How journalism turned me into a liberal

Monday, September 28, 2009 | 4:06 p.m. CDT; updated 8:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thanks to social networking, I recently reconnected with people I hadn’t seen or talked to in 35 years. This was a mostly benign experience, though it taught me something: There are many ways to say, “It’s been a long time,” without actually saying it.

One of the more direct ways is to share political views. This happened only a few times, but enough to see that some of the friends with whom I once had much in common have reached different conclusions than I have about where the country is headed.

This doesn’t surprise me. But it did start me thinking about how I came to my own political views, which I acknowledge are unrepentantly liberal.

I grew up in an apolitical family, or that’s how I remember it. Of my parents, neither of whom went to college, my mother probably had a keener insight into current affairs. She read the papers and watched the news, and, every two years, she got out of the house to volunteer at the neighborhood polling station.

The only remotely political statement she ever made was to save all the newspaper accounts of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She wrapped them in good, thick plastic and put them on a shelf in my bedroom closet. I was 7 . The papers in the closet may have influenced my decision, years later, to become a journalist, but I doubt they turned me into a liberal

I can only guess my father was a conservative, though I wonder if he ever thought he had a choice. Jack was a draftsman by trade and a ruminator by nature. He left in the morning with an artist’s soul and came home in the evening with a worried mind. When he died, I gave a clumsy eulogy in which I thanked him and my mother for the cocoon of well-being that had enveloped my childhood.

The idea that the politics of the adult are formed in the youngster dates back to Alexis de Tocqueville, who in “Democracy in America,” wrote, “(W)e must watch the infant in his mother's arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind. ... The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.”

This was informed speculation for almost 140 years, until 1974, the year I graduated high school. A landmark study, “The Political Character of Adolescence,” seemed to confirm that children adopt their parents’ political identity. Subsequent study of “politics and the life cycle” has larded the theory with caveats, of course. Events, such as war, economic depression and social upheaval, can lead to generational shifts. So, too, can the roles we assume in early adulthood.

I don’t know about my old friends’ parents, but if mine aligned themselves with a political party, they never told me which one. Moreover, while the Vietnam War, Watergate and the energy crisis occurred during my formative years, they did little to inform my politics, since I had none.

Indeed, I didn’t cast my first vote until 1980, when I was 24, though I don’t make much of it. I was in the Air Force and regularly reminded that the Cold War could heat up at any time. In April 1980, the Carter administration’s failed attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages being held in Iran ended with eight servicemen dead. It somehow followed that only Ronald Reagan could bring the hostages home.

I skipped the ’84 ballot to play golf. My partner and I justified the abandonment of our civic duty by taking note of the fact that our votes would cancel each other out. We didn’t bother to discuss why he supported one candidate and I the other, which seems odd now. So does the fact that, at 28, I had no political opinion worth expressing.

Twenty-five years later, I have to remember to express my opinions carefully or not at all. As George Packer put it, in his 2000 memoir “Blood of the Liberals,” “'Liberal’ has been a political weapon, a name no one answers to, the initial consonant drawn out in contempt.”

In the case of my conservative friends, it’s enough to tell them I’m a journalist, which is code for “liberal.” They have a point, but not the one they like to make: I didn’t become a reporter because I’m a liberal, but I did become a liberal because I was a reporter.

This became my role, not unlike how others become parents or soldiers or ministers or volunteers. Any role will acquaint you with the eternal struggle between individual rights and collective responsibility, but journalism gets you pretty close to the heart of it.

I became a liberal because, as inept and corrupt as government can be, capitalism can never stand in as the instrument of our collective will to, in Jefferson’s words, “show by example the sufficiency of human reason for the care of human affairs.” I became a liberal because, rather than fear government, I’ve learned to admire its commitment to protecting the vulnerable, not only from want, but from the fear of want.

If anyone has a better idea, you can find me on Facebook.

Brian Wallstin is a Columbia resident and a former city editor for the Missourian. E-mail him at

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Mike Martin September 28, 2009 | 10:51 p.m.

"I became a liberal because, rather than fear government, I’ve learned to admire its commitment to protecting the vulnerable, not only from want, but from the fear of want."

Good God, Brian! Do you ever have a naive view of government, especially for being -- let's see, 28 when you were playing golf and too busy to vote + 25 years later = 53.

The last time I looked, no private capitalist enterprise ever sent anyone off to war, nor sent any innocent person to a gas chamber, nor took anyone's land without just compensation. These are functions of government.

As an institution, government has no intrinsic commitment whatsoever to protect the vulnerable. Some people in government may have such a commitment, but as a functioning body, government is just as likely to trample the vulnerable as it is likely to protect them.

And while I admire Thomas Jefferson, I have learned to view him through the lens of the slave-holder he was. For Jefferson, the idea of benevolent government was both relative and unequal.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 28, 2009 | 11:07 p.m.

It's the people of America vis a vis heartfelt, soulful, faith-based Voluntarism and not Government Mandates which makes America unique and great.
case in point:

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 29, 2009 | 4:45 a.m.

>>> The last time I looked, no private capitalist enterprise ever sent anyone off to war, nor sent any innocent person to a gas chamber, nor took anyone's land without just compensation. <<<

$%^Cough - gag*&^ Halliburton a huge buddy of Cheney comes yo mind if you follow the obvious money trail. Too bad they are dam good at covering it up as best they could but still failed:

(Report Comment)
Daniel Jordan Jordan September 29, 2009 | 10:20 p.m.

Some of this blather would make sense in a theoretical vacuum, but we don’t live in a theoretical vacuum. Government and private enterprise are not theories, they are practices. As such we can compare their functions.

So let’s get real.

Government does indeed have a “commitment whatsoever to protect the vulnerable” under laws for child protection, poor relief, and mental health, and too many others to count. Government has a harder time trampling the vulnerable than protecting them because everything it does is subject to legal review. That’s what Mid-Missouri Legal Services does every day.

Private enterprise kills and steals all the time. What is organized crime if not a private capitalist enterprise?

Private enterprise has no “commitment whatsoever to protect the vulnerable” because there is no profit in it. And when private enterprise damages your property, surely you won’t seek relief through the >gasp< government?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 29, 2009 | 11:14 p.m.

"Private enterprise kills and steals all the time. What is organized crime if not a private capitalist enterprise?"

Hmm, what does government do when it taxes us? What does government do when it sends our sons and daughters overseas to fight in wars that don't directly impact the future and security of our nation?

(Report Comment)
Daniel Jordan Jordan September 29, 2009 | 11:29 p.m.

According to your argument, nothing worse than private enterprise. On the flip-side, where is protection of the vulnerable in profit-driven enterprise?

The beauty of government--in this nation--is that we may just have some ability to protect ourselves from its unjust taxes and wars. How do we protect ourselves from the abuses of private enterprise--except through government?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 12:17 a.m.

("On the flip-side, where is protection of the vulnerable in profit-driven enterprise?")
-First off, what do you mean by vulnerable?
Nevertheless, private health and human care service agencies and health care providers, private schools and their school teachers, private lawyers, private security companies, hired lobbyists, private advocacy groups, private foundations, private charities, private social workers, private family counselors, private clergy, private life coaches, private gyms, and other private enterprises have job components which protect and help.
("How do we protect ourselves from the abuses of private enterprise--except through government?")
-Elected officials are public servants. So too are those who are employed by the bureaucracy, aka civil servants. Somewhere along the line attitudes of both big business and government is that money, power and arrogance is more important then "customer service." If the government keeps bailing out private enterprises for bad customer service and poor management decisions, then the consumer will have no cash way to protect themselves from any perceived corporate slights.
Only through boycotts, demonstrations, private advocacy and voting can we pit ourselves against the corruption that sometimes exists between the government and corporate entities.
If the governing entity moves its agenda forward, our freedoms will be reduced.
Bigger government is not the best way to ensure a healthier America.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 30, 2009 | 1:33 a.m.

Maybe you can start by giving us about some examples of how you personally have been abused by private enterprise?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 3:40 a.m.

>>> Bigger government is not the best way to ensure a healthier America. <<<

Ok at this point my question once more must be presented of just who is going to back up all of those 501c3's in the private sector when they are over loaded and cannot perform as some think they should?

As it is now Government and the 501c3's back each other up but with your calling for smaller Government you present no plans for a real backing up of each entity.

So what happens when your plan fails? Are the citizens going to be allowed to just die off?

It amazes me to no end that some commenting on these issues actually call themselves Christian by right or nature or even be able to proclaim they have the love of their God living in and through them.

Simply amazing.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 30, 2009 | 10:37 a.m.

If government gets smaller, that means it requires less taxes from people and corporations to operate. People with more money in their own pockets can then support the charitable organizations and ideas they see fit, instead of government getting in the middle.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 11:25 a.m.

("In summary, we find the FairTax would not decrease charitable giving. To the contrary, the FairTax would serve to increase charitable contributions, subsequently strengthening the vitality of the charitable organizations that play such an important role in U.S. society. This increase would be based on the fact that among its benefits, the FairTax would increase income and generate more giving.")
United Way
Private Foundations
About The Free Clinic Foundation

In 1992 the Free Clinic Foundation of America was founded, publishing a How-To Manual on starting a free clinic, and a National Directory of Free Clinics.

("I suggested that the church could play a crucial if not unique role in American politics, offering a place for serious, respectful interaction among people who differ politically. As politics in our country is getting increasingly mean, and when the real issues so often get drowned out by the din of distraction and deprecation, the church could play a desperately needed role as mediator, provider of safe space for open dialogue, identifier of common ground, and promoter of truth-speaking.

Now, given the tendency for so many churches these days to identify with one side or the other in political debates, I realize that what I’ve just said may sound naïve. But my conviction comes from biblical teaching about the identity and role of the church, not just in American life, but in the world. Because Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, we should be able to stand back from earthly, partisan matters and see them more objectively in light of God’s kingdom. Moreover, since Christians are called to love both friends and enemies, we should also be able to form a community in which even political opponents could learn to treat each other with mutual respect.")

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 12:12 p.m.

John and ray that is in the ideal world of Utopia where every thing is Hello Kitty Purffect and Serene which we all know who read here that this world and our society as a whole will never ever be due to the greed of the corporations that drive our economy.

It would take a monumental shift in every citizen's mentality for that to even begin to happen. That would be alot of Koolaid to be willingly consumed by alot of people.

Good luck on your search for That Utopia.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 12:43 p.m.

Are corporations fueled by greed or success?
What about haves who share with have nots?
Suddenly the have nots have a bit more and are fueled by jealousy, envy and may exhibit their own greediness.
Also, we are all on some kind of path.
I think it's called the PURSUIT of happiness.
(Although what makes you happy may give me grief.)
Drinking kool aid has little to do with it.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 30, 2009 | 12:53 p.m.

Chuck wrote:

"the greed of the corporations that drive our economy."

Consumers drive our economy. They make choices which determine what corporations thrive and which ones fail. If government would let the free market work as it should, we'd waste a lot less tax money propping up failing corporations.

If you don't like a corporation, no one is making you buy it's products but you.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 30, 2009 | 1:26 p.m.

Chuck, maybe you would feel differently about "utopia" if you weren't dependent on the forced confiscation of others' tax dollars? That's your real complaint here, I think.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 2:15 p.m.

Mark Foecking didn't you once post about the putting of sugars into our foods by those corporations that drive our food cravings for more.

It is the same way with corporations and the products they put before our faces daily.

It is like putting the carrot before the nose of the cart horse so the cart horse will follow the carrot it believes is moving before it's eyes.

So it is too with the major corporations dangling pretty objects before the eyes of the consumers enticing them to buy more and more all the while instilling a belief that the consumer controls the flow.

Some people in our society are so deluded.

John those same confiscated tax dollars also build your roads,fund public hospitals and more. I hope you are enjoying your entitlements like all other Americans are too.

Where does it day in the Constitution that Government MUST build roads or public hospitals or even provide you with electricity for that matter. Oh wait your confiscated tax dollars help build all of those things.

Before you go talking about me and what I get you better look at what you get too and see which costs the Government more over time.

John did you find my latest article on the Beat Board about "Entitlements" interesting or no? After all the solution I presented makes quite good sense when it comes to the "you must give in order to receive" type of Social Welfare. The point is if you do not give you do not receive. Such an old Christian concept long forgotten.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 2:20 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Mark Foecking September 30, 2009 | 2:52 p.m.

Chuck wrote:

"Mark Foecking didn't you once post about the putting of sugars into our foods by those corporations that drive our food cravings for more."

I posted that in response to something you wrote, if I recall.

Companies don't put sugar in food to addict us, they put sugar in food so it will taste good and people will buy it. If someone finds they can't stop eating, say, malted milk balls after their hundredth, it's not the fault of the company that made them.

If I gorge myself on stuff that isn't good for me (chocolate covered nut clusters come to mind :-) ), and I know it, I have no one to blame but myself, whether I bought them prepared or made them at home from scratch.

It's not putting the cart before the horse to acknowledge that without the consumer, there would be no demand for a product, and therefore no product.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 30, 2009 | 3:33 p.m.

Chuck, I don't get my electricity from the government, I get it from a rural electric cooperative and I'm darn pleased with the service. Too bad I can't get more things like that in a real free market, but I don't have a problem with government doing some things like police, fire departments, and roads. It's the continual expansion of government dependence and services that I have issues with. And don't forget that I work my butt off to pay those tax dollars and benefits you are enjoying. I think you worry about losing that and that's what your digging on Ray recently is all about.

As for your post about tieing Social Security to volunteer work, I'm OK with that proposal as long as you let me opt out of Social Security. SS can keep the money I've put in thus far and not give me a cent back when I retire. I would rather put that 4.75% or thereabouts of my paycheck into something that will grow, provide me a comfortable retirement without the need for workers to support me with their labor, and pass on a cushy nest egg to my descendants.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 4:55 p.m.

Situational dependency and/or perceived fear for one's own financial security may not always enhance one's ability to retain values, morals and ethics. Such worries might lead one to compromise their ideology.
Manipulators thrive on these emotions of fear, worry and dependency as a means to their ends.
Relating everything to one's own self or personal situation is very narcissistic.
Bullying is also a symptom of NPD.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 4:56 p.m.

John I'm not so worried about losing much of anything really as I look at what I receive as a blessing instead of an entitlement and that is why I do volunteer my time giving back what I can on a daily basis in more than one way. It still goes back to what you give out you can receive in return in some way.

My digging on ray is not about that at all as you suggest. I just find it quite funny or actually queer in nature if you will that people jumped onto the Obama bandwagon when their own ships they first rode up on were sailing great but once they began to sink they jumped ship for the one still floating.

There were alot of people on the GOP ship at first but they saw who the Captains were and they jumped to the Libertarian ship but OMG that ship sprang leaks all over the place so they jumped aboard the Obama Express Happy Train.

Then though once that Happy Train hit the station and the real knuckling down work began and they did not get their self induced and deluded entitlement after disembarking the Happy Train they got upset and jumped ship once again back to the GOP or to the Libertarian ships that they jumped ship from in the first place.

That John is the true definition of a "bandwagoner" and IMHO a person who cannot stand on any one issue but will go as the wind blows as it looks better due to they think the grass is greener on the other side all of the time. I liken it to only wanting to be known with the in crowd or being apart of the popular scene to look cool and to fit in.

I have always disliked those types of individuals and that will never change with me. If you cannot stand behind what you will then just WTF do you stand for anyway in life itself.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 5:33 p.m.

("It is not fear that grips me; only a heightened sense of things......
Second thoughts?
I will not condescend nor judge American’s suffering from Obama buyers remorse, I truly want to know how they really feel.
I expect others to follow suit.
Just so everyone knows, my post is directed more towards moderates and independents who voted for Obama and are now having second thoughts of regret. They are the groups most likely to change their minds after having lost hope in Obama. With the exception of those on the left who are upset that Obama has not leaned as far left as they hoped for. Considering the moves Obama has already made in such a short time...")
source and more:

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 30, 2009 | 5:38 p.m.

Lieberman: Independent Bellwether?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 30, 2009 | 5:58 p.m.

>>> They are the groups most likely to change their minds <<<

Golly gee ray that sounds just like you from the beginning of the election and now after the election. Who will you follow next as they pip up on the pipe as it draws the undecided happily along the Yellow Brick Road of corporate America?

You disappoint me ray. :(

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 30, 2009 | 6:50 p.m.

The standard of living you enjoy, Chuck, is mainly because of large corporations (and I'm not talking about your sources of income here).

America has become this way, basically, because of the economies of scale, cheap energy, and the desire for more. Our economic system rewards those that give us (consumers) more for less. You have more than 95% of people on this earth do. We lose sight of how well off we really are (even if one doesn't consider themselves "well off").

If you don't like large corporations, vote with your dollars. Don't buy their products. Find alternatives (which are usually a lot more expensive, so be prepared for that) or do without.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 1, 2009 | 4:33 a.m.

Mark Foecking long before there were large corporations there was a modest standard of living across this entire nation.

The problem ensued when we as humans wanted more and more and bigger,better,faster and stronger with more of the flashy eye candy so we now have what we as humans have desired and now we are all slaves in some form to the system.

Welcome to the hell we have all dreamed and desired.

This is not a complaint but this is the reality we live in today.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 1, 2009 | 4:46 a.m.

It is difficult for us to remember how many benefits we enjoy when we are so busy whining and complaining about the benefits we think are rightfully owed to us but which we don't have.

The most obscene word in the entire English language is "entitlement." No four-letter obscenity comes close.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 1, 2009 | 6:23 p.m.

The author implies that a journalist has a more informed perspective than the average individual, and that through this unique insight, a journalist concludes that Liberalism is the correct and only political path. I understand the premise, I just don’t buy it. He claims he had no political leanings while young. If you’re ignorant to politics, you probably have no opinion, unless as he suggests, you follow in your parents footsteps, which I did mine, as a Democrat. My parents were proud Democrats and remained that their entire lives. And mine was an ignorant young mind, so I trusted my Parents, which at the time was probably not a bad thing.

The author elsewhere discusses whether people understand the difference between news, commentary and outright provocation. It seems the author spends a lot of time on the last (I could cut and paste all day). But there’s something more here. It should be clearly evident that a free press will always corrupt to the left. But it’s certainly not like how the author claims it happened to him, through continued involvement in the struggle between individual rights and collective responsibility. It’s more like, Bad News sells, good news doesn’t, and critics like to look smart, so they detract from someone important. They may not have an original idea, only criticism, but when they do have an idea, it’s born out of idealism rather than thorough analysis and ‘tough choices’. Liberal politicians do the same, and therefore the press and Liberal politicians reinforce each other.
Regarding the Liberal press and news versus commentary, anyone with a balanced viewpoint can see that venues such as Mainstream network news, the NY Times and Washington Post at best feign balanced reporting. Analyze any report and you’ll hear 100 words to the left and a faint negative slant on the 25 words to the right.
It’s clearly evident to me that:

To be continued...

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 1, 2009 | 6:29 p.m.

Continued from my prior post...

Back to the authors’ opinion formation. It’s possible that the author, while trying to form a political opinion, read the news of the day (70s though 90), which was overwhelmingly liberal, and naturally formed a Liberal opinion. It’s certainly what happened to me, and I’m of the same age. I read as much as I could get my hands on, but wasn’t informed enough to know who Irving Kristol was, much less what he believed. And what little was out there was easily ridiculed by the left, because that’s what they do (big fat liar). Their ideas don’t stand on their own.
It wasn’t until Reagan eliminated the Fairness doctrine that conservative viewpoints became more available to the average American. I voted for Clinton the first time, and was listening to Rush Limbaugh and getting wacky mad at him. Then one day Rush talked about the economic ramifications if corporate taxes were eliminated, and I thought, I’d never read anything like that in Time magazine. Wow, the free discussion of ideas. And as much as I hated it, I started less and less disagreeing with Rush.
So, perhaps it was the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine that assisted in my enlightenment. Otherwise I may be a ranting leftist journalist, or worse yet, a Liberal politician. Now I’m just a highly opinionated conservative who if could carry only one sign in a tea party, it would have 4 words on it:
That my parents were Democrat and I became conservative may not be the apple falling far from the tree though. It’s clearly evident that during the 70s, the Democrat party started shedding moderates in favor of the hard left, and is now what it is today. Irving Kristol claims the end of The Democrat party was the nomination of McGovern for President. So like other Americans, I didn’t leave my Party, my Party left me.
It unfortunately happened again. The corruption of the Republican Party under W left me with no party. It also left no tangible competition between the Parties, and so now we have Chaos.
Unfortunately, it is taking the likes of Obama to wake the nation up to refind its Center Right roots. That’s what’s happening at the Tea Parties.


To be continued...

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 1, 2009 | 6:35 p.m.

Continued from my prior post.

Both parties have left the center right plurality or majority of Americans. That's why the Tea Parties are now becoming active. the Center Right is re-finding its roots, and is just beginning to regroup. If only the Republicans can refind THEIR roots.

Check out the CONTRAT FROM AMERICA, where you get to register, and choose legislation you would like to see passed, and rate your approval of ideas proposed lby others:

It's a semi-democratic Grass Roots crucible of thought.
Here are the top 20 ideas. See if you agree:
Implement the Fair Tax
1157 rating
Legislation shall contain no unrelated ammendments
1143 rating
Congressional Term Limits
1100 rating
Abolish the Department of Education
970 rating
An Official Language of the United States
926 rating
Pass Nationwide Medical Malpractice Tort Reform
876 rating
Congress shall not exempt themselves
760 rating
Interstate Health Insurance Competition
722 rating
Drill Here, Drill Now
698 rating
cite Constitutional authority for creating laws
511 rating
Nuclear Energy, reduce our dependance on foreign oil
430 rating
Birth-Right Citizenship
409 rating
Repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913
409 rating
No lifetime salary or benefits for Congress
364 rating
Senators Should Vote "No" on "Cap and Trade"
359 rating
Repeal the 16th Amendment
359 rating
Balanced Budget Amendment
348 rating
Enforce Existing Immigration Law
336 rating
Federal Spending Limitations - Budget Cap
306 rating
Free Market
304 rating

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 1, 2009 | 6:47 p.m.

@ Ray Shapiro - interesting link. But I'm having a hard time believing 93% of Democrats still approve of Obama. To them I have to say:
And don't go on about TARP. People who know, know that was supposed to be temporary money , and so is supposed to come back with interest.


And there's the fallacy of it was the war spending that that got us out of the depression, and that spending now is the way out of this one. Just not true. It was the American work ethic that allowed America to produce its way out of much of the Depression. The rest of it came from America being the only economy with an essentially intact infrastructure after the war. No competition. Can't say that now!
Come on PEOPLE, it's not that hard to see.

(Report Comment)
Brian Nitsllaw October 2, 2009 | 8:40 a.m.

Is it any surprise, since Lebral politicians and the Liberal press re-inforce each other, that Congressional approval and press credibility are at all time lows?

(Report Comment)

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