From Winger to Thinker: My Political Transformation

By Becky Miller of Woodburn, Oregon. Becky is a former aide to right-wing activist Bill Sizemore. Several years ago, she testified against him and his organization in a racketeering trial.

I've often wondered why it took me nearly 40 years and some real hard knocks to snap me out of my blind Republican partisanship.

After much thought, I have concluded that the primary reason is that I grew up as a conservative Christian, with the Biblical text "Lean not on your own understanding, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" drilled into my head.

In other words, I grew up believing it was wrong to trust my own instincts and intelligence; that rather it was good and right to believe what I was told to believe, even if it didn't make logical sense. One of the things I was taught was that "real" Christians are Republicans. Even when I left the church behind, I retained my Republican identity. Things are easier in life when you have certain constants that are beyond question.

My husband and I moved to Oregon in 1988 and bought our first home. Five years later, our first child was born. Because of a fortunate coincidence of events – we had just at that time paid off our truck, my husband got a promotion and raise, and – the biggie – Measure 5 had just kicked in (altogether, these events saved us about $500 a month) – we were able to afford for me to stay home with our son. Consequently, Bill Sizemore was my hero.

Four years and another son later I was ready to go back to work. On a whim, I sent Sizemore my resume. A few months later he called me. Thrilled beyond words, I accepted his offer of a job and began working at OTU. Anyone who knows me will confirm that when I go after something, right or wrong, I give it 110%. I'm an idealist – a mildly obsessive/compulsive, passionate true believer. I realize that's dangerous, but it's who I am and I've learned to live with it. And so I gave my all to Sizemore and OTU.

I will never forget the first time I noticed something was wrong. Cleaning up the office, I found photocopies of checks made out to Americans for Tax Reform. My coworker innocently explained to me that supporters' checks were collected and sent to ATR, who then sent a single large check back to OTU. I thought "money laundering" – but true to my upbringing, I set aside my concerns, thinking surely there must be something about it that I did not understand, and accepted Sizemore's explanation. I had the same reaction when I found checks written from OTU to companies owned by Sizemore for work that had not actually occurred, and when I saw Sizemore paying himself large sums of money from the petition drives. I figured I was just a lower-middle-class girl without a lot of sophistication. I must not understand what was going on in the big-time world of politics, and my hero seemed to think it was okay. Though my concerns eventually became intense, I vigorously pushed them aside "for the cause" and fought on.

It took a racketeering lawsuit by two teachers' unions to slap me in the face hard enough to admit to myself there really was something wrong, that I did not like being a dishonest person, and that by compromising my own principles I was enabling that wrongdoing to continue. With horror and shame, I recognized the unions had a legitimate case and that I was in big trouble. More important, I finally acknowledged that I should have trusted my instincts and intelligence - and finally gave myself permission to do so. I then did the only thing I could do for my family – I cooperated with my political enemies.

At that point I still believed in "the cause," but cracks had begun to develop over the course of my employment at OTU. In debates, while being questioned by reporters, and in my own research on issues such as privatization and land use planning, I had come across arguments against OTU's efforts that made sense to me, arguments I did not know how to honestly rebut. The answers I had received from Sizemore did not satisfy my doubts. I had begun to see that the issues were far more complex than I had initially imagined. I was hungry for more, and being an intensely curious person I decided to read some of the books that were whipping the right wing into a frenzy.

After reading Al Franken's book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" (in one sitting), I suddenly realized that the dishonesty I had observed in my own small political world was the same thing that was going on in Washington, DC. David Brock's book "Blinded by the Right" (also read in one sitting) further supported that epiphany and legitimized my own personal internal turmoil. I knew I did not agree with these two authors political views, at least not entirely, but I shared their concern for what was happening to America and I respected them. My abhorrence for the dishonesty that had taken over American politics freed me from partisan bonds, and for the first time I could see that those who stood to gain from the partisan system were manipulating the people for their own gain, ensuring that Republicans hated Democrats and that Democrats hated Republicans. As a result, good Americans who were fans of the Republican team supported whatever the Republican Party told them to support, and good Americans who were fans of the Democratic team supported whatever the Democratic Party told them to support. But where were the fans of America?

I never expected what happened next. When my editorial recommending Republicans read Franken's book hit the pages of The Oregonian I was suddenly inundated with nasty phone calls, letters, and emailed viruses from fans of the Republican team. People I had worked well with before responded hatefully to my having become a "traitor" (it had been bad enough that I had testified against Sizemore, but to suggest in print that something was wrong with the Republican party and that people ought to wake up and work together was unforgivable). They tried to convince me that I was naive and that evil left-wingers were fooling me. But I have learned at last that I can and should trust my own instincts and intelligence. Further, these experiences have cemented my certainty that politics in America has become an irrational thing and that we have lost sight of how to work together.

Americans' response after 9/11 showed me it is not a hopeless situation. We clearly want to be unified; but the purveyors of hate keep people blinded to who we really are, and our lazy thinking keeps us from questioning the platform we are handed by our respective political teams. It is an intellectually freeing experience to become politically independent. I no longer feel like a traitor for believing something other than what is listed on a party platform, and a whole new world of information has been opened to me, just waiting to be researched. Some feel they can take their views into the party structure and change it from within. Based on my own experience, I don't believe it; I think people can only change the way things are by exerting pressure from outside the party system.

Call me a cynic, but I do not intend to ever formally jump into the political fray again, not being much into martyrdom. I do, however, intend to continue try to break through the false barriers that have been erected between people. Because I know so many truly good-hearted Republicans and have come to know so many truly good-hearted Democrats, I deeply believe that all Americans are striving for the same things – for a free country that values individuals equally and well, but encourages teamwork, that offers opportunities and a helping hand, that is a place where we can be safe, well-educated, and healthy, and where we can pursue happiness. If we can begin to believe that about those on the other side of the political fence and set aside our irrational hatred, I believe we can achieve our common dreams.

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    You've had an interesting journey- thanks for your words of support and advice during the BM 35 campaign.

  • engineer (unverified)

    Great oost Becky.

  • engineer (unverified)

    Great post Becky.

  • Chris (unverified)

    Becky, Our journeys have been different but our conclusions are the same. I'm a forest products guy and former Republican that sees both sides "fighting" for what are ultimately similar goals but believing in different strategies and values to get there, and operating out of fear of one another.

    That isn't to say that I don't have my own political leanings or hangups. I'm human too.

    I know a lot of great Republicans and great Democrats whom I respect tremendously. And I've found that neither tend to entertain the other's perspective. To do so might hurt their own power.

    I try to look past political loyalties at my blog, oregon sunrise.

    Keep up the good thinking!

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    thanks for the post. what you've done took a lot of guts, and it's great you're not willing to remain silent.

    you passed briefly over "leaving the church." over 20 years ago, i left the church (in my case, charimatic fundamentalism) because of attitudes towards gays & lesbians. although i am straight, i could not fathom why so much anger & hatred was being aimed at people! by this time, i had had one gay friend (go me), so i knew something had to be wrong with the teaching.

    finding a spiritual path after a life of spiritual indoctrination is horribly hard. i hope to hear more of this part of your journey in the future.

    peace, todd

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    I've so enjoyed your point of view in comments on BlueOregon, Becky, and it was great to read more about you. You've kept me at times from being dogmatic and forced me to re-think whether my positions make sense. Thanks for that.

    BTW, Becky and other BlueOregonians might be interested in this article from the New York Times yesterday, which talks about one evangelical Christian's "conversion" to the cause of fighting climate change. It's also very inspirational.

  • Jonathan (unverified)


    Thanks for your post. As a former Conservative Baptist, coming from a very strong "CB" tradition, I appreciate the situation you describe. I also want to echo that fundamentalists believe their positions, which often conflict with their values, which values are expressly rooted in the teachings of Jesus. I continue to believe that those teachings hold the framework for rescuing fundamentalists from the grasp of right-wing Republicans who care only about accumulation of wealth.

    And it's not limited to the New Testament. I know the Old Testament gets a bad rap for some teachings. But stop right now and read Isaiah 58 ... you could not find a liberal Democrat who could make a better case against GW's policies.

    "If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicated soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday." Isaiah 58:10.

    Read the whole thing ... it makes my transfored Conservative Baptist heart weep.

  • Bob R. (unverified)

    Jonathan -

    I've heard a "conservative" response to the Isaiah 58:10 argument...

    "If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicated soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday." Isaiah 58:10.

    It goes something like this: Having the government help the hungry and afflicted takes away the free will of the individual to make the decision to help, thereby nullifying individual morality. It is therefore not good to have the government give, only individual charity counts.

    Now, I don't agree with that for a second, but be aware that there is a tough fight ahead to reach the fundamentalist heart.

    • Bob R.
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    Thank you so much for your story.

    I was also raised in a conservative Christian home where questioning authority and ideas was forbidden.

    Being antiauthoritarian by reaction was much different than yours. I pushed back. The emotional beatings I took were intense sometimes. But as I matured I learned that these beatings were the only way people were held in line.

    It's easy for me to see how you fell in with Sizemore...given the way you were brought up. The only reason I escaped such a fate was due to an overdeveloped stubborn streak and a true loathing of authority....that I'm certain is bred in me.

    Your story is a morality tale of what happens to folks when they abdicate their instincts.

    I've blogged about your piece here at my blog...and I'm hopeful it will send more folks to BlueOregon to read your story.

    Thanks for your courage in putting it out there.

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    I've consistently enjoyed your input on Blue. Thanks. Keep it up!


  • Becky (unverified)

    I think the comments posted here show why I enjoy this web site so much. You all are thinkers, too. Thanks for your feedback.

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    It is wonderful to read your post and hear from an "inside" perspective. As a divinity student here at Harvard University, while surrounded by liberal theologians, we do not have the opportunity to deeply study and reflect on the worldview of conservative Christianity. While I feel as though I'm exposed to it daily through American culture, I have very few if any strong relationships with conservative Christians. I know many "mainstream" Christians, mostly through my work in the National Council of Churches Young Adult Ministries Team. I work in Campus Ministry for the Unitarian Universalist Association, and I wonder if you would be interested in being a speaker for us at some point?

    With peace, Joseph

  • Anthony (unverified)

    Kudos to Becky for repudiating corruption and taking responsibility for herself, but I see unwarranted lessons being drawn both by Becky and others here.

    An easily led person could just as easily find herself in the company of a corrupt Democrat, and then, in further evidence of her impressionability, fall prey to disreputable Republican propaganda. The resulting apostasy could quite as easily result in vindictive attacks from former Democratic allies. Such is humanity, such is politics, to a regrettably great degree.

    But rather than simply identify a lesson about humanity’s failings, some here over-generalize Becky's experience along with her and interpret the story as being one of the triumph of Democratic enlightenment over Republican obscurantism. That jump is unwarranted for several reasons, but perhaps the most important one is that not only does Becky’s post not compare ideas across the political divide, it chooses to avoid recognizing the real intellectual differences that pose challenges to honest, intelligent and thoughtful people trying to make up their minds. What separates Republicans from Democrats in Becky’s discourse are “false barriers” not real principles -- or even powerful "instincts."

    If a “winger” is one who thoughtlessly rejects and reviles one’s political opponents, then Becky may have achieved a triumph of sorts, but not by becoming a “thinker.” Her position looks more like an abdication of thought, and if she has a vice with regard to politics, it is not the cynicism that she is willing to concede, but intellectual pusillanimity.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Anthony -

    Great post, but I disagree with your conclusions. It was not my intent to compare the issues or principles that divide Republicans from Democrats. I don't believe the vast majority of Americans are as far apart as you seem to believe they are.

    I primarily intended to show what forces formed my initial political thought and eventually transformed me from someone who accepted at face value what I was told was the truth to one who thinks for myself (and I admit I get it wrong still, sometimes). I believe I could fully satisfy you if I wrote a book, but this article was intended to be very brief.

    I also would not characterize my change as a "triumph of Democratic enlightenment over Republican obscurantism." I have jumped from drone Republican "winger" to something that is a mix of conservatism and liberalism, which I characterize as realism. It is neither squishy nor an abdication of thought.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    Becky said: "I also would not characterize my change as a "triumph of Democratic enlightenment over Republican obscurantism." I have jumped from drone Republican "winger" to something that is a mix of conservatism and liberalism, which I characterize as realism. It is neither squishy nor an abdication of thought."

    Very well said. I strongly identify with that. I tried to leave a comment the other day on your main piece here, but this site was acting up and it got lost in cyberspace. Suffice to say that I used to be a drone Republican too. Although I left the GOP in the late 80's to become an Independent which I remain to this day.

    Anyway, I used to describe myself as a centrist. Recently I changed that to "moderate" because I don't adhere to the center on many issue. But, I like the way you phrased it. Very much so. Realism... not willing to wear ideological blinders. If you'll pardon the pun... Ditto!

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