- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

People often ask me when I stopped being a liberal and, depending on their own political persuasion, either saw the light or sold my soul to the devil.

The truth is, it was a fairly gradual process. I grew up in a typical middle-class Jewish home, the son of immigrants. In other words, Franklin Roosevelt was our patron saint. In our house, the feeling was that Mr. Roosevelt could walk — or at least roll — on water. When, after FDR’s death, Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel, that clinched it. After 1948, if the Republicans had run God, the Prelutskys wouldn’t have voted for Him.

So, by the time I got to cast my first vote in the presidential election of 1964, naturally I cast it for LBJ. Then, in ‘68, I voted for Hubert Humphrey. After that, things only got worse. Over the course of the next two decades, I actually voted for George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Carter again, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. I would say that that sounds like the name of a sleazy law firm, but that would be unfair to sleazy law firms. The thing is, even back then, I’d wake up the morning after election day hating myself.

Back in the 1980s, I was still one of those shmoes who laughed at jokes about Ronald Reagan nodding off during cabinet meetings. Somewhere along the line, though, it slowly began to sink in that the sleepy head had not only managed to turn around an economy that had unemployment and inflation rates of 10 percent and 21 percent, respectively, under his predecessor, but, for good measure, managed to win the Cold War. Even a dope like me, who had voted for a sanctimonious phony like Jimmy Carter, had to admit that was a pretty sensational performance. The actor, it seems, had finally found the perfect role. Then two things happened that convinced me that I could no longer vote Democratic or identify myself as a liberal, even if it meant that my relatives were going to start spinning in their graves.

From 1987 to 1991, I served on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America. It was my first hands-on experience in the political arena. I think it’s safe to say that of the three officers and 16 board members, not one was a Republican. In fact, a handful had been blacklisted 40 years earlier because they’d been Communists.

I’d venture to say that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t as left-wing as our little group was.

Because we tended to agree about most guild issues, it wasn’t until one of my last days in office that I realized how far apart I had grown from the others. The way the bylaws of the WGA were written, the board could elect to bestow sums up to $5,000 without putting it to a vote of the membership. On this occasion, the defense attorneys for photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had contacted us, requesting that the guild not only send money, but sign on as amicus curiae in the pornography case that had just been filed against their client.

Mr. Mapplethorpe, in case you’ve forgotten, had received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts over the strong objections of North Carolina’s Senator Jesse Helms. The senator argued that the government had no business subsidizing a man who devoted his career to photographing naked children. Naturally, in elite circles, that made Sen. Helms a southern rube who couldn’t tell the difference between a pedophile and an artiste.

When the issue was finally brought up late that evening, I was the only person who spoke out against supporting Mr. Mapplethorpe legally or financially. In the first place, I never thought the federal government had any business supporting the arts. In a country as large as America, I figured if an artist couldn’t appeal to a sufficient number of people to earn an honest living, it wasn’t a federal subsidy he required, but vocational guidance.

In the second place, I didn’t think the WGA should be wasting the hard-earned dues of its members supporting some creep who could only have his creative vision satisfied by having an eight year old-child stripped down and posed for his camera.

That night, when I was out-voted 18-1, I realized the enormous gulf that separated me from the liberals in the room. It wasn’t simply that we disagreed about Mr. Mapplethorpe. Their very clear message was that there was no real need to consider what I was saying. It was enough that the ACLU was on Mr. Mapplethorpe’s side, and a southern conservative was opposed. Like brand-name shoppers, it was enough for them to read the labels. That was really all they needed to know.

The second thing that turned me into a raging Republican? That’s easy. After naturally assuming that the Democrats couldn’t possibly do any worse after selecting Michael Dukakis to be their standard-bearer in 1988, they somehow managed to pull off the impossible, in 1992, by nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton’s husband.

Burt Prelutsky, author of “Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco,” is an award-winning TV writer.

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