We tend to think of Hollywood as a bastion of leftism, and rightly so. Books like Ron Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood demonstrate the deep-seated left wing dominance of the entertainment industry. Even with the leftism prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age, many unabashed conservatives found success without compromising their principles, including one of the most creative minds in the business – Walt Disney.
Several biographers and writers that I’ve read have tried to declare that Walt Disney was apolitical, but I find this conclusion not to be true. Diane Disney Miller once said that her father was “kind of a strange figure” politically, and Walt admitted his own political naiveté:
A long time ago, I found out that I knew nothing whatsoever about this game of politics and since then I’ve preferred to keep silent about the entire matter rather than see my name attached to any statement that was not my own.
But plenty of people surrounding Walt Disney knew the truth: that he was conservative to his core. Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” said that Walt’s right-leaning politics made him uncomfortable and that politics drove a rift in their friendship in Disney’s later years. Radical writer Maurice Rapf, who worked on several Disney films, including Song of the South, said, “He was very conservative except in one particular – he was a very strong environmentalist.” However, Walt Disney’s conservatism did not manifest itself until after he had been a businessman for several years.
Walt Disney’s early exposure to politics came from his father, Elias, who was a Socialist – in particular, he followed the philosophy of J. A. Wayland. Wayland created a unique strain of Prairie Socialism in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Daniel J. Flynn, in his book A Conservative History of the American Left, tells of how Wayland “reached Americans with the message [of Socialism] that had been heretofore explained in a German, Yiddish, or Russian accent, but never with a Bible-belt twang.”
My conservatism caught me by surprise.
While raised in the peculiar isolation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by a white mother and a black father, politics was as elusive as birthday celebrations and gifts on Christmas morning (prohibited by JW theology). In elementary school, as other children would cover their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I stood silent with my hands at my side. Participation in the political system of men was a betrayal of the kingdom of God, or so I had been taught. I therefore had little frame of reference for, or interest in, the political discourse.
I thus came into middle school ripe for indoctrination. My first impression of the major political parties was imprinted by a social studies teacher who explained as a matter of fact that Republicans were the party of the rich and powerful while Democrats were the party of the little guy. That settled it. Lacking in wealth and power as I was, if I was ever to be political, I was clearly to be a Democrat. Thus guided, I dutifully cast my ballot in the mock election of 1992 for the well-coifed champion of we little people – Bill Clinton.
In the years that followed, something happened which my teachers did not intend. I enrolled in my state’s postsecondary enrollment options program, and came to spend half the day at a local community college. My schedule was such that I drove between my high school and the college right when a certain talk radio personality took to the air. In a way, listening to Rush Limbaugh proved a form of youthful rebellion. My curiosity was aroused by leftist characterizations of the man as a bigoted hate-monger. Surely, listening to the rantings of a modern-day Klansman would prove entertaining.
You can fill in the rest of the story. What Limbaugh had to say on those daily drives to college proved more enlightening than what I was offered in class. I was not converted so much as matched with the ideology I implicitly held.
As I came of age politically, the reality of being a black conservative was no more isolating than being a Jehovah’s Witness. I had grown used to being a minority within a minority, the odd guy out, and having to routinely explain myself to others. While I eventually dropped the religion, I maintained its contentment with abnormality. As a result, I did not endure quite the same trials which many other black conservatives do when they reveal their values to a community enthralled by liberation theology.
Nevertheless, life as a black conservative has granted me insight into the plight facing those who stand up for what they believe in. Here are 5 tips for coming out as a black conservative.
This month in The New Criterion, I have a short note about “Original Sin: Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to Be the Party of White People,” Sam Tanenhaus’s tendentious and interminable article in a recent New Republic about how awful and racist the GOP is and why they will never, ever be able to redeem themselves until they give up on being nasty conservatives and start thinking just like — well, just like Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review and therefore a man who has the right (i.e., the approved left-wing) opinions about everything.
As I observe in my note, what makes “Original Sin” so odd is what I call its “historical legerdemain.”
When it comes to racism, the elephant in the room for Democrats is the unhappy historical fact that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery in the nineteenth century, the party of segregation for much of the twentieth century, and the party of multicultural neo-segregation today. Tanenhaus does not put it quite like that, but his essay slyly acknowledges the first two items. When it comes to contemporary realities, however, he argues that conservatives, by opposing identity politics and supporting the ideal of limited government, have slid under the wheels of history. The changing demographic complexion of America, he says, has consigned the GOP to bitter irrelevance. Searching for an intellectual paterfamilias for this drama, he settles on Lincoln’s great antagonist John C. Calhoun. The reasoning goes something like this: Calhoun supported states’ rights and limited government. He worried about the tyranny of the majority. He also supported slavery. Conservatives support states’ rights and limited government, they worry about the tyranny of the majority, ergo they are racists.
Not much of an argument, is it? In many ways, Tanenhaus’s piece is reminiscent of his earlier exercise in ill-informed polemical logorrhea, The Death of Conservatism, which, like “Original Sin,” started life as a bloated article in The New Republic before darkening a few acres of wood pulp in its appearance between covers and on remainder shelves across the country. James Piereson treated that opuscule to at least some of the withering criticism it deserved in The New Criterion. That book disappeared without trace since the 2010 mid-term election did for his thesis what Cato’s denunciation helped do for Carthage.
Crime, violence, infamy are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy—not defeat or death. That is why the spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation. That is why this terrible book is also a book of hope. For it is about the struggle of the human soul —of more than one human soul. It is in this sense that the Hiss Case is a tragedy. This is its meaning beyond the headlines, the revelations, the shame and suffering of the people involved. But this tragedy will have been for nothing unless men understand it rightly, and from it the world takes hope and heart to begin its own tragic struggle with the evil that besets it from within and from without, unless it faces the fact that the world, the whole world, is sick unto death and that, among other things, this Case has turned a finger of fierce light into the suddenly opened and reeking body of our time.
– Whittaker Chambers, Witness
New Year’s Resolution #5, over the course of 2013 read these books:
** Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kolakowski
** Witness by Whittaker Chambers
** Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
** A History of the American People by Paul Johnson
Related at PJ Lifestyle today:
Can anyone tell me the difference between playing Angry Birds and getting hooked on methamphetamines? Okay, I guess with Angry Birds you don’t lose your teeth. And you don’t have to sell your body to keep up the supply. In fact, after the nice Angry Bird people sell you the app for around five bucks, they periodically stock it with new levels for free. Try to get your meth supplier to give you a deal like that!
But has anyone besides me ever tried to give this thing up? It’s virtually impossible. Fortunately, however, playing teaches you a ton of conservative virtues. That’s what I tell my wife anyway. Because she thinks I’m just, you know, goofing off.
But here’s a few of the things you can learn flipping birds at pigs:
1. It’s not nice to steal what other people produce. The pigs are the villains because they take the birds’ eggs. Could the symbolism be any clearer? Pigs = Government. Eggs = The Productions of the Productive. Ayn Rand couldn’t have said it better — except maybe in her brilliant scene where a boomerang myna bird flies backwards into a beach ball.
2. When in doubt, turn to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before. If you want to score three stars on every level and pick up the golden eggs, sooner or later, you’re going to have to consult YouTube. It’s what we Angry Birders have instead of the Federalist Papers.
This week my friend John Hawkins released his annual ranking of the 50 best conservative columnists. A very generous guy, John included me on the list. And ahead of George Will too!
I wonder, though: what does it mean to be a columnist today?
Well, what qualifies as a column? The defining characteristics, which I invite others to dispute or refine in the comments: A) a regular appearance usually either weekly or bi-weekly, B) a standard word count in the range of 600-1500 words, and C) usually with a focus on opinion, analysis, or entertainment — not “objective,” fly-on-the-wall journalism.
But that’s the Old School understanding I learned in journalism classes in the pre-blogosphere days. Now in the New Media era a “column” counts as any piece of writing and “columnist” doubles for “writer.” And that’s fine — language evolves and we only gain so much from playing the semantics game. Here at PJ Media we call our all-star team of writers “Columnists” even though the content they produce ranges across the spectrum from blog posts to journalistic articles to traditional op/ed columns to extended essays on to Ed Driscoll’s podcasts and Zombie’s unforgettable photos.
But the truth is that the name does still fit for most of the PJ Columnists, and pressed to answer John’s challenge to provide “YOUR LIST of the best conservative columnists” I’d have to actually create two, the first of those I edit now and the second of those I wouldn’t mind editing someday. The 10 PJ columnists who predominantly write on a regular basis in the “newspaper column” style, of a 600-1500+ word, opinionated, elegantly stylized analysis (in no ranked order):
Roger L. Simon, Barry Rubin, Andrew Klavan, Roger Kimball, Michael Walsh, Andrew C. McCarthy, Claudia Rosett, David P. Goldman, Victor Davis Hanson, and Michael Ledeen
The other PJ Columnists I’d classify as top-tier bloggers (Stephen Green, Ed Driscoll, Helen Smith and Blog Father Glenn Reynolds) and deep essayists (Ron Radosh and Ion Mihai Pacepa.) J. Christian Adams’s Rule of Law, Richard Fernandez’s Belmont Club, and the mysterious Zombie transcend categorization in their own unique ways — the three of them have each taken the tools of New Media to innovate their own new mediums.
So about that second list… I decided to take John’s list and A) edit it down to my top 10 choices, B) re-order counting down to the best, C) throw on 5 more conservative columnists I adore who John neglected to include.
But here’s the problem: I’m fairly confident about the ranking of only the top 2. I could see legitimate reasons for why one should rank higher or lower than others.
So for my top 20 list of Best Conservative Columnists (forthcoming soon here at PJ Lifestyle) I thought I’d first hear the arguments of others about A) who should go where, B) which five additional columnists deserve inclusion, and C) if anyone I’ve already selected does not warrant placement.
Ever heard someone say, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me?” I get that on a very personal level, except in reverse, because I didn’t become a social conservative, social conservatism came toward me. Granted, many social conservatives who would be reluctant to count me amongst their ranks, and as someone who has been saying for years that I’m more socially conservative than the average person, but not an actual social conservative, I wouldn’t blame them.
After feeling guilty about stealing, I deleted my downloaded MP3 collection and bought it all from scratch legally, but it still contains everything from gangster rap to raunchy pop.
I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or gamble and I rarely curse, but it has nothing to do with moral concerns.
I try to be a good guy, but politics is a knife fight in a phone booth where nice guys finish last, so if need be, I can be as vicious as just about anyone you’ll run across on the Right.