On a brisk November morning back in 1996, I walked into a polling place located inside the H.A. Brown elementary school in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, signed my name in the register, and walked into the voting booth.
Though I was about to turn 33 years of age in just a few weeks, I was about to experience a first in my life.
As I pulled the handle and the curtain closed behind me, I faced the list of elective offices on the ballot, including that of the President of the United States of America, and searched the list for the one name that I was looking for above all others.
When I found the name of Bob Dole, I pulled over the small lever next to his name, forcing an ‘x’ mark into a tiny window, signifying that he would receive my vote. I pulled the handle back and locked in my first-ever vote for a Republican candidate for President of the United States, marking the beginning of a new era in my life.
Although the journey from ultra-liberal to conservative had begun earlier, this was truly a line of demarcation. Not Ronald Reagan. Not George H.W. Bush. It was Bob Dole who received my first-ever Republican Presidential vote.
Dole received my vote when just four years earlier I had cast my ballot for Bill Clinton, his opponent. Clinton had been someone who I enthusiastically supported in 1992. He was proving immensely popular with a large segment of the American populace, and had yet to experience the Monica Lewinsky scandal or the disgrace of impeachment.
How does one make such a long journey from true liberal to true conservative? What are the life experiences, the circumstances that take place to enable and empower such a drastic change of thought? How does one go from being a card carrying, dues-paying member of Greenpeace and Amnesty International in his 20’s to a Limbaugh Letter subscriber in his 30’s?
How does one go from thinking of President Ronald Reagan as a dunce former actor who was surely leading the world to nuclear war, to holding the Gipper in such high esteem that he is now a personal hero and icon, and possibly the greatest President of the 20th century?
It’s a long night’s journey into day, folks. The story of my journey from youthful liberal to mature conservative is in many ways typical. It’s the story of the immature, naive idealist young man being hardened by life’s often difficult lessons, becoming a mature, informed realist. But of course my personal story has it’s own nexus, it’s own turning points.
It probably begins with my coming into adolescence in the aftermath of the Watergate fiasco, Nixon impeachment, and the debacle of an ending to the Vietnam War.
I remember being attracted, as many young kids were, to the flowery, colorful “hippie” movement of the period from around 1968-1972, and the images of anti-war demonstrators and peaceniks. The guys all seemed smart and sensitive at the same time, with long hair and mustaches, and the girls were either very pretty blondes with flowers in their hair, or very smart brunettes with impressive vocabularies and fire in their eyes.
I remember watching on TV as many of the young characters such as Greg and Marcia Brady and Mike and Gloria Stivic seemed to support the causes of peace, love and togetherness. If I had known the terms back then, I wouldn’t have been able to understand why everyone wasn’t a liberal Democrat.
Born on November 20th, I had always felt an affinity for the Kennedy mystique. I share my birthday with Bobby Kennedy, and as a young teen I read as much as I could about him, coming to admire his and his brother John’s struggles to help rid the world of injustice, intolerance, and discrimination. I was a fan of Camelot a generation after it was dead, and this certainly helped shape my early liberalism.
What I didn’t read and learn until much later in life were that these men were not some new modern evolved type of individual, they were flesh and blood human beings with faults and weaknesses, just like the rest of us.
I even made my first-ever Presidential vote in my first-ever election for their brother, Ted Kennedy, during the 1980 Democratic Presidential primary. It was as much for brother Teddy to carry that idealistic torch forward as for anything that I knew about him specifically.
The word “Chappaquiddick” wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary back then. God help me, my Kennedy-lust lasted even into my conservative years, as I still thought that there was most likely a shooter on the grassy knoll, and a conspiracy to kill JFK, right up until early 2003 when I was introduced to the book “Case Closed” by Gerald Posner. Needless to say for those who have read it, that put an end to that, and the final nail in my own Kennedy mystique coffin.
So my liberal leanings were set early in my development, and as I moved into young adulthood they took root with even more conviction. I listened to Jimmy Carter speak and found him to be a good, honest, humble man who came across as utterly trustworthy, something that was important to me after Watergate.
I saw Carter’s opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, as someone who didn’t care much about the little people. To me, Reagan was someone who cared mostly about big business at home, and flexing the muscles of the war machine in international dealings.
I would hold these views about Reagan throughout his Presidency. When Carter lost, I simply couldn’t understand how a majority of voters didn’t see what I saw exactly the way that I saw it.
There was one thing that I did notice though, something that was a foretelling of my switch to thinking the Right Way. I remember as Reagan was being sworn in, the American hostages in Iran were freed after a year in captivity.
Even a young, hardcore Lib like myself saw the connection. Things were going to be different in America now with Reagan in charge, and the Ayatollah Khomeini and his radical Muslim extremist followers knew it. They likely knew just how different things would be long before I knew.
The key development in my life at this point was my early marriage. My high school girlfriend and I had gotten pregnant, and rather than go on to college, I went out into the working world, where I would toil in lower levels of the banking industry for just over a decade. When my girlfriend and I got married in November of 1979, we were both just 17 years old.
The marriage lasted longer than many thought it would, almost 13 years, and produced my two eldest daughters in 1980 and 1981. In fact, it was they who I couldn’t leave, and who held the marriage together as long as it did.
The struggles of trying to raise a young family in a low level job with little opportunity for advancing very far made me look at the supposed pro-rich policies of Reagan with even more negativity.
As I moved through the 1980’s, I was also moving through my 20’s. I regretted not having gone to college, being stuck in a dead-end job, and seeing my once-promising youth pass away without much to show for it. I wasn’t going to church, was barely taking my marriage seriously, and solidified my liberalism with votes for Mondale in ‘84 and Dukakis in ‘88.
During the 1980’s my liberal ideals were being fueled by the birth of the MTV network, and the anti-establishment and/or pro-humanity efforts of efforts such as Band Aid and Hands Across America. The mega-concert to benefit and battle African hunger, Live Aid, came to my hometown of Philadelphia in the mid-80’s and pushed those ideals further along.
I became a dues-paying member of both Amnesty International and Greenpeace, and proudly displayed stickers for both organizations on the inside of my work briefcase. Add it all up folks. Voted for Kennedy, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis. Card-carrying member of leftist organizations. I was a Lib, plain and simple. And then everything changed.
The change didn’t happen overnight, but was radical just the same. It started with my change of careers.
In 1990, I left the bank where I was working, and the industry that I had been a part of for over a decade, and joined the Philadelphia police force. The experiences that I would have as a cop would be a huge influence in my personal change.
Then in early 1992, my first wife and I separated. It was difficult, and I do not advocate that anyone should end a marriage lightly or on a whim. The dissolution of any long-term relationship where children are involved is a serious matter. But this one needed to end, and it finally did.
With it didn’t come bachelor ‘freedom.’ On the contrary, just months after my separation, I met my wife Debbie, along with her daughter Melissa, who would become in actuality my youngest daughter.
My relationship with Deb would be the other major influence in my change. She was a single parent trying to raise a daughter in a tough neighborhood, and was herself moving to a much more conservative set of personal values. We would complete that journey of change together, but not immediately.
In November of 1992, President George Bush was running for re-election against a little known Arkansas Governor named Bill Clinton. I had voted against Bush in 1988 when I was still solidly liberal, but even now as I was drifting inexorably towards conservatism, there was something that I just didn’t like or trust about him.
On the other hand, Clinton was youthful, vital, handsome, and charismatic. He turned on the liberal populace, and both Deb and I got caught up in his uplifting campaign. I even found it especially amazing that his campaign took up a song by my all-time favorite band, “Don’t Stop (Thinkin’ About Tomorrow)” by Fleetwood Mac, as his campaign song. In fact, his election reunited the band, another feather in his cap at the time for me.
Deb and I each cast our votes for Clinton, our final votes for a Democrat in a Presidential race, and our final votes against a Bush. In short order after the election, excited that we had picked the winning candidate in our first election together, we saw Clinton as ‘our’ President.
On my birthday in 1993 we got engaged. We bought a house, the first home ownership for each of us, and moved in together at Christmas of 1994. We began to plan our wedding in early 1995, and did the deal that fall. There is no doubt that the responsibilities of home ownership pushed us further to the Right, as did the experiences in raising our combined daughters as they began their teenage years.
But it wasn’t just our personal experiences that drove us finally to the right side of the political and social spectrum. There is no doubt at all that the result of and reaction to the O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict was huge, as were the developing scandals surrounding the Clinton’s: Whitewater, Vince Foster, Ron Brown, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky.
On and on it went. All capped by Clinton’s lying under oath and his subsequent impeachment. The man simply became an embarrassment to our Nation.
No two people did more for our final shift to the Right Way of thinking than Bill and Hillary Clinton. While the popular media toasted them as progressive, vital leaders, and downplayed their often joint scandals as either hoaxes, aberrations, or outright fabrications by their political enemies, the truths for any reasonable, thinking person became undeniable.
The Clinton’s were proving to be a couple of lying, conniving, political animals who would do anything, possibly up to and including the most unthinkable of deeds, to preserve their power. Deb and I may have started out naive and blind to the Clinton’s, but the more any person with a brain got to know them, the more you knew there was something seriously wrong there.
Another major development for me during the mid-1990’s was the emergence to national prominence of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and the “Contract With America” put forward as an alternative to the agenda that my Democratic Party was pursuing.
I decided to intellectually challenge myself with this approach: these were bright, reasonable people. How could they think and feel about major issues in so fundamentally different a way than I was thinking and feeling?
I began to read books and other publications by leading conservative thinkers of the time, trying to understand their viewpoint. That intellectual education was, for me, the process of true awakening.
So it was that on that brisk November morning in 1996, we walked into that voting booth and pulled the lever next to the name of Bob Dole, Republican, for President of the United States.
It was Bill Clinton and Hillary. It was the O.J. Simpson trial, the Anita Hill fiasco involving SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas, and other major news stories of the day. It was our kids and our role as parents. It was our pocketbooks and our role as homeowners. It was that opening up of our minds to another way of thinking.
Finally, it was our movement closer to God, our faith, that clinched the deal for good. My wife and youngest daughter were baptized and received their Sacraments in the Catholic Church.
I was already a Catholic since birth, though non-practicing for most of my adult life to that point. But during their conversion we completed the spiritual journey together. Over the next few years, as I began to take matters of faith, spirituality, and morality into greater weight when evaluating things, the move to the Right Way was completed.
In the summer of the year 2000, the Republican National Convention came to my hometown of Philadelphia. Much as Live Aid had been a hometown celebration of my liberalism a decade and a half earlier, the RNC was an even greater celebration of my conservatism.
Myself and my Philadelphia Police Department colleagues were determined that this convention, even though it was being held in one of the greatest remaining bastions of liberalism, which is what Philadelphia is, would absolutely not be taken over by the radical leftists who were threatening to both defeat George W. Bush and takeover the streets of Philadelphia.
Philly cops did themselves proud on the streets and behind the scenes during that convention, perfectly protecting the convention and the city as the radicals tried their hardest to disrupt and cause chaos to both. We took no prisoners, figuratively, though we literally took many. It was a great time for the city, the country, and lovers of peace and liberty.
For my own role during the convention, I had the honor of working on a 4-man team comprised of myself, another member of the PPD, and two members of the Capitol Police in providing dignitary protection for Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma. It was during one of the events that he attended, an amazing evening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that I first got to see and hear the wonderful Martina McBride perform.
And so there you have it, the journey with some highlights of one man’s transition from liberal to conservative, from misguided youth to mature adult, from idealist to positive-thinking pragmatist.
To any Liberals out there who may stumble across this, my first-ever article for the website, I hope that you enjoyed it, and that it may inspire you to understand that you can indeed grow and change. That you can indeed begin to write, speak, and live the Right Way. As I like to say here at RW, don’t be afraid. Afraid? Get a dog!
NOTE: this blog was originally known as “Right Way” until changed to my own name a couple of years later. Videos for this piece were added at a later date.