To speak or not to speak: coming out as a neocon
This essay, which appeared at the American Thinker, is by blogger and sometime visitor Bookworm, of Bookwormroom.
It's entitled, "Confession of a Crypto-Conservative Woman," and it's on a topic dear to my heart: being a closet neocon (a neo-neocon, at that) in a true blue town.
I was at a party last year when a woman I know suddenly burst out, “I hate Bush. He’s evil. I wish he’d just drop dead” – and everyone around her verbally applauded that statement.
At a lunch with some very dear friends, the subject of the Iraq war came up and one of my friends, a brilliant, well-read, well-educated man, in arguing against the War, announced as his clinching argument the “fact” that “Bush is an idiot.”...
This is me: I grew up in this same liberal environment and was a life-long Democrat. ..And then things changed: Although I realize that my journey to the right began before 9/11, there is no doubt that 9/11 was my moment to cross the Rubicon...I suddenly had to confront the fact that I was a neocon living in one of the bluest of Blue corners in America.
How did I react to my change? With silence. You see, having lived a lifetime on the Left myself, I instantly realized that my new outlook would not be greeted as an intellectual curiosity, to be questioned politely and challenged through reasoned argument.
Instead, I would be deemed to have gone to the dark side. After all, if Bush is evil, his followers must be evil too. ...I also knew from my years on the Left that the debate wouldn’t revolve around facts and the conclusions to be drawn from those facts...it’s the futility of argument and the personal animus behind political argument in Liberal communities that results in something I call closet- or crypto-conservatism. I further believe that this is a syndrome especially prevalent amongst women...
In a woman’s world, you don’t earn any social points for staking out an extreme position and defending it against all comers. Men might garner respect for doing so, and experience the exhilaration of battle along the way; women are more likely find themselves on the receiving end of some serious social isolation, and to find the road to this isolation stressful and frightening.
Did I mention how nice my community is? And how child oriented? I enjoy being well-integrated into this community, as do my children, and neither the kids nor I would function well in light of the inevitable social repercussions that would occur if I were to admit that, well, I kinda, sorta, well, yeah, I voted for “that man – that evil man.” ...I’ve also managed to confirm through talking to a few other conservative women I know who also live in liberal communities that they too keep their mouths shut about their politics...
The question I struggle with is whether I ought to elevate my political principles over my day-to-day needs. Currently, I don’t believe there is any benefit, large or small, moral or practical, to such a step...
I've quoted liberally (pun intended) from Bookworm's essay because I want to convey the full flavor of the dilemma she faces. It's one I understand only too well, and one with which I sympathize. I've written about it before, here (note, especially, the comments section). I know the ostracism of which she speaks, and I know how important social connection are, and what it's like to be looked at by supposed friends whose eyes are forever changed and distanced.
But, despite all that empathy for Bookworm, I have to say that I part company with her conclusion. Oh, it's not that I speak up all the time (if you look at that post of mine I previously linked to, you'll see that in fact I don't). I weigh each situation to decide whether it seems like a good idea or whether it seems like an exceptionally futile exercise, and try to act accordingly.
At social gatherings where I'm among strangers, people I'm not likely to meet again, I often don't bother. But with anyone who is a friend--close, or even not-so-close--sooner or later I feel the need to "come out" and declare myself.
Why? After all, I'm not that keen on combat, or on spinning my wheels in useless arguments. I like to have my friends and keep them, too; I'm not interested in attaining pariah status for the sake of being able to pat myself on the back for bravery.
But over the past couple of years I've spoken out to virtually every friend I have, and gotten quite a variety of responses. A few have stopped speaking to me, and that makes me both sad and angry. Many look at me ever after with "that look" in their eyes--at least, I perceive that look, and I don't think I'm imagining things. It appears that my relationship with them has changed in some subtle way, and not for the better; they now see me as strange and somehow not quite trustworthy or kindly.
Some tease me, as though they can't quite believe it's true and are trying to test things out in a light way. A few had extremely angry and rejecting outbursts at first, but then got over it--outwardly, at least. A couple of people have decided never to speak politics to me again, in order to preserve our friendship. Still others, to my delight, can have lucid and calm discussions with me on the topic.
There are really two reasons I've decided to speak out to friends. The first is personal--and perhaps self-indulgent, in a way. I'll call it, for want of a better name, integrity. Or perhaps that old liberal notion: authenticity. Or maybe honesty.
Call it what you will. The idea is that I can't keep as a deep dark secret something so important and basic to my way of thinking from people I consider my friends. Painful though it may be, if the friendship can't handle it, I'm willing to kiss the friendship goodbye. Because what sort of a friendship is it, if it's based on something so very fragile?
The second reason I tell friends is actually more important, because it's not about me. It's this: if I don't speak up, and if people like me (and Bookworm, and her other crypto-con friends) don't speak up and "out" ourselves, then it simply perpetuates the myths of those who consider The Other Side to be monstrous.
Yes, some will consider you an awful person if you tell the truth about your current beliefs. But your speaking up may make others wonder about their preconceptions. If Republicans and neocons and even liberal hawks are considered the absolute Other, they can continue to be demonized and typecast. If it's you, on the other hand, who's the neocon--and not some stranger--you, that nice mother down the street who bakes the brownies; you, the one with the jokes and the helping hand; you, who's always been so smart and so kind--then how can all of Bush's supporters be cruel and stupid?
It's easy to move through life in a liberal bubble if everyone around who disagrees is silent and invisible. The only way to change that is to challenge it by standing up, speaking out, and bursting the bubble. It's very difficult; but you may find, as I did, that most of your worthwhile relationships survive the blow, although many are never quite the same again.