Friends don't let friends go conservative. So someone must not have been doing their job last year when John Moe decided to make a month-long hard turn to the right, all in the name of research. Moe, who writes for Dave Eggers' McSweeneys.net and is an NPR host in Seattle, documented his 30-day conservative binge in his recently published (just in time for the midterm elections) Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky. While Moe takes shots at the folks on the other side of the aisle, he also develops a sense of, well, compassion for conservatism while also test driving an Escalade and crashing the College Republican National Convention. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I may be partially responsible for Moe's descent into madness, as we've known each other for the last decade.
So, you went right when the rest of the country is moving left. Um, why?
I'd heard the axiom that if you're a conservative when you're 20, you have no heart, but if you're a liberal when you're 40, you have no brain. Forty was on the horizon, and I wanted to see what that was about, but there was no way it could happen organically. I grew up in the Seattle area, I worked in theater, then at a dot-com, and then in public radio. I haven't been exposed to the works of William Safire or William F. Buckley on a cellular level.
What were the guidelines you set for yourself?
I had to starve myself of my usual news sources, wipe out all media from my traditional outlets, anything that has been accused of being liberally biased, whether it is or not. No NPR, no New York Times, no Washington Post. I replaced all that with things like Fox News and Newsmax.com, which is like if Bob Dole drank Red Bulls all day long. Also, I couldn't argue when I heard something that didn't jive with what I've always believed. I had to just sit there and listen, open my ears.
Even your entertainment was conservative, correct?
Yeah. I loaded up my iPod with the Charlie Daniels Band, Christian rock star Michael W. Smith and Lee Greenwood, who sings “Proud to be an American.” The guy can't sing at all. Oh, and Kid Rock, who performed at the Bush inauguration to the protests of many on the right, who wanted artists who don't have songs like “You Ain't Never Met a Motherfucker Quite Like Me.”
I also tried to watch movies that are beloved by conservatives. In the book, I rate their conservative persuasiveness power. Dirty Harry is highly persuasive. The criminals are being coddled by the liberal judicial system for way too long, and it's up to Harry to shoot 'em. There's no reform and no one's redeemed, Shawshank-style.
But aren't you just mocking conservatives here?
No, it's an olive branch, actually. It can't be a righty-bashing book when I meet with William Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, and listen to him, give him a chance to explain what it's all about. It's a much more compelling philosophy than most folks on the left have heard. I met with this guy, and he said, basically, “Yeah, I'm a neoconservative. And here's what it is.” It's the best ideas of the New Deal and the civil-rights movement. It's an active government. It's the idea that there's a right and a wrong and that liberty and free will are right. And that America is a force for that, that as a nation with all these resources, we can help the rest of the world. That was a much more interesting definition to me.
And there's that growing gap between conservatives and Republicans. Someone asked me recently what I thought the conservatives were up to. They aren't up to anything. The Republicans, though, are up to plenty. So are the Democrats. Asking what the conservatives are up to is like asking what the vegans are up to. They're just people with beliefs. And there's a growing disenchantment among conservatives with the Republicans because they just don't see them acting in a conservative way. It's not conservative to have the kind of spending that the Bush administration has, or to start and fight wars in the way that the administration has. Those aren't conservative values.
And why isn't your book tour bringing you to San Diego?
I don't know. Do they read books there?