The idea behind John Moe’s Conservatize Me sounds too much like something Morgan Spurlock would come up with on an off-night for his 30 Days experiment series. Moe is a bona fide card-carrying liberal—he has a show on NPR and writes for McSweeneys.net—who came to a crisis of conscience after realizing he knows what the left is against but he’s not too sure of what they’re for. So, like any good freelancer looking for a good story idea, he decides to spend 30 days turning himself into a conservative. It’s a gimmick, of course, but a surprisingly effective one that opens Moe’s eyes more than he expected.
Moe’s plan is to limit himself to only conservative media (magazines like The Weekly Standard and National Review, talk radio, angry websites like Free Republic, lotsa Fox) and music from flag-friendly artists (Toby Keith, Clint Black, Kid Rock). Oh, and he can only drink Coors beer, given their reviled status on the left as union-busting homophobes. During this time, he’ll also travel the country meeting with leading lights of the right wing, telling them about his project and in essence daring them to convert him to the cause. All that Fox, country music, and mouthpiece jargon may sound a drag, but note that Moe’s plan also provided him the opportunity to eat lots of beef jerky, which is always a good thing.
The most eye-opening part of the trip is the first, in which Moe heads to D.C. and New York to interview the likes of National Review editors Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg, expecting a wave of White House-approved rhetoric but finding himself practically converting on the spot. At several points during this trip, instead of meeting nothing but White House dittoheads (though there are those), Moe actually finds himself talking with sharp thinkers who get their news from the New York Times (Fox is routinely derided by these red-state-ers) and make him not only question his liberal orthodoxy but wondering whether the right wasn’t actually, well, right on a thing or two. They were correct on that beef jerky thing, after all (“If this is what conservatives ate, I was ready to sign up for the John Birch Society right then and there”).
It’s Moe’s ability to mock his own lefties (whom he realizes seem a whole lot grumpier on average than these happy conservatives) and keep an inquisitive mind, not to mention a deftly humorous style, that makes his book more than a gimmick. By the time he comes to the end of the month—a portion of the book in which he tries and fails to come up with the What It All Means mega-theme—Moe has done that rarest of things in our supposedly divided land: wondered whether he was wrong. It’s a sign of how blinkered debate has become in this country that this should be at all noteworthy.