Today I came across a New York Times article titled, “Why Teenagers Today May Grow Up Conservative.” I found these observations to be quite legitimate and wanted to share how my own personal experience reflects these findings.
I was born in 1977. When I was 8 years old, I wrote my first letter to the Reagan White House. I was in the second grade at the time but I was not writing for a school assignment. I had a question about how the government works and my family encouraged me to write. I received a huge pack of info and will never forget the impact that made on my little 8-year-old heart and mind. A few years later, I remember learning about term limits and feeling so scared when I realized Reagan wouldn’t be our president forever. The only way I could make sense of this was to campaign for George H.W. Bush because if he served with President Reagan than he obviously should be the next president. And by campaign I mean sticking Bush/Quayle 88 stickers on my trapper keeper.
August 1996, I was packing my bags preparing to return to Union University as a rising sophomore when I first heard Elizabeth Dole speak. She was addressing the Republican National Convention on behalf of her husband Bob (of course). I remember being so moved by her words but more so by her presence. She began her speech by saying,
“Now, you know, tradition is that speakers at the Republican National Convention remain at this very imposing podium. But tonight I’d like to break with tradition for two reasons — one, I’m going to be speaking to friends, and secondly, I’m going to be speaking about the man I love. And it’s just a lot more comfortable for me to do that down here with you.”
As a young woman, a conservative, and admittedly idealistic 19-year-old college student, you can imagine the impression she made on me. The whole time she was speaking I kept thinking, “what a classy lady. I want to be like her one day.” Little did I know at the time that, in only a few short years, I would be working in the U.S. Senate and attend the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, not to mention passing Senator Elizabeth Dole in the halls of Congress on a regular basis.
The next stop on my journey was the year 2000. Y2K had failed to destroy the world and I was back in Memphis after a brief stint as a one-man-band TV news reporter in suburban Atlanta. It was a typical sweltering August day when I got a postcard inviting me to a campaign stop for presidential candidate George W. Bush — only two miles from my parents house in Bartlett. Of course I went and I was so incredibly fired up by the experience that I emailed my friend Jay from Union who was working for our Congressman, Ed Bryant, and asked him if he knew of any jobs in Washington. It just so happened that our senior U.S. Senator Fred Thompson had an entry-level position open. A few weeks later, I’m on a flight to DC and on September 11, 2000 I began my nearly 8 year career working on Capitol Hill.
To bring it all full circle, I was working on the Hill when President Reagan passed away. It was one of the highlights of my time in DC, to have the opportunity to participate in several memorial services and events to celebrate the life and legacy of a leader who I so admired and respected, even from such a young age.
I do not come from an overtly political family. We never went to fundraisers or campaign events or anything like that. We are hard-working, military and war veterans, public school retirees and small business owners who believe the best way to order life is God, Family, Country. You work hard and you earn your way… this was the essence of being American. Yet it is upon this foundation that my exposure, experiences and interactions with conservative republican ideology significantly shaped, not only my future voting decisions, but the trajectory of my career and where I would spend the majority of my adult life thus far. After reading the above referenced New York Times article, you can see the that author’s observations played out in my own life.
Certainly there are other factors involved in shaping the political ideology of an individual, much more so a generation. But as a late 30’s Gen-X-er, mother to (nearly) three children all under age 3, I can’t help but think about how the landscape will look as my children become aware of the world around them and how the cultural majority will influence their own ideologies whether I agree with that influence or not. I am especially curious to see what becomes of the oft analyzed and mystified “Millennial’s” and how they will (or won’t) leave a lasting mark that shapes the political views of my own little brood.
Reading this article was a refreshing reminder that, while there is nothing new under the sun, it is also true that the times are always changing and shifting. Events both predictable and completely out of our control all play a large part in shaping both political ideologies and public opinion. It will be interesting to review these observations 10 years from now and see if history does in fact repeat itself, as it so reliably has since the beginning.
“The only constant is change” – Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 BC)