The follow is an interview conducted by PolicyMic editor Jordan Wolf with PolicyMic pundit Jesse Merkel, who currently holds the "Rebel Leder" status on the site for having the most rivals following him.
Q: You were telling me about how you were originally a liberal. What changed and how do you think people can be persuaded to rethink their politics?
In high school and after I graduated in summer of 2001 I was quite the liberal. I believed that all drugs should be legal, abortion on demand was no problem, and that America generally "sucked."
That fall 9/11 happened. I remember watching live as the flames rocket out of the side of the second tower as the second plane hit on the monitor they set up in the student center. Everyone was watching, panicking, and in utter shock.
I realized as I watched the news that night and the rest of the week that America was not invincible, that it was possible for us to get caught with our pants down. Something just kind of clicked inside of me, and I realized that America was more than a piece of land. It was an idea worth fighting for.
All of my friends kept telling me we should just "let it go" as a nation and show the world how peaceful we are, and I was thinking how naïve and ridiculous they were, even though I would have said it a month prior.
As I went through college, I took political science and economics classes, and history. Each one brought me over more to the right side of the aisle.
Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to change a persons mind, which could be horrifying or amazing. I hope if people change their minds, it’s because of something pleasant, and not what it took to wake me up.
Q: Why are you such a passionate Mitt Romney supporter (can talk about your background here)?
I was a Governor Romney supporter from the moment he first announced that he was running for president in 2007. Back then people forget that he was the conservative alternative to John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani.
I loved his optimistic message and still love it today. I don’t believe the hype that he’s going to get into the Oval Office and suddenly go “Oh gee, ya know, I really like that health care law my buddy Barack put in place. Lets keep it! April fools everyone!” I mean, grow up people! I believe if you can get 85% of what you want, you’re doing pretty well.
I think Romney would be a good president, and a great manager. I see him governing a lot like Eisenhower did, or Reagan. People forget that Reagan would try and build consensus, and get over 50%. If he couldn’t he’d switch gear, get a victory somewhere else and come back. He knew how to work with a huge Democrat majority against him, and so does Romney.
Q: Tell me about the most inspirational moment you had while working on the Romney campaign?
Honestly, it could be when he won the CPAC straw poll. This was not supposed to be his crowd. These are the ultimate conservative purists, the ones who are so skeptical of him. I’m active in the blogosphere, and an avid news watcher. I see how many conservatives out there believe that he is the RINO poster boy, and as soon as he is inaugurated will govern from the far left, performing abortions in the oval office and performing gay marriage ceremonies.
I saw him win the CPAC straw poll, as well as the Maine caucus, and it was pretty inspiring. I don’t know if it was that, or during some of his great debate performances leading up to the Florida primary. Both were up there. I posted a lot on Pro-Romney pages and have worked to try and get his message out there, and sure there are setbacks, but overall it’s just really inspiring to be in the process somewhere.
If he doesn’t win, I’ll be okay with it though. I’m not going to pout, cry, and sit home on election day. Santorum would be a great candidate also, but just wasn't my first choice.
I also have had a few inspiring moments working for local candidates, like former upstate New York Congressman Chris Lee, although that didn't turn out too well for any of us!
Q: It sounds like you really realized your power as a voter and as a citizen. What lessons can you offer to young people trying to make that realization for themselves?
I think that the "millennials" have realized that they can have an impact, but they’re going about it haphazardly. This "occupy" business is a perfect example. I went down to Occupy Rochester several times to write an article about it. I wanted to be as objective as a conservative could be. When I went to several Tea Party rallies, I went as an enthusiastic supporter, but also saw the quacks who went just to be a bunch of jackasses.
At Occupy Rochester there was no coherent message, no leadership, and no point. Anyone who was against anything was there. Conspiracy theorists, anti-establishment rebels and just those who wanted to belong. I know I’m going to get ripped for painting with too broad of a brush, but I don’t believe I am. Young voters need to realize that if you want to really push for change, if you really want progress, you work in and with the system. You don’t try and burn it all down in a fit of rage.
You have to make your voice heard, because it does still work. The Occupiers seemed content to just say screw it all in a fit of anger and rage. The mob mentality may garner sympathy in America for a short time, however it wears out quickly on the public's patience. That’s why they’ve lost steam and support. If younger voters want to make a difference, organize and vote. Maybe it’s slower and takes more time, but it certainly is more effective in the long run.
Q: Are you worried about partisanship in this country?
No. I find it quite refreshing. I appreciate it whether it’s on the streets, on PolicyMic, or in Congress. Do you really think Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have a ton to talk about? No. Do you really think they can agree on a ton of stuff? No! I appreciate partisanship because it’s honest.
I don’t want to compromise on everything. I’m a conservative. I want to win! That shouldn’t be a shocking thing to say, and I don’t believe that it is an automatic turn off to those precious and brilliant moderates and independents. I don’t want to pander to them. I want to convince them. I want to win! I know that people on the left don’t want to sit and sing around the campfire with me. They want to beat me.
I’m not dumb enough to believe that I’m going to get everything that I want or that one day the political left will one day vanish into history. I know it’s a tug of war that will never end, but while it’s going on, I want to help my side have as big of an influence as possible.
Q: What can our generation teach America about politics?
Our generation can teach American that it has a lot to learn about reaching out to younger voters. Voter turnout is very low, and traditionally amongst young voters it’s downright pathetic when compared to the rest of the world. The one good think that President Barack Obama has done in my eyes is to get young voters energized about the process. Of course, that seems to be out the window now, as polls show they are not as energized for him now as they were in 2008.
Young people should care more than anyone else, as they have the most at stake. They are the ones with the most to lose and gain, as they have their entire lives ahead of them. While of course I want people to agree with me, at the end of the day I just want people to be involved. The more people become involved, the more dialogue ensues and the more progress can be made.
Both parties need to work on it. While Obama scored points with young voters in 2008, andRep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is making inroads currently, there is still a ton more than needs to happen to get more young people of voting age involved.
Q: How do you feel about being the most rivaled pundit on PolicyMic?
I love it! While a lot of people who’ve rivaled me are liberal, some are libertarians and Ron Paul fans that consider me to be a war mongering neocon. I learned from watching some of my political heroes like Reagan, Lincoln that you have to have a thick skin whether you’re running for office or just writing about it. I want to make my career in writing about politics or writing for politicians, and I don’t mind getting flamed to a crisp if people disagree with me. Maybe someone will wonder why I’m so rivaled, and then check out my writings, and maybe I’ll persuade just a few people. That’s great if it happens.
Also, when it comes to political writings, I love Ann Coulter and Dick Morris, two people who get flack for what they say. I’d be more than happy to follow in their footsteps!
Photo Credit: Jesse Merkel