Edited by Jonah Goldberg
Harper Paperbacks, 272 pp.; $15.99
“All I ask of the reader,” wrote Jonah Goldberg in his introduction to “Proud to Be Right,” “is to avoid looking for some easy theme to slap on this book.” After reading said book – an anthology of essays from up-and-coming conservative writers – it is pretty obvious that request won’t be difficult to follow.
Written by more than 20 self-proclaimed lovers of freedom, ‘Proud to be Right’ is as diverse as a meeting of United Nations ambassadors. One is a former magician; one is a proud gay conservative; one cites Ayn Rand as a major influence. There is also a doctor and a former congressional candidate. Another is a former long-haired, radical environmentalist who cast his first presidential vote for Ralph Nader in 1996.
Some are devout members of the Republican Party; others are decidedly more Libertarian (all the fiscal conservatism sans the social conventions). Others adhere not to a party platform, but to a set of deeper, philosophical principles.
Yet despite the obvious diversity, there is one thing that stands out as a commonality between all the essays. Sorry, Jonah.
And no it’s not that they all love freedom. Rather, it’s how the selection of writers became solid, proud conservatives: life experience.
There is a widely-held assumption that young adults adhere to the political dispositions of their parents. The idea makes enough sense, but as “Proud to Be Right” shows, it is not always true when it comes to the current generation. Yes, some readily admit to growing up in Christian, traditionally-conservative homes; none attributed that as the sole reason for their conservative identity.
Consider the essay “Pursuing Happiness” by Joseph Ashby, whose story is the “human-interest tale that landed people in the gallery at a State of the Union Address.”
Married the summer before his freshman year of college, Ashby and his wife struggled with full course loads, work, and then the knowledge of a child on the way. Those struggles – or rather, the pursuit of happiness – along with that year’s W-2 form is what solidified Ashby’s conservatism.
“Our tax liability (mostly payroll) was more than we had paid in rent the entire year,” he wrote. “The savings we worked to accumulate were sitting on Line 4 of our W-2s.”
He went on to write that “once the taxes were collected, we faced the demoralizing option of returning to the government to beg for the money back through Pell Grants, Earned Income Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, or other programs. Our sustenance and prosperity were delinked from our own faculties and efforts and tied to a bureaucrat’s actuarial table.”
Then there’s Andrew J. Foy Jr., MD. As a medical student, Foy volunteered for an organization that provided medical care to the impoverished of Philadelphia’s inner city. A contrarian of sorts, Foy writes that the experience taught him that health care is not a right and that the welfare state causes more problems than it solves. That led him to the conclusion that “the government is the problem and handouts make people lazy.”
“On the one hand,” Foy wrote, “I acknowledge that there are individuals in genuine need of assistance; on the other hand, I also recognize that our social entitlement programs are forging chains in our society.”
Nathan Harden, whose bio in the anthology describes him as a “journalist, musician, and author,” and a 2009 Yale graduate, wrote about how his observations of society’s objectification of women strengthened his conservatism. And college campuses — Yale’s specifically — have been “co-opted by a radical culture of sexual excess.”
Harden’s experience sitting through classes that showed movies of girl-on-girl action, Asian porn, and X-rated sex-education seminars strengthened his traditional, social beliefs. This was especially true considering the irony of what Harden saw at Yale (and at any institution of higher learning, for that matter) lies in the fact that professors preach women’s right while turning a blind eye to public pornography and promiscuity.
But what “Proud to Be Right” accomplishes more than anything is to provide clear, concise evidence that conservatives are not all white, rich, male, homophobic, uncaring, or dull. And what matters more than their rather uniform conclusions (national health care, high taxes, big government – all bad) are their individual journeys that brought them to the doorstep visited so many times before them by people like William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and even Thomas Jefferson.
Put another way, “Proud to Be Right” extends the proverbial middle finger to all those who think America’s youth are an impressionable cesspool of liberal progressives. The contributors to this book, anyway, are here, conservative and proud. Get used to it.