Twenty one years ago while a senior at the University of Florida, I wore a Jeb(!) Bush for Governor t-shirt to my Psychological Approaches to Literature class. The friend who sat in front of me clasped her hands over her mouth and shrieked into her fingers, never to speak to me again.

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She was right to do so. I was a monster, no better than anything staggering from the swamps or across the moors with its arms clawing in the air for prey.

I’d applied for an internship at The American Spectator. I’d visited the Alacuha County Republican Headquarters with my girlfriend to pick up lawn signs and watch The Clinton Chronicles, an awesome low-budget film about how Bill Clinton had probably killed a dozen people and would likely kill again. I’d underlined about half of Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. I’d called into Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

If you asked me then why I was a Republican, I would have hopped atop a nearby desk and declared that it was the party of freedom where men of passion and creativity could achieve the fruits of their work without losing them to the leeching government.

The real reasons I was a Republican (which I couldn’t articulate then) were:

  • My girlfriend and her family were fervently conservative, and I loved them all. They seemed to live in their own warm bubble of existence and I wanted to live there, too.
  • My own family had deep Republican roots. My grandfather had tangentially known Nixon and presided as the chaplain at Tricia Nixon’s debutante ball or something. My father had campaigned for Republicans, just like Ted Bundy and for probably the same reasons.
  • I loved the writer P.J. O’Rourke and wanted to be that kind of humorist: applying what I thought was reason to the folly of government.
  • I was surrounded at college by annoying liberals who agreed so easily with each other that it struck me as scary. I definitely believe that whenever one ends up thinking like the majority, it’s time to change one’s mind.

Plus, most of all, I wanted a consistent system of thought that could hold the chaos of my anxiety disorder at bay.

I was a Republican all the way until the 2000 election, when George W. Bush’s staggering yahoo-ism made me realize that all of the things I thought were bugs in the Republican software (anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, evolution denialism, global warming denialism) were what they considered features.

What really happened was that I grew up and looked around.

When I was in college, I had a skewed idea of what led to success in the world: I figured the proportion was 99% hard work and 1% circumstance. Then I met some of the kids in school who’d gotten there through inherited wealth, and that dropped to 90/10. Then I got out of school with no idea what to do with my English degree, and it dropped to 85/15. Then I entered the workforce and saw who became managers and who didn’t, and it dropped to 70/30. Then I started voting and saw who ended up in positions of power, and it dropped to 60/40.

Now, after forty two years of observing the world, I’m pretty sure that proportion of hard work to circumstance is maybe 45% to 55%, which is why the hard work is that much more important: like advertising, you don’t know which part of the 45% is going to help so you have to do it all.

In other words, I’ve seen people work their asses off and still not transcend circumstance in the way the Republicans say they can.

I’m not quite sure what the government should do about it, though I think one of the better reasons to have governments is for a community to hedge against the vicissitudes of fate. Sometimes you’re on top to help other people, and sometimes you’re on the bottom and need the help.

I guess as time has gone on, my ideas of what people do and don’t deserve have changed, and it’s less about working longer hours and more about working at something that matters.

You know, growing up.