When I hit my 18th birthday, I did two things. I went out with a friend and bought lottery tickets. And I registered to vote. It was the proudest day of my life. I didn’t register with a get out the vote group like Rock the Vote. No, I went to the Registrar of Voter’s office in Riverside, CA. I saw voting as a special privilege.
One of the side effects of social anxiety for me was spending time in my car. I couldn’t sit in class and breathe at the same time. But, I also knew I couldn’t go home either. So, I often would sit in my car listening to talk radio. I graduated from high school in 1991 and I lived in Southern California. This was during the rise of Rush Limbaugh. And one of the first major stations to carry him was KFI in Los Angeles. As a child, I gravitated toward the Republican Party. When I found out my father, who left when I was 5, was a Democrat and most likely named me after Robert Kennedy, I decided that I wanted to be the exact opposite of him. I was angry that he was gone. When I was 7 years old, Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States. I was old enough to understand what was going on before he took office. The gas lines and the reason we had to conserve energy were largely the fault of Jimmy Carter. Is it any wonder why my favorite television character became Alex P. Keaton from the show Family Ties?
Sitting in my little VW Beetle with undiagnosed social anxiety made me feel extremely powerless. But, when I listened to Rush, I felt empowered. My political arguments with people echoed what I heard on the radio and television. I used to love the confrontation. It must have been extremely frustrating to see me across the table with a big smile using my photographic memory to persuade you on the value of small government.
A year after I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy. And when the 1994 election season started, I was one of Newt Gingrich’s biggest fans. I subscribed to the American Spectator magazine. I was one of the most outspoken political people on the ship. And although I was on the Pearl Harbor Honor Guard, I quit when plans were made for President Bill Clinton’s visit to the Arizona Memorial. When out golfing with a friend, we would talk about how he was going to be my advisor when I ran for President.
But, something happened after I left the Navy. The rise of the social conservative movement. I’ve never been happy about the involvement of religion in government or even politics. To me, that’s one of the reasons America is America. Freedom from both monarchies and religious persecution. Religious doctrine of any kind has no place in American government. Although, even to this day, I have never voted for a Democrat, I started to move away from the Republican Party.
Let me back up a little bit. When I was in the Navy, a rather controversial policy was set forth. This policy was called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It was a political compromise between newly minted President Clinton and the military brass. Clinton campaigned on removing the ban on letting gays serve openly in the military. But, the military and their sympathetic supporters in Congress didn’t budge. What came from that debate was a policy that stopped “official” enforcement used to dig up evidence of a person’s homosexuality. The new policy did as the name applied. We, as the military, won’t ask if your gay. And in turn, you won’t tell us. I had many friends while I served in the Navy. One reason why serving is excellent for a young person, is it gets them out of the very narrow place they grew up in and exposes them to different cultures around the world and of people in their own country with different backgrounds. I knew several guys who had never seen the ocean before arriving in Maine to board this new ship we were assigned to. I got to know guys from cities and towns alike. Guys from rich suburbias and poor urban environments. And thanks to Facebook, I can reconnect with these great people. There were a couple of guys, one in my own division, who eventually came out to me. I didn’t ask. I just happened to be a good listener. I valued our friendships. So, I wouldn’t have outed them to our superiors. They were good people. They did their job. Who cared if they were gay.
In the many years after I left the military, I have become ambivolant about politics. I think this happens to many people as we get older. We become jaded. What I saw was candidates and congress critters alike, who didn’t have a strong belief system. They all changed what they considered their core belief system when the direction of the wind changed. They wanted, nothing more than to keep their job. It’s sad to watch. Today, you couldn’t pay me to be a Senator or Congressperson. I can’t stand the process. As an example, I’ve watched someone I used to have great respect for, Newt Gingrich, go from never mentioning “God” in public speeches to make religious references in just about every speech he’s made in the last 10 years.
Today, I see myself as a fiscal conservative and social libertarian. Small “c” and small “l”. I didn’t vote in the last presidential election. I pay only glancing attention to debates. I would rather shoot myself in the eye with a million little knives than have a political argument with someone. You know what? I’m a much happier person today.
I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be a Tea Party member if I was 18 today. But, I know I’m different at this age. I’m older. I’m somewhat wiser. I have a better understanding of the process. A better understanding of human nature. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be suckered by people like Michelle Bachmann, who is a religious zealot and homophobic bigot. Or Sarah Palin, who has a weird view of American history and can’t seem to hold a job as a Governor of a State. But, if I was 18 today, I might, for a short period of time, be suckered into supporting these fools.