How did a liberal feminist of many years standing become a staunch conservative?
I wish I could say it was the voice of God, booming at me from the Heavens or burning my soul from a bush, telling me to get a clue, get right with Him, and start making sense, but it wasn't.
I wish I could say a marvelous and under-read book of conservative philosophy, such as Richard M. Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences, was the foundational work that changed my intellectual viewpoint and altered my life. But that wasn't it.
I wish I could say that what made me change my political stripe so radically was good, solid, hearty debate on the internet and elsewhere over the pros and cons of a conservative versus a liberal political perpective. But that wasn't it.
I wish I could say it was the influence of many friends, acquaintances, and family members, but while I felt their inspiration, I was more inclined to argue than to actually listen to what any conservative had to say. Their influence came more to bear after I had already accepted that "right wing conservative" did not mean "extremist" or "racist" or "armed and dangerous" or any of the other tags liberals attempt to hang around our necks. Influence wasn't it either.
So what happened?
What finally changed me into a conservative was a book-long fit of giggles, snorts, guffaws, cackles, chortles, chuckles, titters and downright howls. As silly as it sounds, it was 233 pages of some of the best laughs I'd had in a long, long time. P.J. O'Rourke's brilliant Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government was the culprit, and I still laugh to this day when I read it. O'Rourke is a gifted writer, and while he is not H.L. Mencken, he sure is funny. And he has an absolutely delicious knack for puncturing silly, self-satisified liberal balloons. In reading O'Rourke's descriptions of liberals and the government I got to laughing so hard that some solid conservative ideas managed to sneak into my head while I was busy falling off my chair and rolling on the floor. His book is a whoosh of a read, and somehow in between unfeminine snorts and wild guffaws, my outlook on politics and life simply *changed.*
Keep in mind that I was one of the people O'Rourke is talking about in the following passage, a description of the various people who came to a demonstration on homelessness, and keep in mind as well how a certain note of funny common sense underlies his pique:
World Council of Churches sensible-shoe types who have self- righteousness the way some people have bad breath
Angry black poverty pests making a life and a living off the misfortune of others
Even angrier feminists doing their best to feminize poverty before the blacks use it all up
Earnest neophyte Marxists, eyes glazed from dialectical epiphanies and hands grubby from littering the Mall with ill-Xeroxed tracts
College bohos dressed in black to show how gloomy the world is when you're a nineteen year-old rich kid
Young would-be hippies dressed exactly like old hippies used to dress (remarkable how behind the times the avant-garde has gotten)
And some of those old hippies themselves, faded jeans straining beneath increasing paunches, hair still tied into a ponytail in the back but gone forever on the top
Together these people constitute America's loudest special interest (and the only true, permanent underclass)--the Perennially Indignant. As always these days, they were joined by greedy celebrities who aren't contented with fame and money and want a reputation for moral goodness, too.
I don't know about you, but that line about the feminists made me howl. Even though I still considered myself one at the time.
Now, humor is a odd thing, and I'm sure not everyone will find Mr. O'Rourke funny, but I thought he was a riot. And suddenly, all the things I'd been thinking about for years: why liberal policies never seemed to work, my personal struggle with the issue of abortion, random thoughts about how I disliked the moral smugness that liberals evince when given the tiniest chance, the taxes that go up unendingly only to then be spent by a profligate Congress on any whimsical, fool thing they desire, the corruption that we were beginning to see then and today which threatens to destroy our very institutions of government--all these began to make sense when I saw them from P.J.'s point of view. As the opening quote from Horace says, "What stops a man who can laugh from telling the truth?"
What I have found is that when people are surprised into laughter, thoughts they don't usually think can drill through the thick armor we call skulls. And so it is: humor works, it is one of the wild human talents that simply cannot be tamed, certainly not by something as boringly Soviet-Russian as political correctness.
Contrary to much of what I've written here, I am a serious person. Until, that is, something strikes me funny. Thank goodness, many things do, for I consider laughter one of God's greatest boons. Laughter can make any heart lighter of its worries, it can make the sane saner, the healthy healthier, and it can heal.
And Lordamighty--it can change a died-in-the-blood liberal into a conservative.
Ain't that a hoot?
© Patricia Neill, 1997
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