My Ideological Journey

I grew up a very right wing conservative in the Maryland Suburbs of Washington, DC. I was actually known as “Mr. Republican.” It helped that I wore a tie as a conservative statement. I also wore a Bush/Quayle button for much of 1992 and carried around Rush Limbaugh’s books. After President Clinton took office, I attached an “Impeach Hillary” button to my backpack. I also had pro-life stickers on my binders and was kicked out of a high school sociology class for wearing a shirt with a fetus on it.

After entering college, I began to feel uncomfortable with my own extremism. I no longer found talk radio very satisfying. However, I was still very much a Republican. I ran successfully to be a vice-president in the College Republicans and I was very excited about the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

I spent the eight months between my freshman year and leaving on my mission working for a very conservative organization that claimed to monitor the activities of the “liberal media” and “liberal academia.” They were defending the truth against “liberal bias.” I soon realized that the “conservative truth” did not seem so true to me. I started to think of myself as a moderate. I was hopeful when Colin Powell was touted as a presidential possibility. Then I witness first-hand the conservative backlash against him. Their racism no longer could be contained. Conservatism was not for me. Could I still find a place in the GOP? I was not sure when I went on my mission to California in Dec. of 1995.

In the California Anaheim Mission, I worked with Vietnamese immigrants. I was humbled by my struggle to learn Vietnamese. I was also introduced to real poverty. The assumptions I had made about the poor, no longer made sense.

Having rejected social conservatism and having warmed up the idea of social welfare, I returned to Ricks College in early 1998 unsure of my political future. I did serve as a vice-president in the College Republicans that semester. Yet, I had lost all enthusiasm for the right. Conservatism had become the opposition. In August 1998, shortly after marrying in the Salt Lake Temple, I became a Democrat.

As my prior posts testify, I am now an avid and committed liberal. I practice and advocate liberal political philosophy with a passion. I am also now back in Rexburg, as a political science instructor.

My freshman students are still in shock. Sure, Mormons can be Democrats, the brethren have said as much. But a liberal, that is too much for them. My student assistant was warned by a friend that she was working for a liberal. She laughed because she is also a liberal.

I feel lonely sometimes as an unapologetic liberal in a place like Rexburg, Idaho. However, I would not want to be anywhere else. And I am proud to be a Mormon Liberal Democrat who thinks that Hillary Clinton should be the next U.S. President (you should see the fire in the eyes of my conservative students when they hear me say so).

36 Replies to “My Ideological Journey”

  1. My father taught as Ricks for many years. He taught Geography. He considered himself a Democrat, but a moderate one. He was very amused when after Clinton won the election, so many of his students were ready to pick up and move to Canada.

    Your travel went backwards to me. I have thought at times that anyone under 30 who isn’t a Democrat has no heart, and that anyone over 30 who isn’t a republican has no brain.

    Anyway. Good luck up their. People in that town don’t like Rush Limbaugh much either. He is to liberal.

  2. I too grew up conservative only to become disillusioned with the Republican Party. Unlike you I have not embraced the Democrat Party. If Republicans have myriad problems with their ideology, Democrats have at least as many. I don’t think either party is in any position to do right by the American people.

  3. Yours is an age-old story– something chronicled in a number of texts on political identification. The interesting thing is that statistics indicate that you’ll eventually come running back to your political roots. I think it was Churchill who said something to the effect, “If you’re 20 and conservative then you have no heart; if you’re 50 and liberal then you have no brain.”

  4. Believe it or not, I was a conservative, too, when I was younger. The time that I spent in the third world as a missionary and subsequently were the experience that cemented my move toward something more like democratic, 21st-century socialism.

    endlessnegotiation, you’re right that Chris’s story is typical of many findings in the political socialization and party identification literatures. I’d guess that Chris’s parents consider themselves to be conservatives; people’s early political identities are often parallel to their parents’. But personal preference and life experience typically revise such loyalties by early adulthood.

    I think you’re wrong, though, in claiming that Chris will return to his childhood point of view. The best evidence suggests that party identifications and ideological perspectives are rarely subject to much revision after early adulthood. In direct contradiction of Churchill’s famous, but totally incorrect, quote, the New Deal generation is currently the farthest generational group to the left in American politics — age notwithstanding.

  5. Endless,

    Churchhill was a conservative. He had an agenda in making such a claim. As for the stats, my turn to liberalism is philosophical, this is not going back and forth between conservative and liberal talk radio.


    I am not happy with the nature of political parties in general. However, I pretty much agree with the Dems on almost all of the core issues. Additionally, I have accepted the reality of the two party sytem, though it is less than satisfying.



  6. While Churchill indeed had an agenda, it also happened to be the right agenda in more than one way :).

    It’s funny how my mission experiences in Southern California (I served a Spanish Language mission in the CLAM) had a completely different effect on my political views. When I left on my mission I was a stark-raving mad liberal. Then I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the RK riots first hand and the inanity that followed. I met Latinos who had come to the US illegally (and therefore did not have access to all the liberal-agenda public assistance) who through their own industriousness had realized the American Dream. I performed volunteer work in schools that spent almost twice as much per pupil as my own public school without anywhere near the same success. I left my mission disillusioned with liberalism.

    My formerly liberal wife once described me as (and these were her words after we were married) “mean, rotten, and cold-hearted” because of my conservative political views. To preserve the marriage we agreed to disagree on politics at the time. Then my wife finished her education and began her internship at an inner-city hospital ER. I’ve never seen a faster political metamorphosis as she got to see first-hand the devastation wrought by post-New Deal liberalism. Within a couple months she made a complete about-face in her political ideology and apologized to me for ever using those words to describe me.

  7. Eric,
    I know who your dad is. I never had him, though I did have to re-take a few classes from Peter Valora. Geography is in the same department as me (history, geog, and poli sci are in one dept.) I would say that I am moderate in temperment. I turn 30 in a month. We will see how it goes.

    Thanks for your comments. You are right, the literature in political behavior does point toward life experience as having the biggest impact on political identity. Of course, you are a far superior political scientist than I. I know that we have discussed this before, but I am sure that my form of liberalism will eventually be perceived or portrayed as socialist by the right on campus. I am fine with either label. You are right about my parents and they are hoping that endlessnegotiation is correct in his prophecy.

    In response to your second comment: it is funny and interesting to see how similar experiences can have differing influences on individuals. I am constantly dragging my wife farther to the left, though she worries about me being pro-choice.

  8. Chris, first let me say you are living in my dream part of the world, almost. I want to move to Island Park, Idaho. Bill thinks we need some money to live there, however, which is halting my moving plans for the moment.

    I am voting straight Democrat this election as a protest. Although I always vote against Orrin Hatch, it’s personal, I don’t like one of his aides. But I want a change.

    I do not, however, want Hilary Clinton. See the fire in my eyes (I’ll post it if you’d like). I could not support a woman who would stay with a rapist and defend him.

    On the other hand, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve become pro choice.

    I’m a registered Republican, but that was just to vote for a guy for county recorder whose mother wanted him to stop commuting to Vegas. I can’t remember his name. But he won. She must have called a lot of people.

    I’m so sick of party politics, though, on a serious note. I thought Robin Williams made a lot of sense. For instance, Barak Obama. He seems like a good guy. But how many favors does he owe? How true to himself can he actually be?

    See you in the spring when we come fishing. Well, Bill comes fishing, I come to sit and nap.

  9. Ah… I love Island Park, ID as well. One of my aunts has a cabin there. I spent two weekends up there last summer splitting wood for the fireplace.

    I’d give a lot to live there myself.

  10. annegb,

    I an see what you mean about Bill and Hillary. However, in Bruce Hafen’s recent book on the family, Hafen argues that women should stay will their husbands who have cheated on them. My wife thinks that is stupid. I agree.

    By the way, Bill cheated. He is not a rapist. Sorry, but there is a very big difference.

  11. Well, don’t forget to ask him about the one that supposedly precluded completion of his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. Ellen Stone, I think, was her name.

    Don’t know if that one’s true or just a faith-promoting rumor, either, but I’d like a solid confimation or whatever.

  12. Chris,
    this is a great story! i love that you are at BYU-Idaho and that you can shake things up a bit. there is something about becoming an adult that involves reshaping one’s identity. mine works more in the other direction though. I grew up in a Salt Lake suburb as a committed and radical liberal, even though my family is heavily involved in Utah and national republican politics. I became disillusioned with radical liberalism right before my mission. Philosophically, I am still radically liberal, but I am now a fierce political centrist!

  13. My story is the complete opposite from yours. Before my mission I was a die hard liberal. I joined a few leftist groups during my freshman year in college and took part in a few demonstrations against the evils of capitalism. I was pro-choice, ect.

    Then I went to Tijuna for my mission. I saw that free trade was actually helping the people of Mexico and it was something they actually wanted. I saw firsthand how too much government can be a very bad thing. I also learned that abortion can destroy the life of a woman.

    So, I now think of myself as a moderate Democrat. I love capitalism, but think it should be tempered a bit by the government. Abortion is bad, but I’m ok with Roe v. Wade.

  14. Brett,

    I would not say that I am an enemy of capitalism. However, I believe in a capitalism tempered by the demands of social justice. So, I am not against free-markets, I am just against gross inequality. Not all “capitalists” would agree. Also is the position “Abortion is bad, but I’m ok with Roe v. Wade” not the same as pro-choice. That is my position and that is why I am pro-choice.


    “Philosophically, I am still radically liberal, but I am now a fierce political centrist!” In many ways that is true for me as well because I am liberal at heart but also feel that it is important to maintain strong political coalitions in order to bring about change. I am hoping that the Democratic party is one that can include both moderates and liberals. I do not think the gap is as big as it might seem.

  15. “I was also introduced to real poverty. The assumptions I had made about the poor, no longer made sense.”

    Comments like this make me think you were never actually a conservative. Fine, you listened to Rush and wore bottons, but that is not the definition of conservatism. Conservatives and liberals both want to end poverty, but disagree as to how this goal can, in practice, be accomplished. Statements like the one above perpetuate the frequent mischaracterization of conservatives by liberals that cconservatives hate the poor or some such nonsense.

  16. Also:

    “I was hopeful when Colin Powell was touted as a presidential possibility. Then I witness first-hand the conservative backlash against him. Their racism no longer could be contained. Conservatism was not for me.”

    The idea that conservatives are shown to be racist because they opposed Colin Powell is ridiculous. The only reason you know who Colin Powell is is that conservatives appointed him to high positions of trust (and now they are showing their true colors by putting Condoleezza in as SofS, and Clarence Thomas, and the list could go on a long time). It turns out Colin Powell is pretty liberal by conservative standards, which is why conservatives opposed him–not because they are racist. This again, is a common slander against conservatives by liberals.

  17. Chris H.,
    Just to clarify what I think Anngb was referring to, anyone who uses a position of authority to seduce an underling is as guilty of coercion as any statutory rapist. There is a real issue of consent. You may now carry on and ignor e the threadjack.

  18. Jacob,
    While I agree crying racist does not have a lot of evidence, the truth is Colin Powell was pushed out because he was the only sane mind in the way of the disastrous foreign policy that has so mucked up the world in the past six years. If not being conservative enough means he knew going into Iraq was a bad idea, the republicans are in dire need of a whole lot of not conservative enough in their ranks.

  19. Jacob,

    I have been a conservative and I live in a place where 95 percent of the people are conservative. I have much more experience with conservatism than listed above, I will let you know if I ever put it into book form.

    I stand by my first hand observations. The “southern strategy” that has worked so well for conservatives has been the masterful harnessing of symbolic racism in America.

    Conservatives should stop slandering the poor and minorities and I will then stop slandering them. You say they do not do that. I hear it all the time.

  20. I’m surprised more Mormons aren’t members of the Constitution Party. I’m not, I just think that Mormons fit its platform more perfectly than they do the Republican party.

  21. Quite a few Mormon’s are supportive of the Constitution Party. That is a scary fact since the Constitution party is so extreme is there right wing stances. No room for libertarians there. Of course, there is alway the question of whether supporting a third party in the American system is worth the effort. The Constitution party is now the home of those formerly associated with the American Independent Party which was at one point associated with George Wallace, Ezra Taft Benson, and many sympathetic with the John Birch Society.

  22. Chris, I enjoyed your story. I’m fairly conservative, but I like to hear reasonable and persuasive arguments for other points of view. I have a hard time finding that; is about the best I’ve found.

  23. Hey Chris,
    Nice post. Just wondering if your liberalism has come back to bite you on your student evaluations. If you haven’t been evaluated yet, let me know how that goes.
    Then maybe you could post on whether student evals have a moderating effect on liberal, untenured church school profs (at least in the classroom) 🙂 As you know, this question is of more than passing interest to me.

    Anyway, my political philosophical journey is somewhat similar to yours, though less dramatic and less developed (still staking things out). The only exception would be the “mission effect.” My mission in Chile made me more conservative, if anything. I blamed poverty in Latin America on systemic corruption and cultural apathy rather than the lack of social programs or rampant capitalism. I saw the difference between pre and post Pinochet Chile as evidence that socialism and plunged the country into poverty, and that capitalism rescued it, to an extent. I haven’t revisited these assumptions since moving to the center, but I know the picture is more complicated than how I first saw it.

  24. I think he’s a rapist. I believe Juanita Broaderick–I believe them all.

    I sure don’t agree with Bruce Hafen. I don’t care if he is a general authority. If my Bill cheats on me, he’s history.

    I never felt good about Colin Powell, although I wanted to. My personal experience, while admittedly limited, told me he’s too wishy-washy for me to support him. Hmm…am I contradicting myself yet again? Oh, well, yet again. I don’t think Republican rejection of Colin Powell was about his race. If anything, I think they’d love for a solidly Republican black man/woman to step forward.

    I’m ready for a minority president. Just not Colin Powell or Hilary Clinton. I liked the way Barak Obama handled himself today on Meet The Press. So did Bill.

    Of course, I felt that way about Bill Clinton at one time, too. My husband, not so much. So I’m taking his word for it this time.

    Blogging has contributed much to my own ideological journey, just the last few years, as I said. In some ways, I’m more conservative, in others, more liberal. It depends on the issue.

  25. Sheldon,

    Thanks for the comment. In Chile, I think it will be interesting to compare the Pinochet years with the current left-leaning regime. I am more in line with the social-democrats that are taking charge in Latin American today than I am with Allende or Hugo Chavez. I do think that it is hard to analyze Allende’s experiment since it was terminated prematurely.

    I agree that corruption is a major problem. However, poverty (or the lack of development) is related to corruption. Low paid government officials are easily seduced but bribery, etc. An open democratic culture is important for all of these areas.

    As for the impact of my liberalism on student evaluations, we will see. If it is a problem, then I may not want to stay.

  26. annegb,

    I am may have gone too far in defending Bill Clinton. However, I do not think that Hillary should be held accountable for him and it is not my place to say that she should divorce him.

    Above “Doc” mentioned that “anyone who uses a position of authority to seduce an underling is as guilty of coercion as any statutory rapist.” I will not take this one completely, but I think this is what feminists have been saying for years about sex in a patriarchal society.

    I am curious about Obama, but I do not think he will be a candidate in 2008. He should not make the same mistake as John Edwards and enter the hunt for the White House to early. He is young and does not need to hurry.

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  27. Of course, there is alway the question of whether supporting a third party in the American system is worth the effort.

    Probably not, but for those of us in the LP, it’s worth the freedom of choice. We know our votes don’t do much (Ron Paul of Texas being the exception, although he changed to Rep. just to be elected, but still a Libertarian at heart). Our voices are mostly there to educate, not to win elections. For us, showing up third or fourth in an election is a good enough message to get some folks scratching their heads saying things like “Who is this party who stole 500 votes in such-and-such county?” Then they sometimes go and educate themselves about it. Most folks in the church, I’ve found, have difficulty divorcing what is political with what is religious, which I think one has to do in order to simultaneously be a Mormon and a Libertarian (or a Democrat, for that matter, seeing as though Libertarians have more in common with Dems. than they do Reps., in my opinion — I’ve been all three).

    The Constitution party is now the home of those formerly associated with the American Independent Party which was at one point associated with George Wallace, Ezra Taft Benson, and many sympathetic with the John Birch Society.

    I like the JBS, although I don’t endorse it entirely. They’re too pro-life for my tastes. But I do like their take on the UN and the horror of centralized fiat-based banking.

  28. David J.

    Thanks for the response. I personally would like a system that would allow for a diversity of parties. If anything, it would make American politics a bit less stale.

    As for the JBS, I disagree with them on everything. I believe that we have discussed my take on Benson’s politics elsewhere. I should post on libertarianism sometime. That would give us plenty to discuss.

  29. Chris,

    Most Dems hate LPs because they think we’re WAY out on the right, and the right usually think we’re nuts because we “steal votes” from them. Neither could be farther from the truth. I find that our anti-state stance is close to classical conservatism (NOT neo-conservatism, which has only grown our govt. beyond control), as well as our anarcho-marketplace (laissez faire) stance. But on the other side, we’re pro-choicers and VERY anti-warfare. The LP essentially began as an economic thing (mostly attributed to Murray Rothbard, an Austrian economist), but made its way out into other sectors as well. What ticks me off about most Reps, and one of the core reasons I left that party is due to the blending of religious convictions with political convictions. Mind you, I say I’m pro-choice in a political way, but religiously I don’t condone it. I just don’t think it has to be something that is put on a ballot. The Reps. have no compunction about putting stuff on a ballot that would force their neighbor who may or may not stand for the same morals into conforming to their moral mindset. That’s just icky to me. Anyway, your take on Libertarianism I assume is probably somewhat hostile? Most Dems. I know dislike us without even knowing where we stand on things, but like I said, I find I have more in common with today’s Dems. than I do today’s Reps. For me, the Reps. are totally off the wall and out of line.

    And as far as the JBS is concerned, you’d be surprised. For a far-right wing group, they’re very anti-war. I just read a great article from them the other day showing evidence that the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could easily have been avoided and still allowed the US its “victory” over the Japanese. Things of that nature, you know.

    I guess I don’t care where “truth” comes from, whether the mouth of a saint or a sinner, so long as it’s the “truth.”

  30. I feel much the same way. Before leaving on my mission I was a staunch conservative and republican. Now that I am 27, have graduated from college, and work with the disadvantaged and disabled, my views have shifted more towards the left while still being on the right hand side of the aisle. On the other hand I have problems standing behind the First Presidency and General authorities when they speak out on things such as gay marriage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *