Truth be told, I was never the most conservative fish in the drawer, spoon in the pond, or bowling ball in the gutter. There were many in my home state of Colorado compared to whom I was a dangerous and atheistic commie bastard who might have at any moment shed my material possessions, tie-dyed my own t-shirt, and fled imperialist America to join the cause of a bona-fide victim group like Al-Qaeda, if only they had chosen to express their views by slightly more nonviolent means. In fact, as far as the Coloradan political landscape went, I resided somewhere between the aspiring televangelists and the weekend rock climbers in Grateful Dead t-shirts who had smoked away their last good brain cell before they turned thirteen and who made the Princeton student body look like the United States Marine Corps. I liked to characterize myself as an extremist moderate. But the fact remains:
I was a Republican.
I somehow feel as though I should be saying that in front of a small group of nametag wearing encouragers and prefacing it with a stammering and emotional “Hello, I’m Wiley, and…”
I felt this same way about my orientation all through high school, and coming to Princeton, bastion of conservative, elitist, collar-popping values that it is, changed nothing. Now, I don’t know exactly why I was a Republican, except that they embarrassed me slightly less than I expect the Democrats would have if I had sat on their side of the political dividing fence (or, more accurately it seems, the political dividing vast, bottomless, craggy canyon from whose depths the screams of the Damned can be heard and which is traversable only via an ancient, rotten rope bridge with missing steps that is guarded by starving alligators). But it often seemed as though my loose convictions were not worth the awkwardness of minority status. Would my life be easier, I wondered, if I were to convert?
Now, I’m not going to do the tired whine about how conservatives are culturally oppressed on an orthodox liberal campus. We aren’t exactly using separate drinking fountains yet. But the awkwardness is present. Short of wearing elephant arm bands, there is little we can do to make our orientation obvious. It’s not easy to bring these things up in conversation. Not that anyone is unpleasant or discriminatory, but most conservative outings seem to go something like this:
“Republicans just want to enslave the masses and cast the world into a new Dark Age so that they can line their pockets with dirty money, appease their Corporate Cronies and Big Business Buddies with tax breaks and unfair contracts, and bathe in the cool, black, slippery oil stolen from the heathen nations they arbitrarily choose to bomb into oblivion.”
“Actually, I’m a Republican myself, and…”
“Oh. I respect that.”
Right. And Nader won Ohio.
Conservatives, when mentioned, are spoken of like strange, exotic animals from faraway lands. Republicanism may as well be a rare, disfiguring, debilitating condition that prevents its victims from showing their faces publicly. “There are two Republicans in my dorm,” I heard one student say to his group of friends while walking outside on election night. “And there’s one that lives in that room too.” He pointed to a distant window, his friends staring as though trying to imagine what unspeakable horrors lay beyond that dark pane of glass.
As I said before, I often wondered whether conservatism was worth it. After all, I’m about as socially liberal as they come. And there are plenty of smart people who are liberals, right? And if there are smart people who hold a certain viewpoint, there must be something to it. Hell, some of my best friends are liberals. Seriously. I can almost respect their opinions. So it was that, after a few weeks on campus, I decided to embark on a grand experiment. I would convert. This conversion would be provisional, but it would be complete. Screw convictions; mine is the path of least resistance.
Besides, Democrats get all the good musicians.
I was momentarily disappointed when I was told there are no elaborate conversion rituals associated with liberalism. Back home, whenever people hopped on the elephant, we would at least lock them in a dark room for forty eight hours without any food and then force them to chug thirty five beers in twenty minutes. But, undeterred, I put on my new Birkenstocks, stole an Ally pin from an unattended backpack, and set out to become the biggest über-liberal Princeton had ever seen. After all, as my personal motto goes, if you’re gonna do something, you might as well do it drastically. I kept, for the benefit of posterity, a careful journal of my daring endeavor, which took place, fittingly, right around election time. Posterity may read it here:
Screamed “George W. Bush is a totalitarian puppy-eater!” to break silence at beginning of English lecture. Received many long stares of approval.
Burned bra in Mathey quad. In hindsight, perhaps was inappropriate, as am male. Why the hell did I have that bra, anyway?
Chained self to entrance of random building that seemed to have many BSE types hanging around. Was not fooled by those who denied presence of nuclear reactor inside. Am not that stupid.
I think I am already experiencing the acceptance and respect that comes with political orthodoxy. People have begun to deferentially move out of my way while I walk down the sidewalk, and no one tries to get in front of me in the cafeteria lines any more. Now, if someone would only talk to me…
Permitted self to laugh at episode of shamelessly politicized Daily Show. Actually, have always done this, though this time was without guilt.
Laughed uproariously during televised debates at Bush’s inventive vocabulary. Okay, have always done this too, but this time did not try desperately to smother it.
Staged protest in front of Frist. Found it annoying and impertinent when passersby demanded to know what exactly was being protested. Also, was disappointed at poor turnout. What kind of activists are these Princeton people?
Burned Ronald Reagan in effigy. Was not aware of fascist Princeton fire codes, nor that blow-up doll with taped-on Reagan face doesn’t count as effigy. It’s not like they carry these things in Wal-Mart, you know.
I have decided, at this point, to end my heroic quest for political acceptance, as it seems I have somehow become the victim of large-scale avoidance. Also, this beard is becoming very itchy, as I have not shaved for a week.
Well, that was educational. My little experiment indeed offered me a startling revelation: my conversion did not turn me into the intensely popular respected intellectual I had predicted it would. Perhaps my methods were flawed; perhaps my vision of liberalism was skewed by my years of conservative cluelessness. But I think there is really only one possible explanation for all this: liberals are not nice people. In fact, I don’t think the conservatives on campus like me very much now either. Ah, sometimes it’s so hard to find one’s place in the world. So screw you guys. From now on, I’m voting for Nader.