Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where I turned Right

I am in a reminiscing mood today. I think it started when I heard an old high school classmate, Angela Bleckley (or, as it turns out, someone I thought was my old classmate), won a contest on the radio this morning. In high school I was a certified, card-carrying liberal. I was a product of my home and school environments. So where did I turn right?

I didn't have a sudden epiphany. I didn't wake up one morning and think "Wow. Everything I've thought up to now is a bunch of hooey!" It happened little by little, bit by bit. Kind of like how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

The first non-liberal thought I remember having was when I was managing a Papa John's Pizza restaurant. I had a terrible employee. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I was NOT a fun person to work for and, in fact, have been told by many ex-employees that they often fantasized about killing me, hacking my body to pieces and disposing of me in several different dumpsters throughout Athens. But I digress. I had a terrible employee. He was a man of about 45 and a single parent. He smoked so much that the sour, sweaty smell of old cigarette smoke permanently clung to his clothes and oozed from his pores. He always looked slightly greasy. He was certain I was promoted to manager (instead of him) because of some inappropriate favoritism. The fact that I made a better pizza, looked and smelled cleaner and worked harder never entered his mind. The fact that he was transferred to my store as an assistant manager after he had put in a bid to become the store manager galled him. Instead of focusing his attention on improving his performance, he spent his energies bad-mouthing me to the other employees, griping about my expectations (like a store that was clean when I came in at 9 in the morning or labor costs that were kept at or below the standard set by our corporate office).

Again - in the interest of full disclosure - I wasn't a fun person to work with. But I didn't ask anyone to work harder than me or perform any task I wouldn't do. Eventually the terrible employee became openly hostile to me (not threatening, just rude and defiant) I decided I had enough of the rebellious teenager act and I cut his hours. He quit.

I didnt' realize this was the act of a non-liberal until I talked with my mother about it. She knew the bs he dished out to me on a daily basis, but she didn't say "Good, I think morale should improve without him there to feed everyone's little complaints". She said "He has two children doesn't he? Shouldn't you think about them??"

I must be a horrible person, because my only thought for his kids was that it was awful that they had a Dad who didn't care enough about them to do his very best at his job and actively worked to make his boss's life harder (which is a SURE way NOT to get recommended for a promotion). This was the first sign.

Later I noticed that I was constantly correcting my friends who championed "Fair Wage" laws. At a time when the minimum wage was barely $5 an hour, they maintained that minimum wage should be $10. I explained in terms I knew intimately. "If you double the cost of labor, the cost of the product will go up at least 30%. And that's only if the supply companies don't have to start raising THIER prices to cover the increases in THIER labor costs. Which they will. So pizza would probably come close to doubling in price" I told them. "Then the $10/hr minimum wage would have the same buying power as the previous $5/hr minimum wage did. Besides, if you work hard, you will get raises and you won't keep making $5 and hour."

"No, no no" they all said, "Big companies can stand to trim their profits. They don't need to make that much. They need to share the profits with the people who do the actual work." (Okay- following that logic, can the CEO's and investors count on the "little people" to absorb some of the losses when business isn't going so well? Probably not.

Then there were the activists in my little town (which, at the time, was Athens, GA) who complained to the city council about students who rented houses in their neighborhoods. Actually, it wasn't the fact that students were renting in their neighborhoods. It was that some of the students were noisy, had noisy parties and LOTS of cars parked in their yards as well as up and down the streets. So ordinances were passed that prohibited more than two non-married people from living in the same house (rather than stepping up enforcement of existing ordinances for noise and parking). This effectively drove most students out of the rental houses in Athens and sparked a demand for more student housing in the form of apartment complexes.

The same activists who clamored for the removal of the students from the "residential" neighborhoods were also concerned about preserving Athens' "Green Space". Which made it harder to put in the new apartment complexes needed to house the students who could no longer live in residential neighborhoods.

And the same activists are the ones who put up a hue and cry when developers of lower-income housing decided to cash in on the not-so-low income housing boom. When a decrepit trailer park on North Avenue was sold to developers who wanted to upgrade the property to student-oriented apartment housing these same people who wanted the students OUT now wanted to keep the residents of a trailer park IN (or maybe they were afraid an extended family from the trailer park would band together to be able to afford a house in their neighborhood. ) At any rate, they protested the sale of the property (as if the land owner had no right to sell his own property).

They protested the removal of the mobile homes because many were in such bad condition they could not be moved and remain safe to use as dwellings. It was the opinion of these concerned citizens that the owner of the property (and maybe the folks buying the property) should subsidize the residents of the trailer park and help them move. I guess if you rent a cheap place to live for long enough the land owner becomes kind of like your parent. "Junior, it's time for you to move out. You're 32 and I want to turn your old room into a sewing room, so I'll pay a deposit on your new apartment and split the cost of the rental truck with you. Does that sound fair?"

Now I'm all for having compassion for folks in need, but wouldn't it have been more appropriate for the concerned citizens to simply host a fund-raising drive to help the trailer park move rather than blame the land owner for exercising his right to sell his property?

This was another sign, but it was still a few years before I realized I was not a liberal anymore. There were many years of "Well, I'm more of a libertarian on that issue..."

Eventually, though, the truth became apparent to even me. It took several years, but I ate that elephant, one bite at a time.

Toto, I have a feeling I'm not a liberal anymore.