The XX Factor

Conservative Wunderkind Grows Out of It

Young Republicans.
Children sit at a table as Republican presidential candidate and former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a press availability following a visit to his Michigan campaign headquarters on Feb. 28, 2012 in Livonia, Mich.

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

As I noted in last week’s post about the Texas GOP platform, there’s a strong thread throughout right-wing culture of seeing child-rearing not as a process of forming adults who can think for themselves, but of creating automatons who can echo conservative talking points, to fill the gap until science has developed robots that can screech “Obamacare is socialism!” without provoking the unease of the uncanny valley. Lest you think this is an exaggeration, let me point to the strange right-wing trend of cooing over young adolescents who can do remarkable, though unnerving, imitations of conservative demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, like 14-year-old homophobic radio show host Caiden Cowger or Jonathan Krohn, who became the darling of the right at 13 by making an ideology-defining speech at CPAC. It’s tough, because it’s good to see young people get involved in politics and go through that process of learning who they are and what they believe. But often these conservative wunderkinds cross the line from being rewarded for their involvement, and instead seem like their elders are trying to nail them down at an early age and make going back on their childish beliefs that much harder for them later on. I was a teenage debate team nerd, but I’m grateful my elders let me keep it in the classroom instead of broadcasting my nascent attempts at opinionating.

All of which is why I’m boggled at the courage that Krohn is showing at the age of 17 to come out and express his regrets about being a youthful parrot for right wing ideology. The intelligence that was easy to see in his 13-year-old self backfired on the adults who were grooming him, because it caused him to be, oh noes, curious and led him to start reading and thinking and eventually, he thought his way out of conservatism. I can certainly relate to that, having grown up in a Republican family and environment and thinking I was a Republican until the build-up of doubts from my own reading and thinking caused me to “switch sides,” much to my family’s continuing chagrin. It happens, which is why the Texas GOP is so intent on shielding minors as much as possible from being exposed to ideas or even facts that run counter to their ideology. It’s the eternal conundrum of raising kids on the right. The smart ones are an asset, because they can put those brains to use for your cause. But the smart ones are also the ones that will struggle more when they’re young with the contradictions and hypocrisies of the right, and therefore are the likeliest to defect.

Either way, I wish Krohn well and want to welcome him to our semi-secret club of once-Republicans who grew out of it. We don’t often talk about our secret shame with our always-liberal friends, but we’re out there. This part is the hardest, especially when it comes to disappointing your family. I promise you that it gets better.