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As one of a handful of Bay Area conservative columnists, I'm no stranger to pushing buttons. Indeed, I welcome feedback from readers, whether positive or negative. I find the interplay stimulating, but I am often bemused by the stereotypical assumptions made by my critics on the left. It's not enough to simply disagree with my views; I have to be twisted into a conservative caricature that apparently makes opponents feel superior. They seem not to have considered that it's possible to put forward different approaches to various societal problems and not be the devil incarnate.
But in some ways I understand where this perspective comes from, because I once shared it. I was raised in liberal Marin County, and my first name (which garners more comments than anything else) is a direct product of the hippie generation. Growing up, I bought into the prevailing liberal wisdom of my surroundings because I didn't know anything else. I wrote off all Republicans as ignorant, intolerant yahoos. It didn't matter that I knew none personally; it was simply de rigueur to look down on such people. The fact that I was being a bigot never occurred to me, because I was certain that I inhabited the moral high ground.
Having been indoctrinated in the postcolonialist, self-loathing school of multiculturalism, I thought America was the root of all evil in the world. Its democratic form of government and capitalist economic system was nothing more than a machine in which citizens were forced to be cogs. I put aside the nagging question of why so many people all over the world risk their lives to come to the United States. Freedom of speech, religious freedom, women's rights, gay rights (yes, even without same-sex marriage), social and economic mobility, relative racial harmony and democracy itself were all taken for granted in my narrow, insulated world view.
So, what happened to change all that? In a nutshell, 9/11. The terrorist attacks on this country were not only an act of war but also a crime against humanity. It seemed glaringly obvious to me at the time, and it still does today. But the reaction of my former comrades on the left bespoke a different perspective. The day after the attacks, I dragged myself into work, still in a state of shock, and the first thing I heard was one of my co-workers bellowing triumphantly, "Bush got his war!" There was little sympathy for the victims of this horrific attack, only an irrational hatred for their own country.
As I spent months grieving the losses, others around me wrapped themselves in the comfortable shell of cynicism and acted as if nothing had changed. I soon began to recognize in them an inability to view America or its people as victims, born of years of indoctrination in which we were always presented as the bad guys.
Thoroughly disgusted by the behavior of those on the left, I began to look elsewhere for support. To my astonishment, I found that the only voices that seemed to me to be intellectually and morally honest were on the right. Suddenly, I was listening to conservative talk-show hosts on the radio and reading conservative columnists, and they were making sense. When I actually met conservatives, I discovered that they did not at all embody the stereotypes with which I'd been inculcated as a liberal.
Although my initial agreement with voices on the right centered on the war on terrorism, I began to find myself in concurrence with other aspects of conservative political philosophy as well. Smaller government, traditional societal structures, respect and reverence for life, the importance of family, personal responsibility, national unity over identity politics and the benefits of living in a meritocracy all became important to me. In truth, it turns out I was already conservative on many of these subjects but had never been willing to admit as much.