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Could Have, Would Have, Should Have
by Aaron Hanscom
20 March 2003

Resisting the siren call of feel-good liberalism, the writer of this essay explains why he chooses to remain an "evil, heartless, war-mongering cretin."

Aaron Hanscom

We regret that which is already lost, gone, or done. The negative consequences of our actions can pop up over a lifetime, intermittently reminding us of the mistakes made, the missed opportunities gone by, or that road untaken due to cowardice, stupidity, or moral weakness. Why then would one ever to choose to live with the devastating repercussions of an action that could easily be reversed?

I am constantly reminded that I could have, would have, and should have been a liberal. A simple political conversion on my part would make my life a whole lot easier. I would no longer have to bite my tongue at dinner parties, battle with myself over tough moral decisions and/or suffer the consequences, and deny myself the sanctimonious satisfaction of feeling the “correct” way. Yet I steadfastly remain what my friend lovingly labeled, “an evil, heartless, war-mongering cretin.” In other words -- a conservative.

I certainly could have been a liberal because it sure did feel right. Following your heart is sexy and exciting, and my heart used to -- and sometimes still does -- tell me that I could trust my emotions to lead me down the correct path and guide me in my decision making. Doing the right thing -- a rare human trait -- was replaced by the mindless task of feeling right. I used to naively deny that the primary obstacle to living a meaningful and happy life was myself. What was true for me had to be true for everyone else. It followed that the correct stances on social issues like capital punishment, gun control, abortion, affirmative action, tax cuts, and school choice were unquestionable. How could you have a heart and believe that abortion should be frowned upon or that the state had the moral obligation to put murderers to death? To set high standards for the less fortunate or to support the cutting of certain government programs was akin to murder. Insisting that the key to success and ultimate fulfillment was to work hard and accept responsibility for your actions made you feel like the Tin Man hopelessly searching for a heart. Who in their right mind would stay on that yellow brick road unless there was some powerful force keeping them on it?

I would have been a liberal if nurture had been the be all and end all. Whether I was reading Howard Zinn in high school or listening to my politically correct professors in college, I grew up in a fog of moral relativism. Without a strong sense of religion to fall back on, I was completely open to the belief that there is no objective right or wrong. The beauty of this doctrine was that I didn’t really have anything to fear. Sure, I guess I knew that cheating was wrong and that I should always follow the Golden Rule, but these rules could be overlooked under the right circumstance and if nobody found out. I regretfully broke them a number of times, and justified it every time. If I wasn’t even going to hold myself accountable to moral standards, how could I judge entire countries or cultures? Multiculturalism offered me easy justifications for the evil committed in the world and rescued me from that feared task of passing judgment. It stated that capitalism had allowed a couple countries to get rich at the expense of others and that you should never judge one culture by the standards of another. Besides, no one culture was better than any other. The simplicity of it all tempts me even now!

I should have been a liberal if I wanted to be accepted and embraced. I can count the number of conservatives I know on one hand. Most of my friends mock President Bush without the slightest provocation and my fellow teachers unflinchingly vote for whomever and whatever the union endorses. Don’t get me wrong -- I’ve raised my voice at more than one teacher meeting or fraternity party. The problem is that those who disagree with me don’t just think that my beliefs are wrong -- they feel they are evil. If I am coming at them with bad intentions, even the most intriguing idea I offer is easily shot down with a “Why don’t you go and live in Mississippi, you hick” or “I hope you know Iraq also puts people to death”. It reminds me of the actor who stated it was harder to come out in Hollywood as a conservative than as a gay person. Believe me that biting your lip starts to hurt after a while.

So why don’t I just get off that yellow brick road I talked about earlier and return to where I started? There are no easy answers. I suppose it has to do with my underlying belief in objective truth and knowing that this truth will prevail in the end. Also, maturity has taught me that the easy route isn’t usually the one that leads to fulfillment. How many of us regret the actions in our lives that required the most courage, hard work, and sacrifice? Ask the young mother who didn’t abort, the poor black child who worked hard and stayed in school, the single mother who got off drugs and found a job, the husband who stayed faithful, and…

The president who didn’t waver. As he confronts the decision to wage war against Iraq, there is certainly an easy route in the short run for President Bush. If he called our troops home, he wouldn’t have to deal with the moral decisions of putting innocent people in harm’s way or passing judgment on another government. Also, our elites and the Europeans would stop comparing him to Hitler -- at least for a little while. But Bush believes that this is a fight for our freedom. A battle of good versus evil. He believes his actions will ultimately be judged by someone higher than Maureen Dowd. I have a feeling he isn’t about to say “ I could have, would have, should have.”

Aaron is a teacher in South Central Los Angeles. He has a degree in economics from UC San Diego. His articles have appeared on,, and

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