My conservative seeds were planted in my youth at the dawn of Reagan and not in the typical fashion. It happened subtly and took root over several years. Politics was not an obsession in my household growing up. In short, the perspective was FDR style Democrat as a given. Big government and unions were good. Big business was a necessary evil. Not exactly a greenhouse for conservative thinking.
I attended, at age 16, the American Legion Boy’s State through my high school. The keynote speaker was the US Representative from New Hampshire’s second district, James Colgate Cleveland. He was serving his eighth consecutive term at the time I heard him speak, and he was not even my Congressman. Cleveland was in politics before the internet and social media. It is impossible to find any Google trace about him today. Old school research of his papers (i.e. reading them from printed ink) would be required to get a real sense of who he was and what he believed. My sense is that he was an old school New Hampshire politician who came up through the ranks and enjoyed the process of serving as a party representative and party floor leader.
Representative Cleveland was a bespectacled and unassuming man. He was a bland speaker but what he had to say caught my attention. It was probably a well rehearsed stump speech that was being delivered to a low key friendly audience. Cleveland was speaking on what it means to be a conservative. In New Hampshire at that time Republicanism equaled Conservatism. Cleveland was what would be considered today as Libertarian-leaning on social issues and a granite rock Conservative on money matters. That was not uncommon in New Hampshire then.
The crux of Cleveland’s message was that conservative thinking and action starts in the home, and in your local community, and that it is a grassroots activity. Topics of interest start with local concerns. World view starts local and expands to state, national and international. Cleveland placed a heavier weight on satisfying constituent vote on legislation than his own opinion.
Cleveland’s speech acted more like a pearl within an oyster, than any kind of lightning strike. I absorbed this message at the dawn of Reagan when a positive message was welcome against a backdrop of American malaise.
I believe any conservative revival will start at the grassroots with like minded people managing politics in their own communities. This is also the vaccination that the GOP requires.
A note from Steve:
That was a great piece from Jay, a true thinking Conservative.
Where have I been? As much as I’d like to report that I was hunting elephant poachers in Botswana or Kenya, though Mother Jones defends the practice as “not as evil as you think,” I was doing nothing so exotic or useful. I simply took a few days off during the kids’ Spring Break and combined it with my Holy Vaccination Against Coronavirus.
On Thursday, I got the one-and-done Janssen (J&J) vaccine, and expected a magic mushroom experience of fever dreams, hallucinations of angels and Madonna tending to my space-baby-in-a-bubble body as I orbited into a new sunrise. What actually happened is a truck hit me Friday; after I made a hearty breakfast for my family and in-laws, I never got up out of the recliner. It actually pursued me Thursday night with chills and sweats, but no high fever, then ran over me, backed up, and rocked back and forth for twelve hours Friday.
I was killed, but I lived! Then Saturday morning, as my strength returned, I decided to walk my in-laws 80 pound Golden Retriever and find out what happens when F = MA runs at 30 mph to the end of the retractable leash which I held in one fist without setting my knees or bothering to center my stance. The answer is I became Superman for one shining instant, pulled by dog power, then achieved maximum road rash. It still smarts, and more than just my ego as I was defeated by a canine who just a few months ago was a puppy.
As I write this, it’s Sunday night, and my return to politics is pending me deciding whether to write about the suppression of Black voters in Colorado (there aren’t enough to suppress) or how Donald Trump can lie with such authority while everyone else gets sued or imprisoned for believing or spreading his words. I think someone is playing with the Reality Stone and it’s a really cruel joke.
I expect to return Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning since David is enjoying his connubial bliss, after he and his bride got the same vaccine I got but the truck apparently missed them (honestly, I’m not bitter; I wish that on nobody). I’m sure there will be news to cover, as long as Sen. Joe Manchin (who Erick Erickson called President of the United States) single-handedly keeps Democrats from enacting a totalitarian leftist state. The man has a spine made of Vibranium.
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My own political upbringing and present views were also formed by my time at New Mexico's Boys State. If there are any parents reading this, the American Legion puts on a great civics- and government-oriented event for young men (the Legion Auxiliary puts on a similar Girls State), so keep an eye open for this opportunity if you have a high school-age kid.
For folks looking for ways to engage locally, I'm currently working my way through Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community", which is a sociological account of the decline of civic participation and community engagement in the latter half of the 20th century. It's an approachable academic book that does a good job describing the extent of the social malaise in a manner that is actionable (you don't always get this part from academic books):
While this is a review from 2000, keep an eye open for his 20th anniversary edition, which incorpotates updates from the last 20 years, notably social media and the Internet. (I can't comment on these sections as I'm still working my way through the book.)
I'm also heartened to hear that the Racket crew is making it through the vaccination sequence. I'm still waiting for my turn in Chicago, and am too busy to play the website-refreshing game that reminds me of buying Cubs tickets at the beginning of the season.
I don't share your disdain for Mr. Trump but I did enjoy the story. It's good to read about different points of view. I never really had any childhood introduction to politics except I did share my dad's dislike of taxes and labor unions which was a paradox because he graduated from high school in 1931 when his dad was losing his drug store. He was not a pharmacist and could not afford to pay one. My dad was the oldest and was able to help support his family of seven by working in a CCC camp. He thought FDR was a savior. My mom thought that no democrat could do anything wrong. The only congressman I ever met wanted me to accept a a nomination to West Point or Annapolis but I wanted to go to engineering school. I decided I was mostly conservative because the newspaper columnists who appealed to me the most were William Buckley and Walter Williams.