I Was a Right-Wing Child Star
A photo of the author at 17.
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Four years ago, at the age of 13, I gave a speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). To be honest, I had no idea how big a deal it was to make a two-minute appearance on a B-list panel. But the speech blew up, and I became the child star of the right wing — like the conservative Macauley Culkin, except I’ve never had a drug problem or dated Mila Kunis, unfortunately.
My involvement at such a young age happened for manifold reasons: I always enjoyed writing (I had gotten my first paid writing gig when I was 9), I enjoyed politics (or at least thetheory of politics), and I grew up in Georgia, where conservative ideologues dominated the radio and the populace. Mix those things with the naïveté of a kid and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a fresh, right-wing pundit. My star role worked out well for a while. I didn’t have to question any of the talking points I’d made in my speech, and I got to drone on and on about them at numerous Tea Parties and other conservative gatherings. I felt justified in my beliefs if for no other reason than no one actually told me I was wrong. Instead, men like Bill Bennett and Newt Gingrich hailed me as the voice for my generation and a hope for America.
But then, earlier this week, Politico released an interview in which I announced I wasn’t a conservative anymore — and the proverbial crap hit the fan. Since then, I have been treated by the political right with all the maturity of schoolyard bullies. The Daily Caller, for instance, wrote three articles about my shift, topping it off with an opinion piece in which they stated that I deserved criticism because I wear “thick-rimmed glasses” and I like Ludwig Wittgenstein. Why don’t they just call me “four-eyes”? These are not adults leveling serious criticism; these are scorned right-wingers showing all the maturity of a little boy. No wonder I fit in so well when I was 13.
I shouldn’t be too surprised. Political divisiveness in America today is a childish thing anyway. The never-ending war between the left and the right seems to me like a couple of drunken college boys fighting over which one of their fraternities is cooler. Think about it: Once you join a side, you have to obey the house rules, go to all the parties, and defend your status as a member of the greatest club on campus. And this is what drove me away from conservatism to my admittedly center-left position of independent mindedness (if that’s a thing).
I was tired of being a part of the ideological warfare this country is so caught up in. I was tired of the right using me as an example of how young people “get” what they’re talking about — when it’s obvious that I didn’t get what I talking about at all. I mean, come on, I was between 13 and 14 when I was regurgitating these talking points! What does a kid who has never paid a tax bring to the table in a conversation about the burden of taxes? What does a healthy child know about people who can’t afford healthcare because of preexisting conditions? No matter how intelligent a person might be, certain political issues require life experience; they’re much more complicated than the black and white frames imposed by partisan America. (And no, my mother and father didn’t write my material for me. You’d have to be as paranoid as the birthers to think someone’s parents would put them up to all that. Have a bit more faith in the human race, man!) I was just a 13-year-old kid spitting up the nonsense he’d learned. In the future, a good rule of thumb might be: If you’re not old enough to have consensual sex, you’re probably not old enough to make consequential political statements.