Harry Stein is the author of, “‘I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next To A Republican,'” recently released in paperback.
Stein, who is a contributing editor of City Journal, recently agreed to answer 10 questions from TheDC about his book and current events:
1. Why did you decide to write the book?
I guess maybe it was one dinner party too many where my wife and I found ourselves surrounded by the sorts of insufferably smug liberals who assume that everyone with a brain agrees with them and are wont to say things like: “Carter may not have been the greatest president, but he is definitely the greatest EX-president.” I mean, as I describe in the book, until recently we were living in a community, the New York suburb of Hastings-on-Hudson, where to be a conservative was akin to being (the term of general usage for George W. Bush) a Nazi. And knowing there were lots of people in the same situation in deep blue locales all over the country, I figured such a book might provide them some solace in their sense of isolation. Interestingly enough, when the book appeared in hardback, and a piece about it appeared in the local weekly, all kinds of secret conservatives in my town came out of the closet – if not publicly, at least to me. People stopped me on the streets urgently whispering that they were one, too; one woman, spotting me as she drove by, screeched to a halt so suddenly she actually caused a fender bender.
By the way, the book’s title is a verbatim quote – somebody said it to me at one of those dinner parties in the spring of 2008, when I dared to raise the issue of Obama’s lack of experience.
2. You have a chapter titled, “Dinner Party Mischief – or, how to lose friends and influence no one, but while having fun.” How do you do that?
It’s premised on the notion of liberal dishonesty – the fact that they profess to believe things they actually don’t because to do otherwise would mean bucking the party line. For example, liberals know they’re supposed to be for affirmative action – but a lot of them also know, deep in their hearts, that racial preferences are an abomination, violating the basic sense of equity and fair play we learned as kids. And they ESPECIALLY know that if their own kids are applying to elite colleges where they are apt to be aced out by minorities with lesser qualifications. So what the wily conservative can do is throw out the topic in a very neutral way – say, by claiming to understand the need for affirmative action, but mentioning (in that troubled way liberals appreciate) some kid who’s been thus royally screwed — then sitting back and watching his tablemates go at it.
3. Why is social work the scum of all professions?
You really have to ask? I mean, I dare you to find a conservative social worker – or even one who’s moderately sensible. This is a field where “social justice” is not merely a mantra, but a stated mission. As I point out in the book, it’s right there in the Code of Ethics of the Council of Social Work Education that “social work education programs (must) integrate social and economic justice content grounded in an understanding of distributive justice, human and civil rights, and the global interconnections of oppression.” And those who step out of line are literally weeded from the profession.
4. What is it like being a Republican in San Francisco?
Well, as one (gay) Republican I spoke to out there put it, it’s a lot easier to be gay in San Francisco than a Republican, adding that when he came out as a Republican “friends abandoned me. I got called a fascist, traitor, crazy, insane, a racist.” In the Bizarro World that is San Francisco, fascism is always around the corner and that great bogeyman, the Christian Right, is just waiting to pounce.
To live among people who think this way – indeed, to BE PROUDLY REPRESENTED BY NANCY PELOSI! – would break most of us, which is why San Francisco conservatives have my enduring respect and profound pity. A statistic for sober reflection: fewer than 11 percent of San Franciscan voters are registered as Republicans; Decline to State are 30 percent.
5. You do a “full, taxonomic breakdown of the liberal species.” Which is the worst sub-genus?
Obviously, that’s very subjective. You certainly couldn’t go wrong if you cited ‘The Angry Feminist.” I frankly don’t know what I’d do if I was still in dating mode. One guy in Chicago told me that, since early on in a relationship he always keeps quiet about his politics, a woman he’d been recently dating was shocked to come to his place and see a framed photo of George W. Bush on the wall. His quick-thinking response: “I don’t know who that is, or how it got here?”
On the other hand, there’s also ‘The Perpetually Aggrieved Anti-American.’ In the book, I describe an encounter with one of these in the supermarket. He knew almost nothing about me, but since I’d once coached his son in Little League, he’d apparently picked up from someone that I was conservative. And that was enough. In the checkout line, he suddenly spat out “You people disgust me,” and started going on about my presumed enthusiasm for water boarding. “You’re a really angry guy,” I pointed out, with a mildness calculated to further infuriate him, and it did. “There’s plenty to be angry about!” he raged.
Yeah, I guess I’d have to say people like that are the worst.
6. Why are you a conservative?
Actually, I wrote a whole book answering that question: “How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace).” The short answer is that I grew up, had kids, learned a little something about economics, human behavior, the value of rational thought versus hyper-emotionalism and, not least, got tired of the self delusion it took to stay a liberal. I also find people on this side both smarter and more decent.
7. What are the three books that most shaped your worldview?
I remember reading Norman Podhoretz’s “Breaking Ranks” in the early Eighties in the car on a family trip to Florida and being startled to find that, while everyone in my circle of left-liberal journalists regarded Podhoretz as a monster, I agreed with almost everything he said. Along the same lines, I found great solace in a collection of reminiscences edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz entitled “Second Thoughts: Former Radicals Look Back at the Sixties.” Speaking of the Sixties, which my former Berkeley radical wife refers to as “the devil’s decade,” I was much taken with Myron Magnet’s “The Dream and the Nightmare” and Roger Kimball’s “The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America.” And while we’re at it, let’s throw in Ward Connerly’s splendid memoir “Creating Equal,” recounting his brave fight against racial preferences. I know that’s more than three, but what the hell.
8. Do you have a candidate you would like to see run – and win – the GOP presidential nomination in 2012?
My temptation is to say anyone who can beat Obama, but if you’re asking for a wish list: Chris Christie. Obviously. I understand he’s already ruled it out, and for good reason, given the enormous job he faces in New Jersey; but no one else on the scene says what needs to be said, to those who need to hear it, as directly or as well. He’s smart, funny, good on his feet – and I’ve argued with friends that even his weight might be a plus, adding to his Everyman appeal.
Other than that, I agree with lots of other people that Mitch Daniels would make a terrific president, but I disagree with those who think his lack of charisma would prove an effective contrast to the well-tailored empty suit that is Obama. A presidential campaign is a long time for a dull guy to keep people interested, let along enthusiastic; and, as someone pointed out, the campaign could well be over the moment at the first debate when Obama and the miniscule Daniels meet center stage to shake hands.
9. Do you think being a conservative in a blue state is better or worse than being a conservative on a college campus?
Well, of course, a lot depends upon which blue state (and municipality therein) and which college campus. (Even at Harvard you’ll find the exemplary likes of Harvey Mansfield and Ruth Wisse). But of course, as a general rule, finding oneself in a blue area is immensely preferable to being marooned on a typical campus. In such places, not only are you likely to find others on the same ideological wavelength but, more importantly, you can easily avoid the worst of the lefties. Not so on most contemporary college campuses, where political correctness is apt to be the rule both inside and outside the classroom, and those who too aggressively take on political orthodoxy risk pariah status; meaning, among other things, they’re likely to get laid a lot less often. (You’ll note I was in my thirties when I decided to be a conservative).
On the other hand, the very worst place has got to be is one that is both simultaneously – which is why I’d NEVER recommend to any kid of sound mind that he attend San Francisco State.
10. Any plans to write another book? If so, about what?
I’m in the middle of one now. The projected title should be self-explanatory: “Everything You’ve Always Thought About Race (but were afraid to say).” For obvious reasons, it might well be my last.