those who ARE capable of preserving our lives and way of life scramble around and become more consumed with the preservation of their own power than the safety and security of those whom they represent.
The people in this country, for the most part, seem to mill around, going about their business completely unaware of or choosing not to contemplate the fact that this nation and our civilization as a whole are NOT infallible. Empires rise and fall. Our way of life, everything we take for granted, could come to fruition in an instant — yet we choose to obsess over celebrity, over who has the biggest house or fastest car, over the protection of the civil rights of those who wish to bring us harm.
That’s why this site is here. However futile, I feel like I’ve got to do something, and right now, this is about all I am capable of.
For a fleeting, bittersweet glimpse of What Might Have Been, check out Byron York’s piece for National Review Online.