Democratic Underground

The Indoctrination of Conservatism
August 30, 2001
by Frederick H. Winterberg III


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Perhaps it's just me, but I cannot understand how anyone who uses their brain on a regular basis and has any concern at all for his fellow man can vote Republican in this day and age. It is my opinion that many (if not a majority) of conservatives are in fact conservatives because they were indoctrinated to it as children, and have never actually thought about the positions they take or the candidates they endorse. Their entire life, they have been told over and over about the evils of liberalism, and as a result accept anything the right spews out as gospel, without ever lending critical thought to what they hear and believe.

I grew up in a house of staunch Republicans, borderline reactionaries who blindly placed their faith in all things conservative. If the candidate was a Republican, that was all that my parents needed to know - their vote was as good as cast. I remember the disdain in our house when Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976; you would have though the night stalker had been elected president instead of the moderate, intelligent, caring individual that is Jimmy Carter. In many ways, they were in denial.. They refused to admit to themselves that he had been elected, and pretended most of the time that he did not exist. They would change the channel whenever he was speaking on television, and would openly criticize him between themselves. Although to my parents credit they never tried to indoctrinate any of their four children to conservativism, we all knew they intensely disliked the president. And as an extension of that, being about 10 years old and not mature enough to really understand the differences in conservative and liberal ideology, I hated him too. I hated him because my parents hated him, and that was all I needed to know.

I remained a Republican supporter until 1986, when I left home to attend college in Washington, D.C. Being in Washington, with a chance to see our government in action up close, was the beginning of many changes in how I perceived our government and the people who run it. I got the opportunity to meet other young people my age who, going to college in the nation's capitol, were very active and vocal politically. I took classes in political science, which outlined the differences in conservative and liberal ideology. And I started to take real notice of the actions and policies of the Reagan administration, and found I didn't like what I saw. I read about the Meese commission and it's ridiculous attempted war on what they considered "pornography". I watched Nancy Reagan and her pathetic "just say no" campaign, as if a simple three word sentence, repeated over and over, could solve the drug problem. I protested on the steps of the Capitol building against Robert Bork's appointment to the Supreme Court, as the thought of a man with his views sitting on the highest court in the land disturbed me deeply. And then, the clincher; the Iran-Contra affair. Finding out what the Reagan administration had done and then tried to cover up was bad enough. Watching them stonewall and outright lie about it when the story came out was disgusted me.

It was at this point that I came to realize that I had never really had my own political views; my views up to then had been my parents views. It was only through my experiences living away from home that I was able to gain the perspective I needed to form my own opinions. The classes I took enabled me to understand the political continuum and how conservative and liberal ideology differ. The people I met allowed to me to hear both sides of every issue, instead of just the conservative viewpoint I had heard in my own home growing up. And just watching the network news in Washington (this was before the major media became a shill for the Republicans), with it's heavy coverage of the federal government, gave me a much more in-depth understanding of what my current government was doing, and what it's priorities were. And I suddenly realized that I was no Republican; that most of what I believed our government should stand for and support came from the liberal, progressive side of the aisle, not the conservative, regressive one.

But many, many people, often through no fault of their own, never develop any real political perspective. Many either never leave home or stay very close to it, which robs one of the diversity of opinion gained by living in an unfamiliar place with people different from oneself. Many others, especially those from upper class backgrounds, end up at expensive private colleges where there is little diversity in the curriculum and even less in the student body. The viewpoints they hear in their classes are tailored to the students, and parrot what they have been hearing their entire lives. And then there are the uneducated and the deliberately ignorant, who vote Republican because they've always voted Republican, their parents always voted Republican, and everyone they know votes Republican. When asked, for example, why they voted for George W. Bush, they might reply with something like "well, I liked his daddy an awful lot, so I voted for him", as if the fact that his father was once president automatically makes George W. qualified, without even seeing where he stands on the issues.

So the problem liberals and progressives are faced with is this: we know we are on the right side of the issues, that our policies work (you only need to look at where we were as a country after 8 years of Clinton\Gore and where we are 7 months into Bush II to see this) and that a progressive government attuned to the needs of the common man is the key to a prosperous future. However, the money, the mass media, and the huge corporate conglomerates that control the news through the mass media are all in the conservatives' corner. How do we possibly win in the face of such overwhelming opposition ?

The answer is simple - one person at a time. Talk to people, ask them questions, listen to their views. If they are Republicans, ask them why. Ask them what tenets of Republican philosophy they agree with, and why. If they support George W. Bush, ask them what he has done to earn their support, and why they agree with it. Then try to explain why your views differ. Admittedly, there are many people with closed minds who will not be receptive no matter what you say. These people are most likely lost causes. But there are many, many other people who, like myself once, have never given any thought to why they vote Republican. These are the people that can be educated, as long as they are willing to open their eyes. When current Republican policies and ideology are held under the glaring, unbiased lamp of reason, they crumble; there is no substance to them, no common goal other than to further the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor. If they take an unbiased, open minded look at what has happened in the last 7 months and what it portends for the future, they will be forced to accept the truth or live in denial.

This is the only way to combat the guerilla tactics of the Republican party, by exposing them for what they are to one person at a time. We can and will win, but it is going to require an effort on the part of all of us to make it happen. We must make the difference; nobody else is going to do it for us. The time is now.