How to go from militia member wingnut to blind government follower in ten years or less
It was a hot summer morning in 2004, and I was driving east on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Ahead of me, I saw a beat up old pickup truck, its tail end absolutely plastered with bumperstickers. I'm a bumpersticker reader, so you know I couldn' resist the temptation to read them. I hit the gas and tailed the truck closely.
The bumperstickers were entirely political: anti-war, anti-Bush, and "progressive". There was even a campaign sticker for the leftist clown from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich. Then I saw one that brought me back a decade. It read: "I love my country, but I fear my government".
It reminded me of eighth grade, the year that I really started to become interested in politics. Looking back, I realize that I didn't know much about politics, but there was one thing I did know--I didn't like the government. I wasn't an anarchist, but I did believe in Thomas Jefferson's maxim that "the government is best which governs least." I believed that people could take care of themselves better than the government could. I believed that our government is bloated and corrupt.
"I love my country, but I fear my government" was a popular bumpersticker at that time as well. Though I never bought the sticker (I was too young to drive, and thus had no bumper to put it on) I adopted it as my personal motto.
As a believer in smaller government, I naturally gravitated toward the Republicans, who were (at the time, at least) the party of smaller government. You could build a solid argument that after an eleven year reign in both houses of Congress, the Republicans have fallen as deeply in love with government as the Democrats ever were. Nonetheless, in 1994--that seminal eighth grade year--the Republicans ran and won on a platform of less government. I welcomed the new Republican majority.
The Democrats paniced. After forty years in power, the acted likes spoiled brats when they lost their majority. It was the first time I glimpsed the antics of prissy liberals who can't get their way anymore.
The Republicans took their seats in January 1995, and the long exile in the wilderness began for the Democratic Party. Later that year--April 19th, to be exact--a tradgedy struck the heartland of the United States. America's most infamous domestic terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people (including 19 children), and wounding in excess of 800.
The Democrats were quick to point the finger at Republicans, linking the Republican Revolution of 1994 with the "climate of hate" that produced McVeigh. President Clinton blamed it on "hate radio", i.e. the same Rush Limbaugh and his imitatators, who had played a large role in the Republican Revolution of 1994 . Overnight, right-wing militias and observant Christians became the objects of suspicion, despite the fact that McVeigh never belonged to a militia and was only nominally religious.
For more on McVeigh's religious views, read Time
Magazine's 1996 interview with McVeigh. Time
asked McVeigh if he was religious, and his response was "I was raised Catholic. I was confirmed Catholic. Through my military years, I sort of lost touch with the religion. I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs." Sounds like a lot of luke-warm, wishy-washy Christians I know--oh, I don't really practice my faith, but I still maintain the core beliefs.
asked if he believed in God, his response was "I do believe in God, yes. But that's as far as I want to discuss." Not exactly a Jesus freak.
Democrats tried to spread McVeigh's guilt far and wide, in order to discredit political enemies (Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich) and associate anything Christian or conservative with McVeigh. They had a large degree of success, judging by the amount of people who hold the false belief that McVeigh was Christian fanatic.
My teachers at the time were largely liberal, and they swallowed this matrix hook, line, and sinker. Suddenly, my anti-government ideas made my teachers wonder if I was angry enough to run off and join the Michigan Militia or some "survivalist" group with a compound in Idaho. My motto--"I love my country, but I fear my government--sounded like something Timothy McVeigh might say.
This was nonsense, of course. Looking back, I may have been a little extreme in my anti-government views, but I was not going to bomb a federal building and kill innocent people. My parents raised me better than that.
Over the years, my anti-government ideas have softened, if only a little. If you had asked me in 1995, what I thought about welfare, I would have told you that I objected to it on principal--government should not be in the business of taking from those who work and giving to those who don't. Robbing Peter to give to Paul is wrong. But my views on welfare have changed. I now support a sensible welfare program. What I mean by "sensible" is a program that provides basic needs (not luxuries), lasts for a limited amount of time, and encourages people to get back to work.
After learning a little more about politics, I realize that the most anti-government folks out there, short of obscure anarchist cults, are the Libertarians. Back in eighth grade, I probably would have associated myself with that party, if I had even known of its existence. But I'm not a Libertarian, and even though I prefer them to the Democrats, I still think that Libertarians sometimes go too far with their anti-government ideas.
But it's funny what a difference a decade makes. In 1994, "I love my country, but I fear my government" was the rallying cry of a new conservative movement that swept the Republicans to victory in the historic 104th United States Congress. After Oklahoma City, anyone who would say such a thing immediately aroused suspicion of being an extremist, a disciple of Timothy McVeigh. By 2004, it had morphed into a slogan of the Left.
Don't get me wrong--I still believe that skepticism of the government is healthy and proper. That's what burns me so much about the Bush-era Left--they act as if I have blind faith in the government. I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth. I can criticize my government with the best of them, and frequently do so.
Looking back on recent history, I see plenty of room to criticize my government. I'm angry that it failed to uphold the provisions of the Treaty of Paris and condemned our allies in Vietnam to death and misery in the Communist hellhole that the liberals said would never materialize. I'm angry that Margot Kidder, the actress who played Lois Lane in the cinematic version of Superman
series, had to become a US citizen so that she could protest the Iraq War on American soil without fear of being deported to her native Canada. I'm angry that the US gives money to Palestinian "charities" that have refused to sign pledges stipulating that they will not provide material aid to terrorism. I'm angry that our government allows--and in some cases, pays for--the tragic human right abuse known as abortion. I'm angry that our government sent a small child back to live in Castro's Cuban police state. I'm angry that our government keeps itself afloat on loans from Chinese banks. I'm angry that schools, hospitals and housing on are military bases are subpar. I'm angry that my government funded both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. I'm angry that our judiciary arrogantly disregards the limits of its own power. I'm angry that the doctrine of Eminent Domain now permits cities to take private property from its citizens and give it to corporations, if it results in "the greater good" (more tax revenues for the government).
But to hear the Left tell it, we're all living in George Orwell's 1984
and I'm the brainwashed boob who follows the edicts of Oceania without question. The Left, on the other hand, thinks of itself as the heroic Winston Smith--the only man who dares to think for himself. The rest of us are just brainwashed.
In 1994, I was looked upon as a dangerous, anti-government extremist. These days, I'm called a blind follower of the government. Irony abounds.
Am I a believer in the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror? Absolutely. Do I believe that Guantanamo Bay should remain open and is completely legal under international law? Yes. But I'm not a "Kool-Aid" drinker. I came to these conclusions through reason, not blind faith. I'm not, as the Left suggests, some kind of mindless zombie in Orwell's Oceania.
In fact, it angers me that the Left seems to have claimed Orwell's 1984
for themselves. I'm a big fan of Orwell. 1984
is a dystopian masterpiece, and Animal Farm
is probably just as good. First they stole my bumpersticker, then they stole one of my favorite authors.
I found that Orwell's books appeal to me because of their anti-government message--something that made me a dangerous potential McVeigh devotee back in 1995.
If anything, these books should be a warning to the Left, not the Right. Animal Farm,
in particular, is an anti-communist parable. If Orwell wrote Animal Farm
today, he would probably be defamed as a "McCarthyite". True, you could say that Orwell was warning about any variety of totalitarianism, whether from the Right or from the Left. But Bush-age America is not a totalitarian state, and exaggerations to that extent are not valid. No, the Left does not own the works of Orwell, and I wish they would give them back. You might say that they don't "belong" to the Right either, but they certainly don't belong to the Left.
"I love my country, but I fear my government"; my old motto is still just as applicable today as it was during my eighth grade year. I can't believe that the Left has adopted it as its own, but that's okay; it's a free country. They have a right to be stupid. Still, this slogan asks us to be skeptical of our government, not to have a knee-jerk reaction against anything President Bush does, simply because it's President Bush who's doing it. Just as blind faith in the government is a vice, so too is irrational opposition.