I had written most of this and titled it before today; when I read about his passing, I thought I should wrap it up and post it now.
(with apologies to Gary Soto)
The first political thought I can recall having was in 1988, after a full decade of wholly apolitical existence. Tasked with choosing a presidential candidate to back, I studied the issues as best a fifth grader could. Letting individuals keep their earnings sounded right to me, as did the prospect of getting cool new weapons for the military. As an eldest brother and cousin, I had seen plenty of pregnancies, but despite the annoyance that babies could be, I couldn’t conceive of a justification for abortion. Therefore, George H W Bush seemed the logical choice, especially given his edge of experience over that funny-sounding guy who looked like a total dork in a tank. I gave a speech backing his candidacy at a forum at Buda Elementary; during the same event Jeff Borcherding (among others) also backed GHWB, although his speech ended with a taped rendition of a sappy anti-abortion anthem, and Nicole Stoffel (among others) backed Dukakais. We won, but I later discovered, to the chagrin of myself and many others, that a president doesn’t have nearly as much control over tax policy as the candidates would like us to think.
In sixth grade, I flirted with environmentalism, inasmuch as it was the thing to do at the time; I had a t-shirt and everything, but opportunities for recycling were few and far between in Hays County. The next year, Mrs Geen recruited a handful of the most boisterous in her English class to criticize an article in the Austin American-Statesman about Dr Timothy Leary. Swept up in righteous antidrug fervor, I condemned his advocacy of narcotic and hallucinogen legalization as well as the Statesman‘s act of proving him a forum. The next year, my essay in social studies backing Clayton Williams for governor ended with a catchy campaign song to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas. This was, of course, before he publicized his thoughts about female leisuretime activities. Politics is, as you can see, another realm in which middle school just didn’t make any damn sense.
In high school, my world broadened. I took up speech and debate, and read about world affairs from perspectives left and right, common and advanced. I was unsettled when Bill Clinton took the White House, and found Rush Limbaugh to be a voice of reason and insight. Ah, the folly of youth. Over the course of the semesters, my understanding became deeper, and I found other voices that better reflected my views. Each led to another. I realized that many roads led to archconservative William F Buckley Jr.
Principled and relevant, witty and erudite, this was the sort of thinker that I wanted to be. Stimulated by his essays and nourished by the Economist weekly, I began to shun the shrill demagoguery of Limbaugh and Leo, and the emerging reactionary infotainment industry of the right. Equality of opportunity, freedom of conscience, and property rights defined my worldview.
College brought me to big, bad, liberal Austin, and put me in its center of leftism, the University of Texas campus. The world grew again. Detail and nuance emerged that had been beyond my previous experience. Small-L libertarianism, joining the best aspects of the conservatism I was comfortable with, those in the economic sphere, while jettisoning the part of it that was beginning to seem archaic to my mind as I met new people and found my ideas about how they should behave sorely challenged. Simultaneously, my education, where it touched on public policy, planted the seeds for the more pragmatic approach to governance that I hold today.
Once beyond the land of labs and homework, in the world where policy affects one more directly, practicality became a consideration. Surely, I had and have my ideals, but they rarely present themselves in recognizable form. No candidate that wants to be taken seriously runs on a platform as radical and austere as libertarian ideals would demand. Besides, a sudden transition to such a paradigm would be disasterous, and despite my misgivings, I’ll admit that there are some areas beyond national defense and contract enforcement in which government can do good. Today, I look for practical libertairian thought in the public sphere: clever uses of markets, thrift with tax dollars, and elimination of limits on personal liberty. And still I learn.
Look to the right for the blogs I read, some of which follow politics.