Friday, November 18, 2016

Why I am so political

It could be that I'm writing this post for my children, because it is their history, and it might as well be written down.

In case you've ever wondered why I am so political, I can only offer that it's in my blood.  I have always been a political animal, and I live with another political animal, my husband. In fact, it's how we met.

I grew up in a Republican household as a proud patriot and a fiscal and social conservative. I am the younger daughter of an Arab immigrant/Navy veteran/doctor father and a Protestant-turned-Catholic/nurse mother who was raised poor in small-town Ohio.

I have voted in every election since I was eighteen, and in 1985 I went off to Boston College as a conservative Republican. Nothing could sway me, even liberal Massachusetts and the university's Jesuit influence. I was rooting for Robert Bork's confirmation in 1987 and was outraged that the left derailed that good and brilliant man. I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush (and had a Bush/Quayle placard on my dorm wall) when he ran against the Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis.

I have also always been pro-life. I was raised to believe that abortion is wrong, but the truth of it was hammered home to me while spending a lazy afternoon browsing through my mom's well-stocked bookshelves one day.  My 10- or 11-year-old self came across a full-color booklet called "Handbook on Abortion," which included several pages of photos of aborted children from the earliest stages. I was rightly horrified, and concluded then that such an obvious evil should never be legal. (This was in the first few years after Roe v. Wade sullied our land.)

At Boston College I studied English, but politics and Washington, DC (the city where my own parents met) was calling to me. So, while most of my friends went on study-abroad programs during junior year, I became the first English major at BC to be accepted into the Washington Semester Program at American University. There were a few concentrations to choose from, and I chose Foreign Policy.

A big part of the program was completing an internship. I had an interest in journalism, so I interviewed and got the job at a now-defunct national TV news station, Independent News Network (INN). I helped to edit news stories and raw feed, and I occasionally went on assignments, sometimes with a camera crew, but always with my trusty notebook and pen (there were no Smart phones or tablets then).

Some of the highlights for a 20-year-old girl: I sat in on the Oliver North trial, I covered press conferences for Dick Gephardt and Al Gore (it was 1988, a presidential election year, and they were running -- and dropping out), I said hello to Vice President George H.W. Bush in the lobby of INN offices (he would go on to win the presidency that year), and I ran into Senator Teddy Kennedy on the sidewalk near the Capitol (he gave me the creeps).

I understood clearly that I and another intern were the only conservatives in the newsroom. I'm pretty sure I kept that on the down-low, but my memory is hazy. I do remember that my boss and the lead male reporter both hit on me, subtly and overtly, but I just chalked it up to "dirty old men" and didn't give it much of a thought. In fact, I probably haven't thought about it in a quarter century.

It was fun taking a camera crew into the White House Press Room and then heading out to the South Lawn of the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll, where President Reagan gave a speech to the egg-gatherers for the last time in his presidency. Emmanuel Lewis was the celebrity entertainment that day.

Here I am with my camera crew that day. I'm on the right. In the skirt. 
(My apologies to the nameless camera lady for showcasing her in those heinous 
parachute stone-washed jeans that I am sure she has since disavowed.)

The White House Easter Egg Roll took place on April 4, 1988. How do I remember the date so precisely? Well, it was the very day that I officially began to date my future husband! I had just turned 21 the previous week.

Yep, a handsome Jewish guy named Dean Miller was on the Washington Semester Program that spring as well, a political science major at Emory University in Atlanta who also was entrenched in the political scene, but on the opposite side of the aisle. When I met Dean (who was in the American Politics concentration), he was a diehard liberal, pro-"choice" Democrat.

Dean's first real foray into the political world was as a teenager in Las Vegas, when he canvassed neighborhoods door-to-door on behalf of candidate Harry Reid, who was running for his second term as a United States Congressman. (Let's just say that Dean is, ahem, no longer a fan of Harry Reid.)

When he went off to college, Dean interned at the Carter Presidential Center, which is located on the campus of Emory University. There are many good stories from his days at the Carter Center, but that's for another day. 

Dean with President Jimmy Carter

When Dean arrived in Washington junior year for the exchange semester, he got an internship on the Hill with Democrat Senator Wyche Fowler of Georgia.

When Dean and I met, we obviously did not agree on politics; as we began to fall in love, we tolerated a lot of what the other had to say.

Except when it came to abortion.

I remember sitting with Dean in my dorm room (in a building that was was formerly a Catholic convent, by the way!), listening to him recount the recent talks his American Politics group had attended, one at Planned Parenthood and another at National Right to Life. He was complaining about the pro-lifers, saying that they were "a bunch of nuts" and "loonies" (if I remember that correctly). I reminded him that I was staunchly pro-life, and I told him that his words were offensive to me personally. He walked back his words a bit.

It amuses us both, looking back, as we consider that Dean is now 100% pro-life, sits on the board of our local crisis pregnancy center, and often leads his children at our bishop's rosary in front of local abortion clinics. It's fun to see what God can do, isn't it?

By the time we were married a couple of years later, politics were still a huge part of our lives and discussions, and although Dean was still a Democrat, he was starting to let go of some of his liberal leanings.

During the 1992 presidential election, I was uninspired by President Bush (the elder) and not so convinced about third-party candidate Ross Perot, and so I personally did something unthinkable: I registered as a Democrat and voted for Bill Clinton for President of the United States. Dean voted for him as well. I was "inspired" by his wife Hillary's "advocacy for children" (I had a baby by then), and I convinced myself that her pro-abortion views could be ignored because of how much she "helped" born children. (I know, I know. But it gives me insight into others who use the same arguments today.)

Dean knew within one day of voting for Bill Clinton that he had made a huge mistake. I was more optimistic for a few months, but by the time Clinton gave his first State of the Union address, I was filled with regret. I re-registered as a Republican and never looked back. Within a couple of years, Dean registered as an Independent, and by 1997, he was a registered Republican.

Although still registered Republicans, Dean and I have long been disgusted with the establishment Republican Party, and consider ourselves "conservative" more than any other political label.

Dean's career path has kept him in the mix of politics. His first job was for a non-profit taxpayer watchdog group, and then he worked in state government for a long time (Arizona Department of Commerce, Arizona Corporation Commission) before moving to the private sector of consulting and lobbying. He helped to draft and pass many bills within the Arizona Legislature during those early years, has worked with countless politicians and private businesses on regulatory issues, and knows a lot about the process and the people.

Meanwhile, my public writing began in 1994 when I became an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic, and my co-writer Kim Manning and I discussed and dissected politics as a matter of course. In fact, it was the exercise of writing about truth and goodness through a political lens that brought Kim to Catholicism and me to a full embrace of Church teaching and practice.

As you can see, there is a deep history and love of politics in the Miller home, and a passion for the direction of our beloved country. So when folks suggest that I become less political, I can honestly say that I don't see that happening. And, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Our Catholic Faith encourages and even obligates us to be engaged in the public square, and so long as I am not transgressing the moral law or the laws of our Church while doing so, I am happy to oblige.

God bless America! It is a privilege to live in this still-great land.


  1. Sounds like you might be a "natural" conservative, as distinct from an "establishment" conservative. The former (sometimes conflated with the alt-right) is driven by a priority of protecting/purifying the overarching culture, while the latter's priorities (like the GOP's in recent years) are centered more around the economy and geopolitical issues.

  2. Fascinating story. God writes the best prose, doesn't He?

    I had some shades of similarity studying journalism at CU Boulder during Bush Jr.'s first term. It was an interesting experience to be one of the few conservatives (willing to say so) on campus, and getting into it with professors and the Paulist priests who ran our campus center. (When I wasn't too drunk to go to Mass, that is.) Thank God He didn't leave us all in our early 20s. :)

  3. JennyU, I relate! ha ha! I hope our story is a common one. :)

    Francis, I think that is accurate! :)

  4. Leila this is fascinating! It reminds me that we can just never know what each individual brings to the table until we truly hear their story. I already knew I trusted your political opinion, but it's so fun to have this to back it up.

    And I'm curious why Dean immediately regretted his vote Clinton. And why you did shortly after. What did he say or do? I remember voting against him in my 5th grade mock election and being disheartened when he won.

  5. Kaitlin, make me feel old, ha ha!! Well, I know that I was horrified when I realized at the State of the Union that he had lied about his promises (and he was open about that -- I think it was taxes at that point). I'm sure I was not feeling comfortable before that, but it was the State of the Union that did me in. I will ask Dean about that other part and get back to you!

  6. Kaitlin, I asked him and he said it was a gut feeling. He woke up and thought, "I should not have done that." He has good political instincts (aside from that whole Harry Reid thing!!). Oh, and he said that I told him at that time that we needed to give Bill Clinton a chance. Ha.

  7. This helps me understand your plethora of political posts on fb even now that the election's over. And I can't believe you voted for Bill Clinton! Oh Leila! Then again, I praise God that I was too young to vote in '08 (I turned 18 in January '09) otherwise I would have voted for our now exiting POTUS haha

    And oh! How I love the amusing way God works through people's lives. You and Dean should be guests on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home program!! :)

  8. Ha, Margo! I'm glad you were too young to vote for Obama. :)

  9. Leila, you make me think of the kind of woman Cat Stevens must have had in mind in his song HARD-HEADED WOMAN. If he would have found one like you, maybe today he's still be a Christian!

  10. Thanks for the story Leila. I was 19 years old when Carter ran for his second term against Reagan. I was in college at the time and was brainwashed by a liberal political science professor. I voted for Carter but 6 months into Reagen's presidency I knew we had elected the right man. I've never voted democrat since. Are you aware of the looming crisis in our beloved Catholic Church? Our good Cardinal Burke and three others has asked our pope for clarification on his confusing words. So far, the pope is refusing to answer them. I'm concerned that there appears to be confusion by design from our pope that will scandalize many more Catholics. I would like to hear your views on this.

  11. It's funny to think of YOU convincing someone to vote for a Clinton!

  12. Second Margo's suggestion: 'You and Dean should be guests on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home program!' Would you mind our emailing them this suggestion?

    Also volunteered for campaigns in college-at an all girls school, it was a great way to meet the guys from the male college nearby;) My kids have chosen to volunteer in all 3 parties; C'est la vie, hope it's not a too interesting Thanksgiving!

    On a side note, can't believe the lecture the V-P Elect Mike Pence had to endure, not allowed to simply enjoy a Broadway play with his wife. If my family was in attendance, we,(I should say most of us), would have stood up and started singing 'God Bless America'; (granted, prior, we would have scouted the closest exit, in case we were pelted with rotten tomatoes.)

  13. I knew most of this but did not know about your time in Washington. That's pretty cool. Nice pictures.

  14. Kevin, ha ha!!

    Joe, I admit I am troubled by it. I am someone who likes things to be clear, and I am not sure why the pope has not answered the very clear questions with clear answers. Sigh.

    Kaitlin, ha! I remember my mom was horrified that I was voting for Clinton. I really feel for her now... if my kids did that, I would flip!!

    Maggie, I wouldn't mind at all. :) And yeah, that whole Hamilton thing was just more evidence that the nation made the right choice in voting out the Democrats.

    Lisa, thank you!

  15. I started life as a Conservative in the time of Margaret Thatcher. However I found it increasingly difficult to square my Conservatism with my Christianity. I could not square what I was reading in scripture with the policies of the Thatcher government. So I have been on the centre left ever since.
    When the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales brought out document, The Common Good in 1996 they were accused of supporting the British Labour party, they were not, but was interesting to see how the British right reacted to their teaching.
    What a difference and ocean makes to church and politics.

  16. Oh, that is so interesting! I don't have much to add other than that. It is fun to hear everyone's stories.

  17. Any thoughts on the new story today - top of CNN's website - saying priests can forgive abortion? This is maybe my Catholic ignorance but I thought any sin was forgiveable??? It seems they're making it seem dramatic that he's saying this?

  18. Marcus, that is so funny! We conservatives in America have such affection and admiration for Mrs. Thatcher. And she, Reagan, and St. John Paul II are credited with working together to end the Evil Empire that was the Soviet Union.

    Monica, that is bizarre. I thought that headline went around a couple of years ago? And it was weird then. I think then it was about the fact that priests had permission to give absolution for abortion in the confessional, rather than get permission from the bishop, but I think different regions of the world had different protocols for that. But yes, any sin is forgivable, expect the one that is never repented of!

  19. Okay, upon further investigation, the Pope merely extended the provision that he began at the Year of Mercy, allowing all priests to be able to absolve the sin of abortion in the confessional. So, that's all there is to that.

  20. Mrs T was not all bad, nobody is, but her policies punished the poor for being poor and that is a her greatest legacy, indeed one of her greatest regrets, revealing a quite stunning naivete was this, she said: '“I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.”
    So a regret and may I say also failure to understand the human condition.
    As to the Soviet Bloc, it could never last because it was both economically and morally bankrupt.
    But not so fast with S. John Paul II. He was not a fan of unbridled capitalism either.
    'Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

    The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative'.

  21. Marcus, the Church understands the human condition. That is why she condemns Communism and "unbridled capitalism" (I don't know a single soul who has defended it or champions it, so that seems a non sequitur; not sure why you imply that I am for it?). And that is why JPII worked with Reagan and Thatcher to bring down one of the most murderous, evil regimes to haunt this earth (why you would downplay their role and the geopolitical history of it all is not making sense to me).

    Also, I am not sure that we can hold up the high taxes and social programs of Europe as a "success", either economically nor socially (I think families and marriage are in bigger crisis in Europe than we are experiencing here). Except for the secular left/Democrat Party, we work hard here not to become like the European socialist nations. No, thanks. ;)

  22. I re-read that. I hope it does not sound snarky. We definitely have different views on what makes a good society, good economy, etc. I do agree with Thatcher, if what she reportedly regretted was true: The English should be more philanthropic, like Americans. ;) But we are philanthropic largely because we are conservative. The statistics (even from the left) show that conservatives, who are largely religious, give much more to charity than our liberal counterparts, regardless of income levels. So, the secret to Europe may be two-fold: 1) restoration of Christianity and 2) implementation of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

  23. Not snarky at all Leila, I was not perhaps as clear as I could have been. In terms of international relations, Mrs T and President Reagan along with JP2 were I think pivotal at a crucial time. But so was Gorbachev. And Reagan becoming the dove having been the hawk was also pivotal.
    But with regard to the state verses charity. Do we leave policing to charity the funding of the armed forces, or education? What happens when the provision does not meet with need. Something has to organise the system so that it at least works, and hopefully works efficiently.
    Last year I had spinal surgery, expensive, dangerous but life saving. Perhaps I am wrong but does charity pay for that in the US? Or would a poorly paid person just have to suffer paralysis or death in the US?
    I pay my national insurance, and through that the safety net and health care are provided free at the point of use. Or is it that only the sick should pay for health care? Only those out of work should pay their hardship costs?
    My writing is short because I am in hurry. Apologies if it looks a bit aggressive.

  24. Not aggressive at all. Policing and protection of the borders (protecting citizens very lives) with the military are precisely the job of the state (in America, these are the Constitutional, enumerated powers). Education? Not so much. Many, many of us (many Catholics) do not believe the federal government has any business in the education of our children. In fact, we hope that the Dept. of Education would be abolished. It's been a disaster. Subsidiarity. Parents' rights to educate their children. These are Catholic ideas and principles.

    Health care is complex and we have not found the perfect solution. For the Americans I know, including one of my own children directly, Obamacare has been a DISASTER. This is partly why the nation elected Trump. State-run healthcare has its own huge problems, as I'm sure you would agree. I will tell you this about the poor "dying in the streets" -- it has never happened here. I live in a border state, with many immigrants from Mexico, very poor. No one has died in the street. Folks without insurance have always been cared for. There have always been programs and provisions for the poor and healthcare. My dad was a doctor, and he would even accept a dollar a month, or a chicken or tamales, as payment. Then the federal government started imposing their programs and rules which made any of that doctor/patient connection, and true charity, impossible. Don't even get me started. But trust me, before Obamacare, there were no poor children, or paralyzed adults, dying in the streets.

  25. I think one of the differences is that we live in very different countries. A US state can be as big as a European nation state, so even London is local to me in the way Washington is not to you. Our national government is more like a state government, excepting provision of defence.
    There is also much more local government.
    With regard to education until the 1870 education act most schooling was provided by churches and charities, but it was patchy. The 1870 act created school board's to provide school where they were not yet provided. The religious schools have not disappeared and they have state funding. very different to the US.
    Part of the problem is that we so often assume that because we all speak English, we understand each other. But our histories are very different, ours is much longer for a start. And the land is very different. There are a lot of people living on a very small island.

  26. Yes, I agree with you there, Marcus! Very different situations.

  27. Leila... wow... nice story... we're a lot alike, i think.

    I like how you classify yourself as "conservative" instead of Republican... I do the same thing... in fact, i've posited so many times that today's R party is JFK's Democratic party of the early-to-mid sixties... I voted for Perot in 1992, and I was going to say that you can blame me for Clinton, but given your history, now I can brush that one off on you and your hubby (haha)... engineer by trade but love history, politics and writing...

    Life-long Catholic... direct our parish's RCIA program and am teaching 3rd grade CCD for the first time this year, as I have time on my hands since both boys are in college now... am very very concerned with the leftward movement of the curia at the expense of the deposit of faith... something to keep our eyes open to... very concerned, but not hitting the panic button yet... God is in control... it's up to us to listen to His spirit and discern the correct path...

    Given that I'm a Catholic AND a Penn Stater, I've really had a personal epiphany on leaders and organizations when bad things happen (pedophile priests, bishop enablers, Sandusky scandal, etc.)... I've learned to dissociate leadership from the beliefs/mission/work of the organization... Men/Women can do bad things in leadership roles, but that doesn't subvert the beliefs and mission of the organization... I went through it first with the church, then with my alma mater... Dark personal times for me... I came out the back end stronger in my faith than ever... Just a lot wiser... I put my faith in God and His deposit of faith...

    Peace and love throughout this advent season, Leila.

    1. Amen to all of this! Glad to have you teaching, that's for sure!! Blessed Advent, friend!


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