I Was Raised Conservative. Here’s Why I Changed.
At some point, we all must question if we’re simply regurgitating our parents’ political views.
I was in first grade when George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential race. Ceremoniously, my class held a mock election right before the real one.
In our simulation, Al Gore won, which is not surprising given I was raised in a large suburb outside of dependably progressive Seattle. Only a handful of kids voted for Bush, and I was one of them.
At that age, kids either voted for whoever their parents supported or the guy that their friends wrote down. I belonged to the former group, and you’re right to assume that my parents were — and still are — conservatives.
And up until adulthood, so was I.
I have always admired my dad. He’s a levelheaded guy who avoids confrontation, much like myself, and he’s never been afraid to hold an unpopular opinion. As a kid, I thought he was the smartest person in the world, so whatever he said was true and whatever he liked was good.
When I noticed he was interested in politics, I became interested in politics. And when he told me Bush was the smarter, more reasonable candidate in this election, I believed him.
One of the most important things my dad ever taught me was to think critically about things; he always encouraged me to do the research myself and never to simply follow the status quo.
I wasn’t taught to be a sponge, but a sifter — filtering through the nonsense for golden bits of truth.
But when your dad is the only person you talk politics with because you’re a child and most children don’t care about politics yet, and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are the family’s main information hubs, you find yourself in a bit of an echo chamber.
My dad would often lament his liberal coworkers’ political opinions at the dinner table, with my mom in agreement, and because my parents were Never Wrong About Anything, I’d nod along too. I loved feeling like I was in on some great secret; that liberals were emotional and foolish while conservatives like us were logical and intelligent.
It’s a good feeling, to be right.
Nothing really came along to challenge what I’d learned from my parents until I started high school. Barack Obama was elected my freshman year, and — you guessed it — my family and I were disappointed because we supported John McCain.
Even still, the day Obama was sworn in, I wrote in my diary that, despite not supporting him, I was happy to see a Black man elected President. I said I felt hopeful because of him. I finished the entry by writing “Obama” in bubble letters, the kind you’d doodle your crush’s name in on your notebook paper instead of paying attention in math class.
The echo chamber was starting to crumble.
When I was in high school in the early 2010s, gay marriage was still up for debate, and despite all my other conservative beliefs I would loudly defend LGBTQ+ rights in classroom discussions. My parents were not religious, so I had never heard them speak derogatorily about queer people, and as a result this was the first issue I was really able to form my own independent opinion on.
Since so many of my idols were part of the LGBTQ+ community (Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Adam Lambert, and Lady Gaga, to name a few) and one of my best friends had recently come out to me as gay, my support for the community was a no-brainer. Why would I want to keep any of these people I loved and admired from happiness?
Well, because Republicans didn’t support it. In fact, they were actively against it. Some of my earliest political arguments with my dad were about same-sex marriage rights, and suddenly I had a bone to pick with the political right.
As the years passed by, I began to adopt more of what I called “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” values. It was then that I aligned myself with libertarianism. I saw it as a way to reconcile the conservative ideas I’d grown up knowing as true with the progressive beliefs I didn’t see represented in the Republican party.
That lasted up until my first semester of university. Some of the girls I befriended in my dorm were self-described feminists. Until then, I had only heard feminists referred to as “FemiNazis” by my oh-so-articulate high school boyfriend, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that he and all the other conservative people in my life were wrong about the feminist movement. Again I wondered, who would position themselves against equality and social progress?
And the answer presented itself to me time and time again: conservatives.
Who bent over backward to defend George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed Black teenager? Conservatives.
Who stopped the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment in its tracks in the 1970s and later overwhelmingly voted against ratifying it after a brief revival in 2020? Conservatives.
Who supported “bathroom bills” that would force transgender people to use the bathroom of their assigned gender at birth based on unfounded fears that to do otherwise would endanger women and children, despite it being more dangerous to trans people themselves? Conservatives.
The list goes on and on.
I began to distance myself from the right more and more. I realized that to call myself “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” was to be willfully ignorant of the basic principles of socioeconomics. I came to understand that my concerns about climate change and what to do about it were never going to be addressed by a political party that continues to make excuses for inaction.
I saw that, throughout the history of this country, the people who argued against women’s right to vote, against the New Deal, against the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and countless other momentous and hard-fought movements for the betterment of marginalized groups were, by and large, conservatives (regardless of party affiliation).
I finally admitted that I had been wrong. And that meant my parents were wrong, too.
Admitting fault in yourself or your heroes is never easy, but it is necessary. It’s hard to look some of the most important people in your life in the eyes and tell them that they’re mistaken about something, especially when those are the same people who fed and clothed you and raised you to be the person you are today: one with integrity, who cares about people other than themselves, and champions the underdog. All the things that made you step away from conservatism in the first place.
I’ve never stopped trying to get my parents to step away from the right; to see that so many of their seemingly benign conservative beliefs cause so much harm to people outside of their bubble.
It doesn’t matter how many heated conversations we’ll have throughout the years. I will keep at it every time they bring up a Fox News talking point or a patently false claim straight from the President’s mouth. I’ll challenge them at every turn on all their preconceived notions because I love them and I want them to be better. I want them to be more like they appeared to me as a child.
I want them to be what they taught me to be: a sifter, not a sponge.