It was Aristotle who first stated that man is a social animal. He was right. Humans define themselves by their allegiance to their family, their community and their country. The ancient desert rule condemning a thief to lose his hand (an idea that Mohammed co-opted), was not intended simply to cause physical pain and suffering. Instead, in a society without cutlery, amputation meant that the thief had to use the same hand for both eating and personal hygiene. This revolting combination turned the one-handed thief into a social pariah — and it was this change in status that was the true punishment imposed against him.
In America, we can break the social compact in many ways, all of them less extreme than having our hands cut off. We can cheat, abuse our spouses and children, shoplift, forget to bathe, or admit to liking Liberace. Most Americans, however, pride themselves on their tolerance and will let all of these failures go by without the ultimate social weapons of abuse and ostracism. In many of these same ostensibly tolerant places, though, there is one sin that is unforgivable, so much so that it cannot be excused away by pointing to a bad childhood, socioeconomic handicaps or charming eccentricity. That sin is being politically conservative. I live in one of those communities.
For those who don’t know it, Marin County is located due north of San Francisco (on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge). It’s a gorgeously situated community, bounded on one side by the San Francisco Bay and on the other side by the Pacific Ocean. Drive a little ways further north and you’ll find yourself in the world-famous Napa Valley. Not only is the Marin geography lovely, so is the climate, with temperatures ranging from winter lows in the 50s to summer highs in the 70s (barring a few heat waves).
Approximately 85% of Marin’s land has been protected from development in one way or another, a policy that deprives the poor of housing, but that satisfies the aesthetic needs of the wealthy. Speaking of wealth, according to the 2000 census, Marin had the highest per capital income in the country (a status quo pretty much unchanged as of the last tax year).
Although one might think that, with Marin’s wealth, it would be rather like the old style white-shoe conservative communities one finds in the Northeast or South, that assumption would be wrong. Instead, Marin is peopled with the same elites who have been flocking to Obama all America — and that’s despite the fact that there’s no University of note here.
Just to give you an idea of Marin’s politics, Lynn Woolsey is Marin’s choice for the House of Representatives and ultra-liberal California Senator Barbara Boxer hails from Marin. In the State Senate, Marin’s representative is Carole Migden, who lives to oppose the War (and who will probably be replaced by Mark Leno, who makes Migden look stodgy politically).
In the 2004 election, only San Francisco County and Alameda County (home to Berkeley), cast more Democratic votes than Marin did. This didn’t come as any surprise to those who know that a mere 21.3% of Marin’s registered voters are Republicans. Indeed, of the many little towns that make up Marin, just one (Belvedere) has more Republicans than Democrats, and that by only an 8 person margin. Republicans aren’t just a mere minority, they’re a minority vastly outweighed by the majority.
Given that liberals are in the catbird seat, and given their much-vaunted tolerance, one might think that they’d be kind to, indeed solicitous of, the few Republicans in the midst. Sadly, however, that’s not the case. As regular readers know, I’ve chosen to keep my political life separate from the day-to-day aspects of my life. I simply can’t (and don’t want to) run the risk of tainting my carpools, my neighborhood barbecues, my kids’ comfort level at school, the camaraderie of the sports teams with which we’re involved, etc., by exposing myself to the obloquy that is routinely heaped on conservatives here — and this is a hostility that increases as elections draw near, of course.
During the 2004 elections, people who were unaware of my political inclinations announced in front of me that “Bush is the worst President ever,” “Republicans are stupid,” “Republicans are evil,” “Bush is stupid,” “Republicans are corrupt,” “Republicans are fascists” and “Bush should be impeached.” Children ran up to me on the sidewalk chanting “Bush is evil, Bush is evil” — so you know what their parents were saying at the dinner table. In this election cycle, one of my children announced after school that she was voting for Barack Obama “since every one is because he’s black.” I quickly scotched that line of reasoning.
I know I should be speaking out when I hear statements such as these, but the sad fact is that I like these people. Barring their monomaniacal animosity towards Bush and the Republicans, they’re otherwise very nice: they’re hard workers, loving parents, good neighbors and helpful and reliable friends. Being the social creature that I am, I don’t want with one word (“Republican”) to turn these friendships upside down and inside out. (I’m not the only one with this problem.) I don’t want to be on the receiving end of some hideous Jekyll to Hyde transformation, so I just keep my mouth shut.
Those people I know who have spoken aloud their new conservative political views have been horrified by the animosity turned against them by formerly friendly neighbors and colleagues. My in-laws who are, like me, 9/11 neocons (down in Los Angeles) have stared open-mouthed at colleagues who use staff meetings to revile Bush and the Republicans — all to the cheers and huzzahs of the other staff members. (Indeed, what they describe sounds remarkably like Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate.) On the occasions when they’ve suggested that maybe, just maybe, Bush isn’t the Antichrist, they’ve found themselves shunned by these same colleagues.
My relatives aren’t in the film industry, but this same kind of aggressive pressure to conform goes double there. Conservatives have been reduced to creating an underground organization called the Party of Abe, membership in which is so dangerous it practically has secret handshakes and false names. The paranoia in the film industry is so extreme that it can result in scenarios that read like badly scripted movies. When David Zucker was casting his upcoming movie American Carol, which takes on the Left’s lunacy about terrorism, he wanted Kevin Farley (Chris Farley’s brother) in the lead role, as a Michael Moore-esque character. In the beginning, their negotiations were a landmine of unspoken assumptions:
Zucker and Sokoloff met Farley in April 2007. Zucker described his new film with words he had chosen carefully. “I figured he was like everyone else in Hollywood–a Democrat,” Zucker recalls. “And we knew that this was not a Democrat movie.” It would be a satirical look at the war on terror, he told Farley, and explained that he and Sokoloff were political “moderates.”
Farley hadn’t seen any of Zucker’s ads and assumed he was like everyone else in Hollywood–a Democrat. So he answered with some strategic ambiguity of his own. “I consider myself a centrist,” he said, worried that they might press him more about his political views.
Zucker gave Farley the script and, concerned that Farley’s agent would advise him against accepting the role because of the film’s politics, told the actor not to show it to anyone. Farley, best known for his recurring role in a series of Hertz commercials, read the script and called back the next day to accept.
When he met Zucker and Sokoloff on the set as shooting on the film began, he told them that he, too, had long considered himself a conservative. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Sokoloff. “We were afraid that he would not want to be involved in something that was so directly taking on the left and that he would not want to play the Michael Moore character.”
Zucker’s and Farley’s delicate dance would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that ordinary Hollywood types aren’t shy about stating that people with the wrong political persuasion should not be employed. A perfect example came when Jeffrey Wells (a well-known Hollywood cybergossip) commented on Jon Voight’s op-ed criticizing the Left:
I’ll always admire and respect Voight’s better performances (Luke in Coming Home, Reynolds in Enemy of the State, Ed in Deliverance, Howard Cosell in Ali, Manny in Runaway Train, FDR in Pearl Harbor, Jack in Desert Bloom, Paul Serone in Anaconda). And he’s obviously entitled to say and write whatever he wants. But it’s only natural that industry-based Obama supporters will henceforth regard him askance. Honestly? If I were a producer and I had to make a casting decision about hiring Voight or some older actor who hadn’t pissed me off with an idiotic Washington Times op-ed piece, I might very well say to myself, “Voight? Let him eat cake.”
Wells later delivered a non-apology apology in which he wondered why everyone got so upset that he merely expressed his personal opinion, especially since he has no actual hiring or firing power over Voight. Maybe everyone got upset because Wells’ opinion — that people should be discriminated against on a systematic basis because they support the “wrong” party in a two-party system — is both really bad one and one that people close to the industry feel comfortable voicing aloud.
In Hollywood, everything is writ large, whether it’s rampant Progressivism or a growing subterranean conservative movement. In Marin, though, I’m seeing the same thing played out on a less dramatic scale, with more and more secret conservatives inching about on the outskirts. This fact struck me forcibly last week when I finally pried myself away from my keyboard and did something more active to advance John McCain’s candidacy — I attended the first formal meeting of the local Republican party.
Contrary to my expectations, the meeting was not held in some $25 million dollar Belvedere mansion (’cause remember that, in Belvedere, there are eight more Republicans than Democrats). Instead, it was held in a perfectly ordinary (although very charming) home a few blocks from my own house. By Marin standards, it was solid middle class.
With about 25 of us clustered about the living room, the local chair called the meeting to order, and asked us to begin by identifying ourselves. One after another, people stated their names and their City. Everything stopped, though, when a young woman, maybe 25, spoke her name very softly and added that “I’m a secret Republican.” With that single statement, the stories started.
One of the attendees, who had been asked to make phone calls on behalf of McCain, said that he spoke to one lady who said, “Don’t call me again. I’m going to vote Republican, but I can’t let anybody know. It’s got to stay a secret.” Another person recalled a party he attended a few months ago. When he mentioned, discreetly, that he was a Republican, a young lady sidled up to him and whispered, “I’m conservative too, but don’t let anyone know. I also have two friends here. I’ll point them out to you. They’re also secret conservatives.” Incidentally, I was unable to interview either of the people who told these anecdotes because both were afraid that any more details might give away their identities and harm them professionally. (Clearly, in their lines of work, they need two resumes, one for public consumption and one that is their secret one.)
The people who told these stories were white — and they were still afraid to voice their political views. Things get even worse when you move into the two demographics that have a particularly strong affiliation with the Democratic party: African-Americans and Hispanics. People in these groups who are conservative are viewed, not merely as evil or stupid, but as true class traitors. If it’s difficult for a white woman or man to admit to that he worries about Obama and intends to vote for McCain, imagine the strength of character, and the willingness to accept pariah-status that you need if you’re an African-American or Hispanic voter who has a political yearning to be conservative. As it happens, at my local McCain meeting, there was one Hispanic and one African-American, both of whom are deeply committed to conservative values. Again, neither wanted to see his or her name, or any identifying information, used in this post.
Once upon a time, I would have added Jews to the list of groups too strongly affiliated with the Democratic party to allow for any deviation from the party line. However, I think that Obama is proving so frightening to many Jews who support Israel that they are become bolder and more willing to break with party Orthodoxy. (Not to mention the fact that they’ve seen the Left make common cause with the same Islamists who call Jews pigs and apes, and who urge their annihilation.) While they once looked askance at the few conservatives within their midst, they are now approaching them, not only with respectful curiosity, but with a genuine desire to learn why it won’t run counter to Mosaic law for a Jew to vote Republican.
I’m not writing this post merely to complain about my own situation, or to observe that there are others like me. I hope to write it as a battle call for other crypto-conservatives scattered throughout the United States in true blue communities: You are not alone! And if you need numbers to prove it, as opposed to the anecdotal evidence I offer here, in 2004, despite the fact that only 30,992 registered voters in Marin were Republican, 34,378 people voted Republican. In other words, a good chunk of Marin’s voters – whether Independents, Decline to States, or even Democrats — were voting Republican the last time around, and that was with a much less polarizing Democratic candidate than Obama.
I have a proposal for all of you reading this who live in hostile Blue territory and feel isolated in your conservative political views. The next time you’re at a party, or chit chatting in a park, or standing in line at a store, if the person to whom you’re talking seems like an intelligent, common-sensical type, throw in a reference to Adam Smith. If your conversational partner jumps on that reference, opining that Smith was a great economic philosopher, you’ve just discovered that you’re not alone.
Even if you chose, however, to keep your political affiliations secret — whether because you’re afraid for your job, worried about your friendships, or are just deeply private — please hie yourself to the polls on November 4, 2008, and cast your vote for John McCain. I have a strong suspicion that there’ll be an awful lot of unexpected votes for McCain, not because people are too racist to voice their true political viewpoints to the pollsters, but because they are too intimidated by the Progressives around them to do so.
Lastly, if you live in Marin, get involved with the Marin for McCain organization. I can promise you that we’ll respect your conservative secrets — especially since so many of us have a few of our own. (And if you live somewhere other than Marin, look up your local Republican organization. I bet you’ll be pleasant surprised by the people you meet there.)
UPDATE: Thinking about it, I wonder if this urge to keep ones identity secret isn’t more common amongst women than men. In my experience, women are more likely to seek conciliatory relationships than men, and are more likely to be demoralized, rather than invigorated, by a direct confrontation. What do you think? Am I being sexist or is this election’s secret army (assuming there is one), going to boast an unusually large number of women?
UPDATE II: Although not quite on point, the service that Amazon allegedly provided for Nancy Pelosi’s book – a service that it apparently does not provide for conservative authors — gives one a good idea of how stalwart your average conservative has to be against the slings and arrows of outrageous liberals.