I keep getting more liberal as I get older, which is different from what I was taught, that young idealistic (naive) people are liberal and older people are conservative.
I was raised conservative. We listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh, I read his book, Ronald Reagan was an idol. But my parents always let me know that it was still important to think for myself, and that being involved was much more important than agreeing with them. And they didn't always even vote republican, and didn't even always vote for the same things. Discussion happened to be right-leaning, but it was mostly just encouraged, so that was good.
Anyway, I agreed with Rush's condemnation against the "tax and spend" democrats, always wanting to make government bigger. I'd read stories about more restrictions on public schools and think "they're always telling us how bad schools are, I go to a great school!" I'd read about them wanting to raise the minimum wage and thought, "No one I know even makes minimum wage, McDonald's here pays freaking $9 an hour, why do they always have to tell companies what to do?" Then in college I saw plenty of evidence of wasteful spending, like we were trapped in situations where if we didn't spend all our department's budget, we'd lose it next year, so we spent. It was silly. I was of the opinion that government was so big and stupid that it screwed everything up, and I'd rather just not have it.
But also in college, for the first time in my life, I didn't live in a nice suburban area where everyone was the same socioeconomic status. At the end of the year, families would pull up to the dorm dumpsters with trucks, and all their kids would jump out and wade through our trash to find stuff they needed from the junk we didn't feel like moving back home. It was a tiny college town, so flooded with students that everyone made minimum wage, in fact if it weren't for the set minimum wage the going rate would have been a lot worse. And these families were stuck there and couldn't afford to move out.
I graduated and got a little apartment. A crazy person lived next to me. I mean, literally, she'd always come out and speak incoherently to me in run-on sentences, she was always dirty. She was nice, just something wasn't right with her. And it struck me that she had to be on some sort of public assistance, there just wasn't any job she could do. And I was okay with that. Better to have her living in the apartment by me than starving on my front steps, right? I'd been told that when I got my first paycheck out of college, I'd be shocked at how much money would be taken out... and I was, it was more than my rent. But that lady made me feel okay about it.
It also struck me that the poor kids playing around my apartment were going to public schools that I was funding. One of them might be my doctor some day when I'm old. So even though I didn't have kids, I was okay with funding the public schools.
At the same time the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were getting longer, and less successful, and we were dumping trillions of dollars into them. The Bush administration was also throwing money at conservative programs that were already PROVEN to not work, like abstinence-only education programs. It occurred to me that the republicans had for years only been paying lip service to the "small government" libertarian ideals. They only wanted government to be small enough to fit into our bedrooms.
Finally, being conservative in Wichita meant something very different. There were billboards telling me that the perfect picture of a woman is one who's not on birth control. I had to call the hard rock station to complain about an ad once! I was working by guys complaining about our health care premiums going up, while my other friends in college had nothing, and weren't even building up savings accounts because "it could all get blown away with one car accident", and all the high-earners around me had no appreciation for how much MORE we had than my friends.
I was also told more than once that when I became a "real Christian" I'd vote republican. The ultra-conservatives on the social issues finally made me feel so alienated, I realized I was not a "moderate" in Wichita, Kansas... I was left. I stopped telling people I was "both pro-life and pro-choice" because I realized that the pro-lifers were shooting abortion doctors and the pro-choice movement was trying to increase birth control access to reduce abortions. Enough screwing around, I thought to myself. Admit you're on a side.
So that's how it happened. I lived in poorer neighborhoods, met some different people, saw too many issues with republicans both at home and in Washington, and started changing my mind.
In a perfect world, I guess everyone would give to charities that would benefit the public good. They'd realize that the kid next door could make a good doctor someday, and pay to educate her. But most people don't seem to understand that scenario ("what, I don't have kids, why should I pay for schools?"). And it's like the story about the lighthouses... there's no way to tell what ships benefit from a lighthouse by avoiding the shore, so you can't charge them for it. We just know that they need to be there. So let's just all pay, and all benefit. It's The Public.
And that's how I went from being republican to libertarian to left-leaning libertarian to "oh screw it, just let the feds take over healthcare". I'd like to see government work better but I think that takes more citizens involvement in government, not just less government. I realize now that I am who I am because of a whole society I grew up in, one that will continue to help me out, if I help them out. It's a huge change from the way I thought fifteen years ago, and not in the direction I expected, that's for sure.