Why He Left The GOP And Why You Should Too

I suppose because I was once a hard-core conservative Republican and am now interested in how others have journeyed from one political side to the other, a frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, directed me to an enlightening article at Salon.com titled, “Why I left the GOP,” by Jeremiah Goulka.

Mr. Goulka, besides being a former Republican, worked in the Justice Department and as a policy analyst for the RAND corporation, among other interesting jobs he has held. (He also has an interesting website.)

His piece details how he discovered “the full spectrum of reality” in terms of his political and social thinking, that discovery linked to his experiences in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and his experiences as a RAND policy analyst in Iraq.

I will leave you to read about how his Iraq experiences changed his thinking on security and foreign policy issues. I want to focus on his powerful explanation of why he changed his views about society and politics here at home.

I’ll begin with an interesting observation Goulka made:

An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion.  I think I finally understand what it means.  We see different realities, different worlds.  If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things.  I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.

I have often wondered why it is that people I know, a few of them I like a great deal, see the world so differently than I see it. I think Goulka is on to something with this suggestion, even though obviously I don’t think it explains every political difference.

He wrote:

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.  I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it).  It explains why study after study shows — examples herehere, and here – that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.

It is common to the point of nausea, for Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, to claim, either overtly or subtly, that folks pretty much get what they deserve in life. If they are poor, they somehow didn’t work hard enough or take advantage of opportunities offered to them.

The idea of there being anything like social-structural impediments to success, those impediments only experienced by select social groups, does not compute with conservatives. They simply don’t buy it. And Goulka’s explanation, that people see “different realities” because they take in “different slices of reality” and talk past each other, explains why they don’t buy it. Chances are the slice of reality they took in didn’t include things like, as Goulka listed them,

aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the “trial tax,” the “poverty tax,” and on and on.

Goulka wonders why, as a Republican, he “had never heard of any of these concepts“:

Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”?  That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed.  But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity.  It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series.  Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in.  Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal.  For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets.  Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people.  My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.

That “individualistic celebration of success,” the one constant theme running through Mitt Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s campaign, does, as Goulka suggests, implicitly divide “the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving.” That’s what makes it so easy for Republicans to cut food stamps, deny people health insurance coverage, or suppress the vote of poorer and darker folks by the onerous voter ID laws they have passed. By God, those people should try harder to provide for their families, get insurance, and climb over the bureaucratic hurdles and vote.

My friend and fellow blogger Jim Wheeler wrote a thoughtful column for the Joplin Globe today that included this paragraph:

If one believes in an ideological Randian world of smug self-reliance, it is easy to relegate beings to their own devices, but if one aspires to a country in which all people have a reasonably equal starting chance, then the government is the only option I see for doing that.

The question, for all of us who cast a vote in November or anytime, is what kind of country, state, or city do we want? What political party best reflects our values? And how can we ensure, as much as we can with our vote, that “all people have a reasonably equal starting chance“?

And speaking of voting and starting chances, I mentioned those Republican-sponsored voter ID laws. It happens that Mr. Goulka relates something relevant to those ID laws that one of his roommates told him while he was working in New Orleans:

He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account.  Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all.

I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID?  And no bank accounts?  Who are these people?  How do they vote?  How do they live?  Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?

If you have followed the controversy over the voter ID laws right-wingers have passed in response to an imaginary voter fraud problem, then you have no doubt heard some Republicans express astonishment that there are folks out there without the proper IDs, or who might not have the time to drive a great distance and the money to secure the documents necessary to get an ID that Republicans demand they get before they can vote.

Such Republican astonishment, in this case at least, is phony. They know good and well, most of them, that such burdens will suppress the vote of poor and minority folks. For God’s sake, that is why they created those burdens in the first place. There simply isn’t any real doubt about that.

And so we have, right before our eyes, a stunning example of how social-structural impediments are created, the same kind of social-structural impediments that conservatives say don’t exist.

Such examples should make it easy, for those of us who really want people to have that “reasonably equal starting chance” that Jim Wheeler mentioned, to cast our votes against anyone these days who wears the Republican label.

Maybe if enough people abandon the Republican Party, its leaders will get the message and begin representing “the full spectrum of reality,” which, fortunately, Jeremiah Goulka discovered and wrote about so eloquently.

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  1. RDG,

    Great post.


  2. Jason

     /  September 11, 2012

    Great article thanks for linking. Have you read David Brock’s memoir “Blinded By The Right”? I think you’d enjoy that one roo


    • I am familiar with Mr. Brock, although I have not read his book of repentance. I admire folks who have done such harmful things and have the guts to admit to it and try to make amends. I wrote a piece in March after Brock was attacked by Limbaugh Nation for daring to call advertisers’ attention to Limbaugh’s remarks about Sandra Fluke. Media Matters is doing the Lord’s work in exposing what Fox and talk radio are doing do the country.



  3. writer89

     /  September 11, 2012

    Goulka should offer his services to the Dems. The problem most liberals have is that — unlike you, me, and Goulka — they have never been conservatives and have no idea how their opponents really think.


    • I agree. I find it hard, as a former conservative, to explain to Democrats and liberals how I could possibly have been a right-wing conservative. To a lot of them it just doesn’t make sense. I think a lot of it is that these folks don’t understand the admixture of evangelical-fundamentalist Christianity and conservative politics. At least that is what drew me into conservatism.



      • writer89

         /  September 12, 2012

        Don’t forget the “other” wing — the one I was associated with — which consists of the Libertarian/Objectivist types who think everybody’s out to steal their stuff, and that “collectivists” want to enslave the planet. How they continue to coexist with religious fanatics, many of whom are collectivists themselves, I’ll never know. The contradictions certainly helped me see the light, back in the 60s. Sooner or later those two wings of the Republican Party are going to have to go their separate ways. The only thing the “libertarian” kid who just wants to smoke pot has in common with the evangelical who wants to make everything illegal is that they both hate “the government” — which means the democracy that all the rest of us at least temporarily enjoy!


  4. Like Duane and Writer89 — and Goulka — I spent some serious time and energy on the far-and-rabid right. I was also a Baptist minister. But I came to the understanding that to see people through the eyes of generosity, grace, and liberalism was to see people through the eyes of the Jesus of The Sermon on the Mount. There’s no need to get preachy, but for those of Duane’s readers who still have some regard for how Jesus taught people to live, it strikes us (liberal Christians) odd that Bible-believin’ churches have so sold that pure message of grace for a mess of prosperity pottage, spiced up with bigotry and a strange need to offer philosophical fellatio to the obscenely rich.


    • Wow! I am impressed, my friend. Well stated defense of your Christianity.

      But as a former Baptist, though, you know, as I know, that the folks we used to pal around with in the church don’t believe there is any such animal as a “liberal Christian”!

      Thanks for your insights, especially this one:

      Bible-believin’ churches have so sold that pure message of grace for a mess of prosperity pottage, spiced up with bigotry and a strange need to offer philosophical fellatio to the obscenely rich.

      What an image.



    • writer89

       /  September 14, 2012

      Righties refer to liberal Christians derisively as “Sermon on the Mount Christians,” as if that particular sermon were an aberration, rather than a definitive statement of Christ’s beliefs. Ironically, they are what I like to call “Old Testament Christians.” They seem to miss the point that Jesus preached against the mean spirit of the Old Testament. That’s why it’s called the “old” Testament.


      • The old Anabaptist leader, Pilgram Marpek, believed Christians should only preach and study the New Testament. The Old Testament seems quite caught up in justifiable war, legalism and religio-ethnic bigotry. But — there is a lot of power resident in the leader capable of preaching war, rules, and exclusivity. Fundamentalist pastors are not fools — but they do rely on having a lot of fools in their congregations.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 12, 2012

    The critique by Goulka, as well as the long and detailed critique by the Erstwhile Conservative over the years reflect the same “reality”. They focus on the reality of the poor and downtrodden and come up with ways to “fix” that reality.

    But they don’t fix it or at least have not even come close over the last 50 years of American social progress. It has been like trying to cure cancer in the lymph system. Cut out or fix a chunk here and and another one pops up over there!!

    But here is another reality, a real one for sure. In trying to fix the reality of the poor and downtrodden, a reality that I see just about every day, they IGNORE the reality of our inability to pay for the fixes.

    Economic conditions are real and not subject to political spin over the long haul. I would love nothing better to fix the reality of people without health care but I face the reality of finding the money to do so, the economics of health care.

    That list goes on far beyond just health care as well. People must recognize not just the problems. Lord knows there are enough of them in America today. Creating EFFECTIVE solutions to solve or at least mitigate those problems is reality as well. As well we the people must collectively prioritize the problems and try to fix the really big ones first and foremost.

    I would suggest that our government provided solutions over the last 50 years have by and large NOT been effective and God only knows we do not have the money to pay for all of them.

    America is in reality IN DECLINE, today, despite Joe Biden’s claim otherwise.

    Did Egyptians storming our embassy in Cairo shown last night remind any of you of a similar event in 1979? So far no hostages and “only” one dead American. But the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood are REAL are they not?

    We have enough reality all around us today to see the problems. But when it comes to effective solutions to fix or mitigate the problems all most of us see is political spin promoting one side or the other today.

    I will give you ONE realtity sorely lacking today in America. It is the reality of effective and courageous leadership throughout our federal government on both sides of the aisle.

    Now go figure out how to fix that reality, the absense of effective leadership to fix problems and be able to pay for the fixes.

    The progressive call for “We need it, no matter what it costs” is as lame as “let everyone pull their own bootstraps, individually”.

    On almost a daily basis I go to a collective group of downtrodden, collectively pulling up each other’s bootstraps. And it WORKS for many and does not cost a penny to do so for millions of people over the last 75 years.



    • King Beauregard

       /  September 12, 2012

      “… they IGNORE the reality of our inability to pay for the fixes.”

      Except, you know, for how liberals have been saying for 30+ years now that we need to raise taxes on the rich to pay for our needs. Clinton managed to come up with budget SURPLUSES by increasing taxes a modest amount on those who can most afford them … the economy remained strong, the wealthy remained wealthy, and for the first time since before Reagan we were paying down our debt.

      Based on that reality and what you say over and over are your priorities, I must assume Bill Clinton is your favorite president ever, since he balanced the budget while not ruining the economy. (Though it’s possible you like Ike even better, back when the top tax rates were 90%, and yet business was booming like never before.) I must further assume that you, as a consistent and intellectually honest man, fully support Obama’s intentions to raise taxes on the top 1% or 2%, and restore things to a condition comparable to that under Clinton.


  6. writer89

     /  September 12, 2012

    Your entire argument is based on our supposed “inability to pay” for solutions to our problems, because America is “in decline.” The problem is that this whole premise is total bullshit. Have you noticed the catastrophic increase in the wealth gap in the past 30 years? Do you see that it is worse than it has been since just before the Great Depression? Do you understand the concept of learning lessons from history so that you don’t repeat them? I guess not. America is not “broke.” We still have lots of money, but it’s all sitting in Swiss bank accounts and in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere because that’s where the people who’ve been strip-mining our economy since Reagan was elected have parked it, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and to complete the transition to a purely feudal economy. The solution is to take back “our” wealth from the people who stole it and put it to good use rebuilding our country and putting people back to work who got laid off when their jobs were shipped overseas and their companies closed by sharks like RMoney, who wants to be our President! Hair of the dog!

    I don’t know what collective group of the downtrodden you visit every day, but any truly “downtrodden” person who buys this line of crap about American being “broke” is suffering from what we call the Patty Hearst Syndrome and needs some serious counseling. While I agree that we need collective action, the first action we need is to take our country back from the Romneys and the Kochs and the rest. We can do it at the ballot box in November, by the way. No revolution is necessary… yet. We just need to get back to what we were doing before Reaganomics and to a certain extent Clintonomics derailed the train, with tax cuts for the wealthy combined with welfare “reform” and NAFTA and Wall Street deregulation and the Citizens United decision by SCOTUS. Or don’t any of those things matter when it comes to trying to figure out where all the money went?


  7. ansonburlingame

     /  September 13, 2012


    Your position is we have the money to do all the things needed, right?

    OK. Simple exercise. Medicare as we know it right now overspends about $300 Billion per year to provide HC services to about 50 million people over the age of 64.

    Now go balance THAT budget alone. Forget everything else. And when you do balance the budget for 2013 in that area alone, please include how you will KEEP it balanced in the future with HC costs going up at the rate of about 10% a year.

    Now don’t go flying off into the other universes and try to reform the entire HC system with a public option or whatever. The task is to JUST PAY FOR Medicare as it stands right now.

    The “arithmetic” is really simple by the way. I will even not challenge you to do the politics as well as the math however. Just show me the math and that politics will speak for itself.



  8. A good discussion on this post, Duane. My respect for your honesty and candor continues to grow, if that’s possible, because I had thought it couldn’t be higher.

    The polemics of the conservative right can not be logically refuted because their receivers are turned off, but hopefully others will be receptive. And thanks, by the way, for your clear analysis and honorable mention of me, and for John McKnight’s elsewhere. It is much appreciated.


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