Rare Political Self-Conversions

 

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

It’s been said that the American electorate can be divided into three roughly equal parts:

  • 1/3 that pays virtually no attention to politics and policy, and if they vote, they either vote by habit or by whatever impression happened to catch their attention
  • 1/3 that are somewhat attentive, and have a rudimentary understanding of issues and the candidates’ stances
  • 1/3 that are rabidly attentive and involved, active in supporting and campaigning for their chosen causes

A strong case can be made that for the last two groups—the 2/3 that identify with a Party and an ideology—are very often are born into and grow up with a “baked in” voting ideology. It’s a rare occurrence that an individual makes a 180° ideological turn from their upbringing and converts to the “other side.”

There are two demographic groups in particular that are reliable Democratic voters, mainly because of their upbringing and environment: Jews and African-Americans.

For Jews, cultural/ethnic considerations play a large role in their liberalism. In his book “Why Are Jews Liberal?” author Norman Podhoretz posits that in the mid-20th Century, Jewish immigrants from Europe were drawn to American liberals, who had a kinder, more welcoming feel than the hard-hearted governments of Europe from which many Jews fled. This caused European Jews to identify with American liberals—Democrats—even though Jewish family tradition and culture is at least as close to modern-day Conservatism as it is to current Liberalism. The Conservative-leaning tenets of completing higher education and striving for significant achievement in respected, high-paying professional fields (law, medicine, finance, business, etc.) are staples of American Jewish life. Indeed, the humorous American Jewish clichés of, “You’ll go to college, you’ll get a good job, you’ll make us proud!” and “My son, the doctor!” are directly and accurately reflective of this.

Yet the Jewish vote since 1960 has been reliably around 80% Democratic. The only exception is the outlier year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan beat the hapless Jimmy Carter. But even that year, Carter won the Jewish vote 45-39%.

African-Americans tend to be an even more monolithic voting bloc than American Jews, siding somewhere around 90% with the Democrats. When President Obama ran in 2008, being the country’s first Black Presidential candidate, he garnered around 96% of the African-American vote. President Trump, having made a concerted effort to address that bloc with his now-famous “What have you got to lose?” line, managed to reduce that number by Hillary Clinton to about 88%, which is still an overwhelmingly lopsided figure.

The reasons surrounding the African-American community’s current status in modern American culture are complicated, without question, and difficult to pin down to just a few obvious causes. The long-term systemic prejudice and discrimination that has operated to their detriment in all aspects of American society are well documented and need not be recounted here. The reaction to these wrongs has been the creation and implementation of numerous Government “solutions,” be it welfare, Affirmative Action, various tax and grant programs (ostensibly open to any group but in reality targeted to minorities), and the like. The efficacy of such programs and entitlements is not the issue here. However, it can be convincingly argued that the very existence of—and indeed, expansion of—Government handout programs has contributed to a motivation-reducing entitlement mentality among the very groups such programs are intended to help.

Democratic politicians know that the African-American community has become dependent on these Democratic-sponsored assistance programs. The more cynical observer will unabashedly call it vote buying. But as someone once said, “No one will ever vote to end their own entitlements.”

If liberal doctrine is to offer tax-funded Government programs and financial assistance as the answer to society’s shortcomings and Conservative doctrine is to offer “opportunity to all” via the more difficult path of personal initiative and self-reliance, then it’s fascinating that some African-Americans—born and raised in an environment and culture that teaches them to play the victim, waiting for the inevitable, deserved Government payout—become Conservatives.

That African-American group—Liberal-born, waiting-for-the-handout—who become Conservative and eschew Government largess in favor of self-made gains, is a uniquely compelling group. They have traveled the farthest ideological distance of any voter, a full about-face journey from one extreme of the ideological spectrum to the other extreme. In making that long, emotionally-unsettling, restless journey—often as a young adult—they see things along the way that challenge and threaten the very truths they were brought up to believe. It takes an incredible degree of self-confident open-mindedness and intellectual courage to accept contradictory external evidence and allow it to change one’s philosophical allegiance.

Likewise for the small number of American Jews, born into inordinately liberal households, who nonetheless become conservative. Like their African-American counterparts, they voluntarily undertake an emotionally- and intellectually-arduous quest and manage to counteract their inherited political/social teachings in order to arrive at a philosophical destination diametrically opposed to the one in which they grew up.

African-American conservatives like Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, John McWhorter and Ben Carson, along with American Jewish conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Mark Levin, David Horowitz, Dennis Prager, William Kristol and Ben Stein among thousands of others, have a clarity of conservative thought and expression—evidenced in their writings and speeches—that has unquestionably been brought about by the egotistically-challenging, eye-opening travails of their own personal ideological journey.

To put it simply, those African-Americans and Jews who have self-converted from Liberal to Conservative have developed an amazingly clear and effective way of explaining exactly why they now favor the conservative position.

There has unquestionably been some self-conversion the other way, from Conservative to Liberal. Media Matters founder David Brock went from right-leaning investigative journalist to loyal Clinton devotee in the late 1990’s. NY Times columnist David Brooks has, according to many, made a definite transition from “token NY Times Conservative” to “garden-variety Liberal.” However, most Conservative-to-Liberal self-conversions appear to be individual occurrences, not an outright rejection of the one-sided structural circumstances into which they were born and raised.

Indeed, for many born-and-raised Liberals, being Liberal comes easy and is never even given a second thought. For those individuals that undertake the arduous, voluntary journey from born-Liberalism to self-discovered Conservatism, it is an eye-opening trek that imprints on their consciousness an incredibly deeply-held conviction of their newly-discovered philosophical stance. With that conviction comes the ability to express and advocate on behalf of the Conservative cause in a persuasive manner that few people on either side of the political spectrum can match. The actual process of becoming “self-coverted” makes for extraordinarily impressive spokespeople.

 

 

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