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Growing Up Liberal

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I'm a middle-aged, affluent, prototypical WASP.   I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Orange County where my father and grandfather were small businessmen and Republicans.  Knowing all this you'd expect me to be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  But I'm not.  I'm unabashedly liberal.

I thought about my path to liberalism when I read the recent interview between President Obama and Bill O'Reilly.  After a discussion of Obama's so called liberal agenda, O'Reilly said, " I think that you are much more friendly to a nanny state than I am.  I'm more of a self-reliance guy, you're more of a big government will solve your problems guy."  O'Reilly mouthed the classic conservative trope: liberals love the "nanny state" and think big government can solve all of America's problems.  Not surprisingly, O'Reilly doesn't understand liberal values.


I'm "a self reliance guy."  After my father's business failed, I worked my way through Stanford.  Than I made my way up the Silicon-Valley food chain and eventually became one of the founding executives at Cisco Systems.  But, I'm not a conservative because, as I grew up, I acquired three core liberal values.


"War is not the answer."  Three of my uncles served in WWII and I was raised in a patriotic household.  My grandfather was Dwight Eisenhower's cousin and once Ike became President, my elders believed the US could do no wrong.  Eventually, my attitude began to shift when America got entangled in Vietnam.


My brother was drafted into the Army, but I got a deferment because, as a computer scientist, I was doing something the Defense Department thought was essential to the war effort -- my software group modified our operating system so that it was "spook friendly."  Then I studied the origins and politics of the Vietnam conflict, which led me to join the anti-war movement.


Involvement in the anti-war movement made me aware of government lies and misconduct.  As a result, I'm suspicious of the Department of Defense, CIA, and FBI.  O'Reilly deplores the "nanny state" while I reject the conservative veneration of the military-industrial complex.  Conservatives blind obedience to the national security establishment led to the tragedy of 9/11 and the asinine invasion of Iraq.


"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".   I grew up in a Presbyterian household that practiced Christianity light.  We didn't pray or read the Bible, but we did have an informal code of ethics.  Foremost among these was the Golden Rule.  My grandfather mouthed this code, but he was a full-spectrum bigot, who didn't like blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Italians, or most anyone who hadn't immigrated from England or Germany.  (Where our ancestors came from.)

My father was far more tolerant and preached a message of fairness; "If you treat other people right, they will usually treat you right."  This applied to the people around us but not particularly to blacks or Hispanics -- because we didn't know any.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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