Saturday, July 07, 2012

Conservative wunderkind turns out all right

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Jonathan Krohn (17)
Jonathan Krohn (17)

The old saying goes that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, while a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted. (I’m not entirely sure how that last one works, but anyway.) But for those wondering what happens when a young ideologue just happens to grow up, consider the redemptive tale of Jonathan Krohn, former Right-wing boy wonder and current well-rounded young man:

Jonathan Krohn took the political world by storm at 2009’s Conservative Political Action Conference when, at just 13 years old, he delivered an impromptu rallying cry for conservatism that became a viral hit and had some pegging him as a future star of the Republican Party.

Now 17, Krohn — who went on to write a book, “Defining Conservatism,” that was blurbed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett — still watches that speech from time to time, but it mostly makes him cringe because, well, he’s not a conservative anymore.

“I think it was naive,” Krohn now says of the speech. “It’s a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time.… I live in Georgia. We’re inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.… The speech was something that a 13-year-old does. You haven’t formed all your opinions. You’re really defeating yourself if you think you have all of your ideas in your head when you were 12 or 13. It’s impossible. You haven’t done enough.”


[A] quick rundown of his current political stances suggests a serious pendulum swing away from the right.

Gay marriage? In favor. Obamacare? “It’s a good idea.” Who would he vote for (if he could) in November? “Probably Barack Obama.” His favorite TV shows? “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” His favorite magazine? The New Yorker. And, perhaps telling of all, Krohn is enrolling this fall at a college not exactly known for its conservatism: New York University.

“One of the first things that changed was that I stopped being a social conservative,” said Krohn. “It just didn’t seem right to me anymore. From there, it branched into other issues, everything from health care to economic issues.… I think I’ve changed a lot, and it’s not because I’ve become a liberal from being a conservative — it’s just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can’t just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue.”

Well, if that doesn’t just give you hope for humanity. It’s obvious to any thinking individual (Krohn now included) that today’s conservatism has become nothing more than the rallying cry of narrow-minded reactionaries who think that trite talking points are a suitable replacement for actual substance. Or, as Bill Maher incisively put it, a party where adults share both brains and behavior with 14-year-old dickheads. It’s nothing more than an endless miasma of empty rhetoric and mindless spin, of persecution by nonexistent foes, and of fear-mongering conspiracies about the conservative-bashing librul media and the hoity-toity Washington elites – a clique that countless people who use that epithet actually belong to in the first place. (Gingrich, anyone?)

The amusing thing is that as mean-spirited and snarky as all that may sound, it’s nonetheless a perfectly accurate summary of the conservative movement as a whole, demonstrable through their own words and actions at conferences and in offices everywhere. Conservatives as individuals are as decent as anyone else, but the Right-wing as a group has long lost its collective mind. It’s only too reassuring to know that some people – particularly younger individuals who, like Krohn, still have leeway to explore their place in the world before getting caught up in all that ideological morass – find a way to escape it and to learn to think for themselves, thus usually arriving at the correct conclusions.

I’ve seen a number of people compare Krohn’s (de)conversion to their own journey, though I couldn’t say the same for me – I’m afraid I’ve always been a bleeding-heart liberal and rationalist right from the start (not that I haven’t changed my views on a number of key details over the years, mind you), thanks to a mixture of upbringing and culture. I suppose that only gives further credence to the notion (strongly implied in Krohn’s story) that people are primarily a product of their environment, at least until some of them reach an age and mental clarity where they can decide to choose another path for themselves. I suppose that makes me lucky, in the end.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)