The Magazine

An Army of One

From the October 25, 2004 issue: What it's like to be the only Republican in your high school.

Oct 25, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 07 • By DANIEL GELERNTER
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I GO TO AMITY SR. HIGH SCHOOL in Woodbridge, Connecticut--a liberal public school in a liberal state. Conservatives are scarce around here and outspoken ones are scarcer. I am so "unusual" that people (friends and even some I don't know) call me "Dan, Dan, Republican," which is a good-natured joke, sort of.

These days, I never go to school without my Election 2004 battle kit--a hefty red folder that I carry in my backpack titled (on account of my infinite humility) "Proving People Wrong." This folder holds everything from IRS tax return figures to a comparison of Bush versus Gore in terms of college grades (Bush wins). I always have my folder with me, so that when I get into a political discussion (which might happen a dozen times a day and is likely to happen even more often as Election Day approaches), I can confront my opponents with the facts. They hate facts. They prefer to take refuge behind a slogan: Bush is Dumb.

The teachers are predictable liberals; the students are more worrying. In the white-painted low-ceilinged cafeteria with noise echoing off the brick and cinderblock walls, I eat lunch at a table of eight friends among 400 noisy kids. Politics is usually on the menu. Most lunch-table liberals say that they do not love America, and would not defend it. One boy says he'd just as soon live in Canada. They can't understand why I should be so enthusiastic about our country. Isn't it more or less interchangeable with a few dozen other rich western democracies?

As I was writing this article, I chatted online with one of my best friends, a liberal who spent part of his summer working in Washington as a page in the House of Representatives. He asked what my article was about. To put it briefly, I said, "It's about kids who don't love their country." He answered: "Do they have to love their country? Is that a requirement?"

The most striking feature of my political debates is the utter ignorance of traditional values--whether American or Christian or Jewish--shown even by intelligent students. The typical student thinks that morality is a simple matter of doing what is "good for people," and that the way to do this is to vote for Democrats, since the Democratic party stands for "making things better."

Why do students talk and think this way? As computer geeks used to say, garbage in, garbage out.

We are taught U.S. history out of politically correct textbooks. The books are boring and tedious and, what's worse, extremely misleading. The pages are carefully measured to spend equal time on the accomplishments of men and women, whites and nonwhites. They take care not to offend America's past enemies, but don't seem to worry about offending Americans.

My textbook last year, for example, was the 12th edition of The American Pageant by David Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and the late Thomas Bailey. Its chapter on World War II has more than a page on the relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and one sentence on the Bataan Death March. (What does one infer from this about the value of an American life?) It spends no time at all on the American GI, but gives a comprehensive discussion of the number of women who served, and where. (It carefully refers to "the 15 million men and women in uniform.") The discussion, in short, is warped, incompetent, anachronistic.

Worst of all are The American Pageant's blatantly biased discussions of modern politics. Compare the chapters on Carter and Reagan. Carter's actions are often described as "courageous." For instance: Carter's "popularity remained exceptionally high during his first few months in office, even when he courted public disfavor by courageously keeping his campaign promise to pardon some ten thousand draft evaders of the Vietnam War era." Or: "Carter courageously risked humiliating failure by inviting President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel to a summit conference at Camp David."