I have been asked to give a speech at the Roanoke Conference — an important meeting of Washington State Republicans – on January 24. They want me to talk about my personal story — my evolution from standard issue Hollywood lefty to the reviled right-wing co-founder of PJ Media I am today.
I have already discussed this at length in my book Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown, but it’s been a few years since I wrote it and this speech will give me an opportunity to reexamine the subject of political change. Indeed, I haven’t ever really deserted it because that is partly the theme of The Party Line, the just-published play by Sheryl Longin and me. The topic fascinates me.
One of the most interesting aspects of political change is that most of us who have experienced it don’t feel as if we have changed. We still see ourselves as the same person, live in the same skin. To us, it is the world that has changed — at least to some degree.
As an illustration, a significant number of people changed their views of global affairs immediately after September 11, 2001. Our country was attacked by an ideology that was misogynistic, homophobic, anti-democratic, racist, xenophobic, and religiously intolerant and that sought world domination — in short was the enemy of all classically liberal society since the Enlightenment.
The majority of our people recognized this and sought to push back, asserting the values of our culture — for a year or two. Then — as political correctness reasserted itself — the majority of that majority reverted to type and we had the election of Barack Obama… twice.
A few of us remained changed, now open to ideas we once thought anathema, or reactionary, when we were younger. How did that happen and why was I among them?
To be honest, despite having written a book and a play about it, I don’t really know. Political change remains a mystery to me, although I think it one of the most important topics, perhaps the crucial topic, we need to examine, because without political change, what’s the point of democracy? If people can’t be persuaded to switch sides, why bother?
The reasons for resistance to change are clear to me, however. Those who change risk losing friends, family, and livelihood. Even more importantly, they face personality disintegration, the loss of self-image. Who wants to deal with that?
I did apparently. But it was largely accidental. I was part of that majority reaction after 9/11, but, unlike others, I never looked back, was not recidivist. Part of the reason for that was my vocation. As a writer, I found it difficult to lie. I couldn’t write well what I no longer believed.
Yet all around me I saw split personalities, still do. The prototypical Hollywood (and DC) liberal lives two disparate lives, one public and one private. In public he or she is the greatest of altruists, in private the greediest and most ambitious of persons. The former acts as a cover for the latter, to the self and to others.
This system is so enduring, so entrenched, that it makes political change exceptionally difficult to achieve. How do you change someone so successful, someone who has wealth and power while feeling so inordinately good about him or herself?
I am speaking obviously about the so-called thought leaders here — the wannabe solons of New York, Washington and Los Angeles who dominate our media and entertainment and tell the hoi polloi how to live and think. These people have little incentive for change, even though in some cases their careers are in jeopardy. It’s hard for them to make a connection between the current economic uncertainty and the system that nurtured them for so long.
So what do we do to encourage change? Here are some preliminary thoughts.
Be humble. Few, if any, of us make drastic alterations in our lives and thought because someone won an argument. We have to come to things ourselves — or think we have. We have to own our change. These things take time and happen when we least expect them, sometimes when we don’t know they are happening.
When you see someone who is ripe for change, encourage him or her, but do it gently, responsively, and not confrontationally. And do not look for or expect an entire ideational shift. Be grateful for what you get.
As I write this, I am still a social liberal and likely to remain so. I have changed only in the economic and foreign policy areas. Many are like me. Be glad we’re here. We’ll try to accept you too, if you’re socially conservative.
Most of all, do not gloat — on the inside or on the outside. Generations of therapists have warned us of the perils of our “need to be right” (not politically but personally). The therapists were correct in their admonition. Remember, the goal here is the political change of others, not to be victorious ourselves.