A political recap of the 21st century

I chanced upon a particularly interesting item, recently, by one Thomas E. Ricks, published at Politico. Entitled “Why Am I Moving Left?”, the author muses on how it should be that he finds himself “moving steadily leftward” in successful middle age.

It struck a chord with me because his eight-point summary of, one might say, “How I Learned to Start Worrying and Turn Leftist,” reads very much like a recap of my own political reevaluations since adolescence.

As recently as 15 years ago, I still considered myself more or less a conservative Republican. Today, I’m a self-employed professional and at least modestly successful. Yet I would have to say that I am very liberal by typical American standards, and about as likely to vote Republican as I am to get my eyeballs replaced with cherry tomatoes; how does this add up? Mostly, the things on Mr. Ricks’s list. More than a dozen years of basically constant spying, torture and murder by the military-surveillance complex, with little substantive dissent from elected officials of either major party, has been a disturbing but persuasive argument for its dismantling. Likewise the concentration of more and more money in fewer hands, and the growing corruption and arrogance of elites in business and politics alike.

All in all his list offers a close and eloquent summary of my own. I can’t say that gun violence would make my own personal list of warning signs; I absolutely support gun-control measures, but as a danger I think that being shot by an armed nut is (rather like that of terrorism) much exaggerated by emotional reactions relative to its real statistical threat. (I’m also skeptical of how much can be accomplished in a vast nation with about a zillion guns already in circulation and a large number of people fanatically devoted to keeping them.)

I would probably add one or two further reasons, meanwhile, in a list of my own.* In some ways my added items demonstrate how it is that gainful, professional employment and entrepreneurship has, for me, actually been a push toward liberal opinion rather than a bizarre contrast with it. For one thing, having (involuntarily) left the world of easy, employer-provided health insurance several years ago, I have found personal confirmation that 1) market failures do exist, 2) health care is one of them, and 3) sorry, Ronnie, but government intervention is the solution.

Meanwhile, over the course of a varied career I have also spent considerable time observing firsthand what large numbers of well-paid professionals do all day. This experience has largely supported secondhand observations of corporate America’s even-more-elite, both of which have persuaded me that much of the beliefs on which our whole economic model rests are dubious at best. Most pointedly, it has become impossible to take seriously the notion that we live and work in some kind of infallible meritocracy where people are rewarded in direct proportion to how much real value they add to the world, and that therefore meddling with those outcomes via redistribution is both dangerous and a first-order injustice. Yeah, well… no.

Conceivably, I might also add the decades-long reduction of the Republican Party and American conservatism generally to an almost pure, tribal revanchism, with practically no animating principal other than “purge anything that is not of the tribe!” But I feel like that may be a whole other recap, for another time.

* It doesn’t really seem to be of the same type of broader social phenomenon, but otherwise I would probably also have to point to George W. Bush’s entire presidency, and above all his nomination. If any one thing pushed me out the door of the Republican Party, it was that. I was still taking an active interest in the Republican Party the year that Bush cruised to the nomination, past considerably more qualified candidates, and even then could only watch in horror because it was patently obvious that the man was a spoiled, smirking imbecile. (To this day, one or another critic will occasionally argue “Bush wasn’t actually stupid, really,” and I roll my eyes every time. Come on.) Even before the farce that followed, the mere fact that the rest of the party embraced this man as their champion said to me loud and clear “this isn’t the party you’re looking for.”

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