During my time as managing editor of the Northwestern Chronicle, a conservative weekly newspaper at Northwestern University, I was often attacked for my unorthodox - for a university campus, at least - beliefs. I fondly recall one particular letter to the editor wherein the writer accused me of being a "rich, white Catholic." As a protestant of mixed heritage who had grown up living below the poverty line, I found the letter writer’s assertion hilarious and enlightening.
As the letter demonstrated, the Left tends to view things in very deterministic terms. Where you come from determines where you’re going and what you are (race, religion, socio-economic status) determines who you are. This group determinism is the well from which the Left’s two favorite ideologies, socialism and multiculturalism, both spring.
For the Left, the group always comes before the individual. Independent thought is, well, unthinkable. For evidence of this, look no further than how prominent members of the so-called "black community" describe men like Ward Connerly and Colin Powell as "Uncle Toms" and "house slaves" for their embrace of the conservative agenda. Liberals demonize mavericks like Connerly or Andrew Sullivan because their very existence undermines the ideology of group determinism. If individuals can step outside the box that has been created for them, then identity politics has no meaning. The very foundations of modern liberalism would crumble.
No wonder, then, that so many leftists find me personally offensive. Leftists like Bill Ayers. Two years ago I had the (dis)pleasure of meeting the former domestic terrorist while he was on a book tour promoting his memoir, "Fugitive Days." He spoke at length about the evils of Amerikkka and how he and his fellow Weathermen had fought valiantly to bring a little justice to the world. I sat in the front row and made no attempt to hide the look of disgust on my face. As Ayers’ speech came to an end and I got up to leave, I overheard the former terrorist whisper to one of his hangers-on: "I love those Northwestern conservatives. They're so pathetic." Later he told me - to my face this time – that I should "share the wealth." Apparently he assumed that because I was a conservative I had been born with a silver spoon in my mouth just like him. I then told him that I didn’t have much in the way of wealth to share since I had spent most of my life at or below the poverty line. He didn’t have a clever retort for that.
My life has never been easy. Unlike Bill Ayers, my father wasn’t the chairman of Commonwealth Edison. Not that it would have mattered even if he was since he abandoned my mother before I was born. Mom raised me alone in a rural, Southern Illinois town and for the first seven years of my life, we lived in a small garage that been converted into a one-bedroom apartment. I was a very sick child and medical bills soon wiped out mom’s meager savings. Things got even worse when downsizing cost Mom her secretarial job. She spent the better part of the next two years on unemployment. I can still remember the look of shame on my mother’s face as we stood in line at the public aid office, waiting along with Carmi’s other destitute families to get our blocks of government cheese and booklets of food stamps.
Eventually mom got a job working as a teacher’s aide at a school for the mentally and physically handicapped. The income from that put us above the poverty line by a margin of less than $1,000. At least it was enough to finally buy a car. We had been without one for the last few years, and I had almost worn out my bike pedaling it back and forth across town.
At age nine I started working to help pay the bills. I mowed lawns during the summer, raked leaves in the fall and shoveled snow in the winter. Those odd jobs paid for luxury items like a VCR and computer. As a teenager I went to work as a janitor at the public pool, and my off-days were spent working with the city crew to weedeat cemetery headstones or remove poison ivy from the trees in Burrell Woods, a local park. It was arduous and often disgusting work, but at least it was honest.
I turned 18 the summer after graduating high school. Politically conscious young man that I was, one of my first acts as a legal adult was to register to vote … as a Republican. My mother took it in stride: "Don’t tell your grandfather," she warned. Sage advice considering that he was Democratic Party chairman for White County. My entire family had been Democrat for as long as anyone could remember, and they had good reason.
They were poor farmers and teachers - core constituents for the "Party of the People." But I chose a different road. I recognized that during all the hardships I faced, the government didn’t do a damn thing. When mom was out of a job, it wasn’t the welfare office that helped her find one again – they practically encouraged her not to. When mom was diagnosed with cancer, it was our church, not the government that helped pay the bills. When I applied to Northwestern, I marked my race as "white" so I would be accepted based on my merit and not my Native American ethnicity.
I refused to be a victim. I refused to go begging to the government asking for a handout. If I wanted something I would earn it. My mother may have been a liberal but she taught me to be a conservative – and I am forever thankful to her for that.
Am I a conservative? Yes, and proud of it. Am I a "rich, white Catholic?" No, that’s just the box in which they want to put me. What I am is an individual – the one thing the Left hates most.